Buy Back Your Free Time

A lot has changed over the past year or so, not least our ability to own guilt-free downtime. Coach and entrepreneur Alice Olins readdress this imbalance.

You know the vibe; it’s 9pm on a warm, spring Thursday evening and in pre-pandemic times, you’d have been outside, sipping a STRYKK NOT G*N & TONIC and chatting to friends – standard. Fast-forward to 9pm on a warm, spring evening in 2021, and you’re sitting at your desk working. Um, a lot has changed over the past year or so, not least our ability to own guilt-free downtime. So let’s readdress this imbalance.  

If you’ve noticed yourself sliding into a continual state of work and pretty much forgotten how to kick back and have a laugh, then rest assured you are not alone. Here’s the good news: creating and maintaining boundaries, the route back to your old, fun-filled evenings, is easier than you might think.

How so? Well, there’s a bit of a misunderstanding around boundary making, and if you know the truth (don’t worry, I am about to reveal all), you’ll be able to close your laptop at a decent time, not feel bad on your colleagues or judged by your bosses andbe able to help others recapture their freedom too.

Let me explain. Successful boundaries rely on a simple, vital element: transparency. When we work within teams or alongside clients with whom we can be honest, it allows us to share our needs. And sharing our needs is the root of respected boundaries, because others understand your why.   

Seeing as there’s an honesty theme today, let me be totally transparent: creating these safe professional spaces takes time, effort and decency from all angles. But it’s absolutely worth it. Why not be the one to get the ball rolling if you think there could be a bit more positive communication in your team?

Think about setting up an informal meeting, one designed to move the goal posts around team openness. You suggest, with a drink in hand on a Friday afternoon, all sharing a win and a loss over the past year, or your key strengths and weaknesses, for example? Having regular, open chats with your team or colleagues creates united teams everyone feels able to share their good, bad and ugly without judgement.

Openness and transparency in teams leads to boundaries that are respected by all, and that means you can reclaim your Thursday evenings! The link being, that when you feel truly comfortable with your colleague, you’ll be able to share your needs – and needs feed into successful work/life boundaries. In this instance, your need is that to avoid burnout it’s imperative you finish work at a normal hour each evening. Another need that would create a different kind of boundary might be around expertise: your need is more uninterrupted time, your boundary is less Zoom meetings.

Which leaves only one vital question: how do you identify your needs? Well, the short answer is by noticing your pinch points – what isn’t sitting right for you at the moment. Often we know what these are – downtime, more support, progression – but we aren’t being honest with ourselves. It might help to do a free write to tap into your unconscious thought, bear with me here, this is less woo woo than it sounds. Free writing just means writing without editing for a set amount of time (I usually suggest 7 minutes) on a single subject, in this instance, where is there space for improvement in terms of my work/life balance. Get your thoughts down on paper, and then come back to what you’ve written an hour or so later, and pull out any repeated themes. The chances are your needs will be staring right back at you.

We all deserve plenty of time away from our desk, and to be able to enjoy it without feeling like someone is judging us, or we’re letting another person down. So be brave and help create more transparency in your team, and then encourage everyone to recognise that we all have different needs. Once you do that, you’ll have your Thursday nights back a STRYKK NOT V*DKA in hand, and most like your Friday’s and weekends too…

Alice Olins
Alice Olins

Coach and entrepreneur Alice Olins, founded the Step Up Club in 2016 after publishing a book by the same name. Having spent more than a decade in the fast-paced world of broadsheet journalism, Alice pivoted towards career coaching after reaching her own professional crossroads. Alice has a particular interest in female-led career development and is an outcome-focused coach; she runs the Step Up Club, an online community and learning resource, and works with individuals and organisations to develop action-led talent who can set themselves up to win.


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