The boundary between work and leisure: fences or a café?

How solid is the boundary between “work time” and “free time” for you?

When you get off work, do you stop thinking about your work entirely until the next work day starts? Or are you always available for work, even if you’re not literally working all the time?

In other words: is your boundary between work and leisure more like the Korean Demilitarized Zone?

Or more like the Belgian-Dutch border?

Most likely, your situation is somewhere in between.

I do not believe that any point on this boundary spectrum is always best for you and for your long-term health. But I am starting to think that life at either extreme of this spectrum carries risks.

On the one hand, if you spend fixed work hours engaging in your work, and you drop any thoughts about work as soon as you hit your “free time”, does that indicate anything about how much you care about your work?

It doesn’t have to be bad. If you work fixed shifts in a factory, it makes sense that you leave that work behind you, cognitively and physically speaking, when you leave the factory floor. Similarly, if you’re a theoretical mathematician, you might spend a few hours each day doing hard thinking, after which you leave the math problems behind you, so that your subconscious mind can get to work on them.

But if you are a typical knowledge worker, you might like to ask what your attitude towards work during your free time says about how good of a fit your work is for you. For example, when I worked as a consultant, I rarely thought about my work projects during my free time. That’s because while I cared about doing good work, I did not truly care about the projects themselves. Big company A sues big company B and they are at odds over who should pay whom how much; that just didn’t fire me up.

On the other hand, if you are always occupied with your work, or at least always potentially occupied with your work, then you are probably not getting enough rest. This puts you at risk for developing stress in the long run.

It could be a great sign in one way: you care about your work so much that you can’t help but thinking and caring about it, even during your non-working hours. But if you truly care about the work you do, consider taking your foot off the gas pedal to allow you to care in a way that is sustainable.

Which real-life border is the best metaphor for your boundary between work and leisure?


— Peter

Photo credits: Driedprawns, Jérôme

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