In mid-March, we began working entirely remotely following the World Health Organization’s designation of COVID-19 as a pandemic. Before then, I worked from home most mornings and spent the afternoons in the office. I realize how fortunate I am to have such an accommodating schedule. Plus, I LOVE what I do! So much so that I’ve often worked well beyond the typical 40-hour workweek. The pandemic’s impact on our work necessitated some of that, but a lot of it was because I wasn’t able to stop working when the workday was supposed to end.
I spent a few weeks out of the office, which allowed me to reflect on how I could achieve balance when I returned to work.
My staycation didn’t start with that goal in mind.
It wasn’t until near the end of it that I realized I needed to make a change.
Of the nearly three weeks away from work, I spent no more than three hours collaborating or communicating with someone regarding something that couldn’t wait until I returned. I’d say that’s pretty good considering I invited the opportunity by mentioning, “Please feel free to text me for any emergencies that can’t wait until I return,” in my out of office message.
The realization came last Monday when, during a scheduled appointment with my optometrist, I considered wearing one of my wireless Bluetooth earbuds so I could participate in a conference call despite knowing my proxy would be on the call. (I now see my eye doctor every six months for testing since diabetes can increase the risk of glaucoma and cataracts. Uncontrolled blood sugar could also result in diabetic retinopathy.)
That’s when it hit me.
When I’m on, I’m ON. I get things done. Just call me
Olivia Oliver Pope.
The issue comes when it’s time to turn things off.
Over the past few months, there have been countless times I’ve caught myself thinking of work when I’m not working. I recalled lying in bed awake problem-solving an issue from work. I can’t say that thinking about work prohibited me from sleeping in the first place, but it’s certainly possible. I could also have been using work to distract myself from everything else going on.
I didn’t consider it too much of a problem until I thought about words I’d read a few days prior by Jewel Wicker, one of my old friends and favorite writers.
She had tweeted:
I went back to enacting my work hours this week after weeks of overworking and now here I am eating a fried mushroom burger and listening to Selena Gomez. We love to see it.— Jewel Wicker (@jewelwickershow) July 8, 2020
It’s essential!— Jewel Wicker (@jewelwickershow) July 8, 2020
“Gotta have balance,” huh?
I didn’t, but I took it as a sign that maybe I needed to find it when Jewel replied, “It’s essential!”
The following day, when she published her latest newsletter post, that feeling was further confirmed as she detailed how setting boundaries had significantly impacted her.
When I considered joining the conference call, Jewel’s words came to my remembrance, and I opted not to do so.
Instead, after my appointment (no issues during the exam, by the way), I went for a drive, mellowed out to Pink Floyd, and published this short, 50-word entry, “Time.” (Following the massive post detailing my hiatuses, brevity seemed only fair.)
I also reflected on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.— Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
There’s a time to work, and a time to rest:
You can only go, go, go for so long. It’s simply not sustainable. Eventually, that way of living and working will lead to burnout. So work hard but also be able to recognize when it’s time to rest.— J. Dakar (@mrjdakar) July 14, 2020
When I returned to work on Thursday, I had over 400 unread emails. In the past, I would have spent a few days slowly clearing my inbox while tackling current issues, but this time I figured it would be best to empty it as much as possible and then deal with pressing matters.
I used the Pomodoro Technique to delete, file, and send a quick response to as much as I could. Before noon, I had emptied my inbox with 40-something emails left that required more action or deep thought. I was able to spend the afternoon on the pressing matters, and when quitting time rolled around at 5, I logged off for the day, prepared dinner, and didn’t think about work again until Friday morning.
The notion of work-life balance is a mirage. Work supports life, but make no mistake that you can somehow balance all aspects of your life with what you do for a living. What you must do is manage shifting priorities as they arise.
It’s only been a few days, but so far, so good. I’m sure I’ll have to remind myself there’s more to life than work, though. Regardless of how much fun I have doing it.