Balancing Acts

rock balance
Credit: David Sky /

When I started work, I set myself a simple rule – one that I’d less deliberately followed last summer. At the end of the day, leave work computer at work. Do not put work email on phone.

It works. I enjoy my evenings and weekends. I wake up excited to go to the office. I have insights about how to solve problems when I’m away and focusing on other things. Most recently whilst out with a friend at the KW Symphony, I realized that I needed to redesign (and what the design should look like) the interface to the component I’d spent the day fighting with.

If work-life balance is the problem, then I seem to be doing OK. But, with just two variables, that makes it sound like a seesaw. I.e. if you’re balancing “life” and “work” then everything’s OK.

That seems like a vast over-simplification to me. I prefer to think about sustainability – to me, that means that the pieces that make up your life have an arrangement, and a quantity, such that if this is how life is going to look like for the next 3 months – 6 months – a year – that’s okay.

I’m inching towards sustainability. Helped by the fact that I can’t leave the country. But also because I’m working at it. Prioritizing the things that might not be concrete achievements, but that I need to make me happy. More novels. More time at the gym. More video games. More time hanging out with friends.

Of course, more of some things means less of others. Life is not a seesaw, it’s more like balancing a non-uniform disk. I’m trying to find the spot where I can stand without sliding off, but it’s hard. It’s hard because we all get the same 24 hours in the day, and we all get to choose how we spend them. And, it turns out, we can’t do more with less sleep (it’s good to be vindicated, I’ve long refused to compromise sleep!).

My problem is not, how do I divide my time between work, and not-work, because that’s been pretty easy. It’s how do I prioritize all the not-work things I’d like to do? The paper I’d like to finish. The project I’d like to build. The apartment I’ve still not quite finished arranging and organizing. The books I’d like to read. The blog posts I’d like to write. I’ve lost the habit of working late into the night, or at the evenings, and I have a hard time sitting down and doing anything much on the computer after work.

I wonder if it’s in part due to not having my “work spot” that I had in my old apartment, on my old sofa – a corner that I’d curl up with my laptop on and hours would pass, and stuff would be produced. My current sofa is pretty uncomfortable to work on. But maybe I just need the mental downtime outside the office.

My friend Tammy once told me the secret to her productivity was “incremental progress”. I think an evening a week and a space where I could focus might help. But I also enjoy doing whatever takes my fancy in my off-time. It’s new having freedom, and not feeling “the guilt” (a term I use to describe the constant feeling of “I should be working” that plagued me through university).

So, perhaps things are in balance, it’s just that I think I should be achieving more than I am. Nothing new there! Perhaps I should set aside “project time”, but for now I might just keep enjoying living, rather than waiting for things to be over in the hope of eventually enjoying life.

Achieving things is good. But, so is a killer workout followed by 10 hours sleep. A good novel. An evening of Lego Harry Potter (Amazon). Or martinis and food with friends.

2 thoughts on “Balancing Acts

  1. This semester I have felt so great because I stepped back and said No to so many things. By saying No, I was able to fill my time with more rewarding things. I’m 20 pounds lighter, met a guy, smile a lot, have more energy and time to cook and eat well, I sleep. But my grades? Not all A’s. Research? Very little. Work? Haven’t taken on new responsibilities. It can depend on how we define success for ourselves, too. Right now? It’s taking care of myself even if my advisor thinks otherwise. 🙂
    Down time is an achievement for us because we don’t usually “waste” time. If that makes sense. We’re still doing something productive even if it isn’t what we think we “should” do or what others think we “should” do.

    Balance is a good thing! 😀

    1. I have been following your move to a more balanced life, and it seems like you’re doing well at it 🙂 congrats! Since “no” is so hard for me, I’m trying to present realistic choices to myself – I can do A or B, but not both. It seems less like I’m missing out, and more like I’m deliberately choosing what to experience.

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