A lack of feeling of control over your work-life and other boundaries is stressful.

Stress and burnout can make it harder to make good choices and to plan effectively. Negative outcomes of bad decisions can deepen stress and burnout.

  • Make a “life pie” chart. How do you want to spend your time in a day? Or make a plan of what your day looks like and any goals that you would like to achieve that day.
  • Set boundaries between your roles. Be fully in the moment (the time, place and people you are with). People need to feel seen, heard and understood. If you are distracted by other roles, those you are with will push your boundaries to get your attention, making problems worse. Turn off alerts on your phone to stay in the moment.
  • Multi-tasking is over-rated. Changing focus from one role to another, or one task to another (called task switching or multi-tasking), wastes time and energy getting back on track. That creates added stress. Train others to respect your choices or boundaries because it is in their best interest as well as yours.
  • Leave work at the door. Leave family issues at home. Develop “rites of role transition” between the two to help you shift gears (e.g., forms of meditation, listening to music or a fun podcast during the commute).

Boundary Management Styles

Learn to recognize your own boundary management style. Flexing between styles may reduce the stresses or “cons” of a particular style, depending on the situation.

Integrators

Blend home and work, often allowing spillover and interruptions. Some enjoy this blend, while others simply have little boundary control due to conflicting responsibilities.

Pros: A can-do attitude and high degree of flexibility. Available when needed.

Cons: Task switching can lead to mental overload and exhaustion. Raises the risk of overwork and poor work-life balance.

Career-Family Identity: Value both work and non-work equally but are unsure how to prioritize.

Separators

Have strict boundary controls throughout their days, with defined blocks of time for each role.

Pros: Reliable, focused, professional. Some research shows that being fully focused on one job for periods of time can help concentration and reduce work-family conflict.

Cons: Can be firm and unadaptable. More likely to feel stressed by interruptions or a change of plans.

Career-Family Identity: Tend to place equal importance on work and non-work roles; strive for focused mindfulness for each.

Cyclers

Alternate between periods of high work-life integration followed by periods of more firm separation, prioritizing different life domains as needed.

Pros: Engaged and highly flexible. Better able to fully engage in life roles during separation from work.

Cons: Peaks and valleys may affect recovery and lead to burnout, exhaustion and “ball dropping” in other life roles during peaks.

Career-Family Identity: Tend to value one role over another at different times of the year or month.

Role-Firsters

Tend to have a dominant life role, be it worker, family member, leader or other life priority, that spills over into their other roles.

Pros: Strong ability to focus and less likely to have work-life conflict.

Cons: May find it hard to clock off. Risk sacrificing career or personal life to satisfy demands of the dominant role.

Career-Family Identity: One identity is clearly dominant; behaviours more appropriate to another role (e.g., mothering at work) often reflect crossover “creep” to support main identity.

Adapted from Managing work-life boundaries in the digital age, Organizational Dynamics, Kossek, E. E. (2016); and Flex Styles Assessment, Purdue University.