Tag Archives: work life balance

Wednesday With Friends

Today is the first day of my blogging challenge that I haven’t known what I was going to write about so I just sat down in front of the laptop and opened a blank post.

It was a different kind of day: today is exactly one month since my hip replacement surgery and only my second time away from the farm. I am reasonably mobile although I carry a cane when I’m outside the house. We visited a friend who has had a bumper crop of pecans. The family gifted us a basket for the holidays and then invited us to come over for more. I visited with my friend while my husband used a pretty nifty tool to pick up the pecans. We’ll let them dry before shelling and then I will make a pie and these chewy pecan pie bars. The latter are delicious and do not require dealing with pie crust. Later, after running into my husband in town, the same friend stopped by our house for an afternoon visit. Lovely. We chatted some more and took a walk around the barnyard.

This is a little slice of life that I share as it is a reminder to me that I should take more advantage of the flexibility of my schedule. Knocking off to go visiting would not have been something I did pre-surgery. After all, the world could not live without me. My friend is a real estate agent with a similarly flexible schedule. We may have felt a little guilty for playing hooky, but as professionals, we knew a few hours of rest could actually help us focus better later. Huge rationalization? Maybe…but I think these kind of opportunities to connect with others informally within the confines of “working hours” could be considered a type of mindfulness. My friend and I talked about work and family and podcasts and books and gardening. We weren’t trying to accomplish goals or solve problems: we were just sharing ideas and stories around common interests on a wonderful Wednesday afternoon.

I love my work but my goal for the new year is to make sure I also make time for life.






Reconsidering How Work and Learning Happen

Avatar workingI work hard doing work I love. I am fortunate in that. And, I get to mostly do it from home which takes away a lot of the daily stresses (clean clothes, lunches, commutes). And yet, without the guardrails of regular work hours and employer expectations, it is easy to start to work all the time. Maybe not for hours on end but in bursts and starts that eventually take over the whole day. Work is always the focus.

Checking email is the worst culprit: quick glances throughout the day and following up with minor issues that didn’t need same day responses. (I get lots of “wow, thanks for getting back to me so quickly,” replies by way of example.)

And then, I had my hip replaced on December 11, 2019, and made a promise mostly to myself to just let it all go. Put up an out of office and go on leave. And, miracle of miracles, I did it. At first, it was because I really was in recovery, but after ten days, I was doing well both physically and mentally and would have been easily able to dive in. Yet, I didn’t even as I saw the number of messages ticking upwards in the app. Life could and would go on without me.

What did I do instead? First, I didn’t go offline completely. But, I did redirect my time. I tried to get engaged in Twitter more deeply than just retweeting and liking. I had a little success with some conversations. I also got more involved in LibraryThing and continue to make that community my priority for online interactions.

Offline, I read, played the piano, and crocheted, finishing up some of my Christmas gifts and then diving into my first piece of crocheted clothing: a sweater vest for my dad. It took a couple tries to get going but it is coming together nicely. I am a little worried that it is going to be too big but I guess that is better than too small.

So, as with many of you out there, this morning was something of a shock to the system. Honestly, the email was easily dealt with (mostly spam and promotions and updates), but after 90 minutes of reading and adding to the task list, I was tired, longing for the freedom of the past three weeks. And, I thought, there wasn’t any reason not to close out and take a break. So, that’s what I did. Took a break. Read a book. Wrote this blog post. Had lunch with my husband.

And, tried hard not to feel guilty that I hadn’t immediately put my shoulder to the proverbial grindstone the way most of my colleagues are doing at this very moment. From break to work without any kind of real transition. It’s tough for adults and probably tougher for the kids. Learning to put work in perspective, learning how to create a humane schedule, learning when you work best or when you need a break. All of those are lessons that, evidently have taken me 20 years and a new hip to learn. I wonder how we might help our children learn them along the way?


Finding the Flow

Inspired by Donna Donner’s post 12 Month Human at Four O’Clock Faculty which I found on Twitter via Tamara Letter:

I write a fair amount about living a life outside the traditional workforce. One lesson I continue to learn about living this life is that it flows and living in rather than fighting the flow is the way to move smoothly and calmly even through the rapids.

I was the road warrior in June: just take a look at my reading log. I hit a high of 13 books because I discovered The 39 Clues series on Audible. Each book takes about 4-1/2 hours of listening, which just happened to be the average length of each of my car trips. Every day was planned to the minute as each task had to be completed on time if events and trips were going to be successful. There was no time for procrastination. Within that strict regimen there was “work” and “life” as even my garden was part of the to do list. Weeding had to be done before I was gone for ten days. That meant a daylong marathon with shovel and cart. My husband shepherded me inside at dusk, handing me two ibuprofen as I walked up the steps.

And now…it’s July, and for the first time in many years, I am home. No traveling, no training, even very little “work.” My mother was worried that I was going to be bored and suggested I could use the free time to house clean. I’m thinking more Scratch programming and Raspberry Pi exploration along with early morning hours in the garden and long afternoons floating in the pool with a book.

Donna Donna got to the heart of my life when she wrote that her teaching life is “entwined with all the other cycles of my life.” She goes on:

As my summer rolls on I will honor my love of learning, my love for my family, my love for my profession and my curiosity of the world. My life cycle flows with this balance all year long. You see, I am a 12-month mother. I am a 12-month wife. I am a 12-month friend.  I am a 12-month teacher. I am a 12-month human. I never take a vacation from any of those parts of me. Some parts just come out a little stronger at times but all contribute to balancing me as a whole.

I think the struggle is figuring out which part is stronger at any time as I tend to want to always focus on the work I do for others first. I resonated with Donna sitting on the porch with her hummingbirds–mine are at their height right now, buzzing me as I head out to fill the feeders–reviewing her notes from a summer workshop. For me, it would be planning ahead for my fall courses and events.

Then, I sat down at the laptop this morning prepared to put in a full morning of work and realized I didn’t have to…I could browse Twitter and that led to Tamara’s tweet and Donna’s post and some writing. It’s a different kind of work this personal reflection and community connection, and who knows where it might lead. The emails will wait; the preparation for an October workshop will wait; it’s time for the focus to be on my own learning and growing and flowing.



Making Time For…

Somehow, my March Raspberry Pi and Python adventure got lost in April and May. Work, travel, semester end, all those things took up my time. Learning Python was not a priority, and once it fell off the to do list, it stayed off. It was easy to ignore the Raspberry Pi, too, since the huge monitor was gone.

It happens often, doesn’t it? The things we would like to do get pushed aside for all the things we feel like we have to do. I think it’s even harder for someone like me who works independently. I can just keep working, maybe with the sense that I could actually get through the WHOLE to do list and then have some free time.

Let’s face it: that isn’t going to happen. Just as I am checking off the last item, an email shows up with some non-urgent request. Might as well answer it so it won’t be lurking around tomorrow. And, if I worked on the newsletter now–even thought it isn’t due to go out for four days–then it will be done. And, and, and…you are getting the gist of it, right?

So, at some point in the last couple weeks, I started adding non-work, non-priority activities to my to do list including Python programming, piano playing, blogging and yoga, all activities I enjoy but that often got lost in the fog of work. Just having them written down along helped a bit. And then there was the advice of Zed A. Shaw, author of Learn Python the Hard Way in his “Note on Practice and Persistence” in the introduction:

If you break the problem down into small exercises and lessons, and do them every day, you can learn to do almost anything. If you focus on slowly improving and enjoying the learning process, then you will benefit no matter how good you are at it.

And that’s really become my strategy: do a little each day. Sometimes, the few minutes at the piano or on the yoga mat turn into a half hour or hour. One Python exercise becomes two or three. And here’s the blog entry for today: no major lessons but a reminder to use all that if something is important to us, we need to make time for it. In a 24/7 world, we can work all the time…but that, as we know, makes us all dull people.


When Work and Life Mix

Something about this blog entry from the Harvard Review really bothered me. It’s this paragraph that really seemed over the edge and made me wonder if this was irony:

Technology has not ruined your work-life balance, it has simply exposed how boring your work and your life used to be. Did you ever try to figure out why it is so hard to stop checking your smartphone, even when you are having dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in ages, celebrating your anniversary, watching a movie, or out on a first date? It’s really quite simple: None of those things are as interesting as the constant hum of your e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter account. Reality is over-rated, especially compared to cyberspace. Technology has not only eliminated the boundaries between work and life, but also improved both areas.

I worry that the “constant hum” of the Internet does interfere with our personal lives, and I try to take at least one “sabbath” day when I disconnect from media in general. A day that goes unreported on Facebook or Flickr, a day when I connect with reality, no matter how over-rated it might be. I bake and sew and read an analog book off the shelf.

I do that because I do worry about the work/life balance. I need to take a break from my work because I have other passions and communities that require attention. And taking a break is sometimes the best way to a great, new idea, or the solution to a nagging problem. But, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic goes on to describe an idea that I’ve been considering lately. He calls it the difference between a job and a career, I called it the difference between a job and work:

People who have jobs, rather than careers, worry about work-life balance because they are unable to have fun at work. If you are lucky enough to have a career — as opposed to a job — then you should embrace the work-life imbalance. A career provides a higher sense of purpose; a job provides an income. A job pays for what you do; a career pays for what you love. If you are always counting the number of hours you work (e.g., in a day, week, or month) you probably have a job rather than a career. Conversely, the more elusive the boundaries between your work and life, the more successful you probably are in both. A true career isn’t a 9-5 endeavor. If you are having fun working, you will almost certainly keep working. Your career success depends on eliminating the division between work and play. Who cares about work-life balance when you can have work-lifefusion?

I was attracted to the idea of work-life fusion. But as long as having a career means also having a job, this fusion will be difficult to achieve. You have to be somewhere for 40 hours and then put in another 40 hours in your “free time.” If you are active for about 15 hours a day, that leaves you 25 hours per week or 3.5 hours a day. And what do you do? Spend it commuting.

I think a work-life fusion can only happen truly successfully when your work and your life take place in the same location where you control both when and how you work.

I agree with the writer that work and career isn’t about the number of hours you work or are supposed to work, but it’s about being able to distribute those hours in ways that make sense for you. Develop the “fluid” approach described by Melanie Pinola, feature in Lifehacker’s How We Work series. Somehow it doesn’t seem like you’re working 80 hours when you can divide them up between family or other passions. And many people will save 2 hours each day just getting to work.