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Work-life balance used to be a lot more straightforward: When you were at work, you worked. And when you weren’t at the office, you were engaged in the rest of life.

Technology, of course, has complicated everything. Today, our work can find us even when we’re far from the office, and steal our attention away from the other aspects of our lives.

Google Voice is one of productivity expert Maura Nevel Thomas' favorite tools for supporting work-life balance.

Google Voice is one of my favorite tools for supporting work-life balance.

But while technology can undermine your work-life balance, it can also, when used wisely, help you regain it.

Seven years after its debut, Google Voice continues to be one of my favorite tools for managing the demands of work, and it’s free, which makes it a great option not only for small business owners, but for anyone who wants to keep some space between their work life and their personal life.

With Google Voice, you get a phone number and voicemail account in any area code you choose. You can program Google Voice to forward calls to one or more numbers, or simply to take messages for you. People can both call and text you at your Google Voice number.

The service can support your work-life balance in several ways.

  • Have you ever had a situation where you temporarily needed a work contact to be able to reach you when you were out of the office, but really didn’t want them to have your personal contact information? Having a Google Voice number is perfect for this. It’s your own personal “work” number that you can control even when you aren’t at the office. Giving out your Google Voice number, instead of  your personal cell number, gives you the flexibility to take after-hours work calls only when you want to. When you’d prefer not to have work intrude on your life, send calls to that Google Voice number straight to voicemail, or forward them to a general work number, or a co-worker.
  • You can also protect your personal number by having your Google Voice number show up on your call recipient’s caller ID. Simply dial via the Google Voice app on your phone.
  • Google Voice can transcribe your voicemails and send them to you via email (or not), giving you complete control about how and when your work intrudes on your life outside of work hours.
  • Vacations are an essential part of work-life balance. But your time off isn’t very restorative when it’s constantly interrupted by communications from work. With Google Voice, you can forward your calls to your company’s main number or a co-worker’s number when you’re on vacation.
  • If you have a small business, consider encouraging your employees to get a Google Voice number instead of buying them company phones.
  • If your personal cell is already widely distributed to your business contacts, and maybe even printed on your business card, I suggest porting that cell number to Google Voice, and getting a new, personal number for family and friends.

There are also alternatives to Google Voice out there, but they aren’t free: Talkroute, RingCentral, Grasshopper and

Read more about Google Voice in my book Personal Productivity Secrets. And if you’d like a similar tool for your email, check out my review of Throttle.