From cell phones to pagers and laptops to PDAs, it’s easier than ever to stay connected to the office, your clients, or your boss. But this constant link isn’t always a good thing.

About 70 percent of TechRepublic readers who participated in our informal poll said that work has interfered with their vacation plans. In another poll, 20 percent of participating readers said they rarely have time for themselves.

We know our readers work hard, so we asked them to send us their solutions for balancing their work and personal lives. They suggested 10 ideas to ensure a healthy balance.

Staying in balance: Ideas for action
While most respondents admitted being dedicated and stimulated by their IT careers, all acknowledged the desire and necessity to unplug from their hectic careers and tend to needs outside the workplace.

We gleaned from their responses the following 10 ideas for easing the strain of a frenetic work pace:

  1. Work longer Monday through Friday and stay home on the weekends.
  2. Change jobs if your present position is too demanding.
  3. Help your partner with work around the house.
  4. Hire a gardener or housekeeper to ease work around the home.
  5. Make it a priority to be present for your children’s activities.
  6. Take your children, spouse, or partner out to lunch on a work/school day.
  7. Make and keep commitments to spiritual activities.
  8. Exercise.
  9. Play a musical instrument or sing in a choir.
  10. Watch TV.

A vow of relaxation
William G. Moore, a senior consultant with RMS Telecom, said he vowed to work longer during the week and stay home on the weekends this year. A consultant since 1989, Moore said his “watchword” for 2001 is the “balance” of his “family, career, relationships, and leisure.”

“I made the vow, without coercion from my family, as I looked back to plan ahead at the beginning of this year,” he said. “In fact, I quit my last position as a consultant, although the work was high profile for a well-established brokerage on Wall Street [because it] required extensive travel. Some things are priceless.”

The importance of partner and family
Shem Taggert, who entered the IT field after 25 years as a minister, is currently “on the bench” at a consulting firm, learning Visual Basic and awaiting a contract call for an apprentice programmer. He also has some clients “on the side” as well as a part-time job tuning and repairing pianos.

“When I’m home, I try to do what I can to help my wife in the areas that are important to her—fixing stuff, cooking, cleaning, helping to get the kids to do the same,” he said. “As a guy, I would prefer to have some ‘cave time’ away from it all—eating a bowl of something ugly in front of the TV.

“With the kids, I try to be involved, or at least interested, in what’s going on at school and their activities. If they are doing something—a concert, ball game, whatever—I make it a priority to be there. In really hectic times…I try to plan meaningful contact with them where they have my full attention.

“One thing that’s crucial is listening to my wife. I take it as a signal—not as complaining or nagging—when she mentions I’ve been away too much,” Taggert continued. “It is my responsibility to order my life in a way that makes me the best at home and at work. I draw the line when I sense a drift in the relationships that are most important to me. Then, I just have to say ‘No’ to my driving work ethic and ‘Yes’ to what’s really important. Jobs will come and go, but my family and my marriage are forever.”

The costs of working too hard
Wendy Page, a project director in New Zealand, commented on how the culture in many companies encourages working extreme hours to the detriment of its employees’ heath and personal lives.

“The current practices of some organizations to continually push their staff harder is unbalanced and ultimately will come unstuck, although I believe it will take another 10 years before the full swing back to a more holistic lifestyle appears,” she said.

“My relationships with my partner and child have suffered. I no longer have a partner and frankly do not consider that I have time for one now. As a woman, I found myself trying to caretake the relationship, the home, and the career—being the principal breadwinner—and it burned me out completely. I have no time for myself and have to work hard not to resent standard chores such as just driving my child around to her activities.”

To alleviate some of these pressures, she pays a gardener to mow her lawn and a housekeeper to help around the house. She made the decision to become an independent consultant to gain more control over her working hours.

“I always hold back money so that I do not feel pressured to accept the next assignment,” she said. “Being an independent has meant no more cancelled leave, much longer paid holidays, and being able to stretch my wings a little more career-wise. I work very hard when on an assignment but know I have light at the end of the tunnel for a break.”

However, this decision didn’t come without a cost: “It does mean that I cannot offer myself as a CIO, which is the next step up the ladder for me, as it would mean a return to the salaried treadmill. Right now, that’s a limitation I feel comfortable with.”

Keeping promises to yourself and others
Curt Wilson, a network and security administrator at a financial institution, also works part-time running Netw3 Consulting, his own consulting business. He said he fights the tendency to become consumed with his work and instead chooses to focus on the task at hand and his “current track of learning.”

“I make sure to reserve time for the truly important areas of my life by making commitments to certain things such as spiritual activities that take place several times per week in the evening,” he said. “I do not schedule clients on these evenings. I also spend at least one day during the weekend with my girlfriend/future wife and other loved ones, including friends.

“When I work or learn computing skills…I focus a lot of energy into that task. Then, when that task is done, I get away from the computer mentality as much as possible by going outdoors, exercising, and playing music.”
Do you have a unique way to relieve the tension your career causes? Do you play racquetball, go rock climbing, or create balloon animals? Are you secretly an amateur stand-up comedian? Tell us how you blow off steam, or post your comments below.