My story of achieving balance begins with breaking old, unhealthy work habits. For most of my professional life, work-life balance took the form of working until every task was finished, and then figuring out how to cram life-enriching hobbies into whatever time was left over.
Predictably, this approach doesn’t work out so well for either my work life or my personal life. It leads me to burn out on my work until I resent it — and give over all my after-work time to the post-office energy crash.
This is what comes of taking a view of work-life balance in which employees are expected to simply form their lives around the demands of work. Truly, my work-life balance changed when I realized that balance is never simply one-sided.
- Deciding what gets my time — inside the office and out of it. It’s not just my job to fit personal life around whatever work throws at me. Rather, it’s my job to determine what in my work day can shift to accommodate my personal life, and vice versa. Whether it’s muting all phone notifications during a daily focused work session or blocking my calendar to preserve my morning dog walks, I’m working on managing the push and pull of the professional and personal with more intention.
- Accept that not every day is going to be the same. In the past, I’ve fallen into the New-Year’s-Resolution trap of setting unreasonable demands on my time. Goals like “I’m going to spend an hour each day meditating” or “I’m going to finish 3 chapters of my novel each night” are admirable in their specificity — but for me, they’re also doomed to fail because they assume that I’ll have the same energy level each day. Our off-work activities quickly lose their enrichment value when we’re trying to cram them into the overpacked suitcase of our free time. In recent months, I have countered this by reframing my leisure time into choices. Presented with an hour of free time, would I rather spend it doom-scrolling on Twitter or reading a chapter on my Kindle? Would I rather zone out with Netflix or take a walk up the block and back? Which is going to make me feel better? Rather than trying to “achieve” my free time, I’ve established a stockpile of enriching vs. indulgent activities (and tried not to assign a particular moral value to any one of them). This helps me feel like I’m making use of my personal time in a way that best guards my mental health.
- Using technology to keep me on track. This may not be true for everyone, but I’ve found that there’s no greater enemy to balance than my own brain. Segmenting tasks into smaller chunks, setting reminders for small deadlines, blocking off work time for bigger projects — if I attempt to manage that effort solely by force of will, I’m doomed to fail. Thankfully, technology has gifted us with a thousand apps for managing tasks, calendars and progress, and I proudly use around 995 of them. Admitting that I can use some help organizing my work and personal time, and then identifying apps and tools to help me do it, has been a life-changing step in keeping the balance I’m going for.
I’ll say it again: Balance isn’t one-sided, and work-life balance isn’t simply about making your personal life fill up the space around your work life. Taking charge of what I deliver at work and how I recharge outside of it has turned me into a healthier, happier TransProvian — even if I’m still perfecting my technique. It’s an effort that’s worth undertaking.