Coming back to work after taking a couple of weeks off over Christmas has got me thinking about the idea of work/life balance. For those of us that are working professionals, a large percentage of our life is taken up with working as well as the time spent preparing for and traveling to work. This Christmas I had two weeks off and I hardly thought about work at all during that time. I usually try to confine my work to working hours and I rarely check emails or do work in the evenings, but it often still seems that work is there percolating in the back of my mind. It seems to take an extended period of time for ‘work mode’ to fully turn off. As knowledge workers, part of being a good employee is taking care of our brains. If you want to be good at what you do, you need to work hard and sometimes put in long hours. But you also need to know when to stop.
But it is more than that. It’s not just balancing work life with family life and hobbies or pleasures. It’s having a holistic approach to life that lets you keep body, mind and soul all healthy. I’m not sure that the answer lies in spending less time at work or making sure I have unconnected time – although those kinds of things may be helpful – but I think part of the answer lies in taking life as a whole in a balanced and sustainable way.
What things can I learn about my home life or what I do with my hobbies that I might be able to use at work? And what work things could I take and use in my home life?
If my spouse was to pile the kind of workload on my that I regularly accept for myself at work, would I put up with it? Maybe I need to learn to say no (hopefully in a nice way!) to co-workers just as I have learned (hopefully in a nice way!) to push back on some requests from my spouse. Or what about the other side of the coin. My wife asked me on New Year’s Day what my goals where for the year ahead and I realized that all the goals (at least the ones I had articulated) where around stuff I do at work. If I was to approach my work in the haphazard directionless way that I sometimes approach family life would my boss be ok with that? Maybe by having some goals for what I want my family to do learn and experience that I can share with them, I would see a more fruitful and healthy family life.
In some ways what I am saying is that I need to blur some of the lines between work and the other aspects of my life. What I do at work is still me and still affects me. I’m not just a machine for the time at work when I’m ‘producing’ and I’m not just a passive consumer for those times outside of work. We don’t just need macro balance (taking vacations etc.), but we also need micro balance (being able to come home at the end of the day without being totally exhausted). I need to be able to both work and play at a sustainable pace throughout the year.