Another Post on Work/Life Balance

It’s the last night of spring break. Two weeks before the break my therapist strongly suggested I take the week entirely off work. Between ramped up research (with intensive data collection requiring my presence), a faculty search, increased service expectations in my third year, and…oh yeah…teaching, I haven’t taken much time for myself this semester and the stress has really been wearing on me. Usually I like having the break to catch up on writing with shorter days in the office, I decided to try taking the whole thing off.

I’m not sure it helped.

Today I spent some time weeding in the front yard while my toddler napped. My thoughts wandered to this concept of work/life balance again. Since starting my TT job I’ve prided myself on leaving work at the office – and leaving the office at a reasonable hour. I don’t go in on weekends unless I absolutely cannot avoid it. It helps that I was experiencing first trimester exhaustion when I started the job and couldn’t work at home in the evenings even if I wanted to.

Having a young child at home means I’m very focused on her in the evenings. It’s distressing to me if I miss dinner too often (let’s say, more than once a week) or if I have to miss bedtime. Some of this comes from my childhood – I remember my dad missing dinner a lot, or having dinner at 9 PM so that he would be home for it. He was always gone when I woke up in the morning and often had just arrived home when I went to bed. He didn’t make sporting events. He was department chair from my middle school years until after I started college, and worked extremely long hours during that time. When he was home, he was grouchy. That isn’t what I want for my child.

So, I don’t bring work home. I’m home by dinner (almost) all of the time. I try not to leave before she wakes up. More often than not, I do the daycare drop off and pick up. I’m home on weekends (while my husband works).

But today while I was weeding I wondered if my insistence on leaving work at work is helping – making me more efficient – or hurting. Would I feel the pressure less if I went back to the office after my toddler went to bed, or worked from home in the evenings?

Realistically, I don’t think so. First and foremost, I think my marriage would suffer. Evenings are the only time we get together, just the two of us. Second…damn I’m tired. I don’t really think the work I did at home in the evenings would be as good as what I do during the day.

Should I get up at 4:30 and work? I don’t know. Maybe.

Clearly I’m still on the steep part of the TT learning curve. Any tips for keeping work within “business hours” but being sufficiently productive and not losing your mind? I’m all ears over here.

2 thoughts on “Another Post on Work/Life Balance

  1. My two-cents: it sounds like you’re in a pretty good spot, in so far as you have a pretty reliable pattern of who is doing what, and there is some margin for wiggle-room when things go side-ways for you, your spouse and the family (as undoubtedly, side-ways will happen).

    In my experience so far (greying on the other side of the tenure decision, where a child came like a miraculous thunderclap at the same bell of the tenure clock), there is ALWAYS more Pressure.

    Always – always more. Always more with the pressure, it comes, unceasingly: in heaps and droves and gaggles, murders and throngs. Niggling voices telling you to get that other sh*t done, because it needs getting done. There is ALWAYS another paper, another grant, a course evaluation that could have been better, a student who can be worked with more, a review assignment that could be finished earlier, a talk that you should be giving, some demanding, mewling voice telling you to be MORE… (maybe that’s just me).

    Pressure does not let up.

    I say that only as a way of saying that More Hours at the end of the day may not Help. Not if it ultimately drains your tank, leaves you with fewer reserves for your family, for your actual creative/scholarly work, it may not really be worth it. It may be a stop-gap, to get some critical items on the List done … but once that new habit is established, that’s the new bar, the new normal, the new pattern, and there is less wiggle-room for when you need it (however desperate you may be), when something goes side-ways.

    So for now — maybe see how the 3rd review goes: share your plans as well as your productivity to date; make sure that you and your colleagues are on the same page regarding expectations and your trajectory (both real and idealized and imagined through the worse lens). If all three of those potential views of the future are tenable, then will more Hours at the end of the day (or at the beginning) be necessary? Maybe. But maybe not.

    With respect to your actual question: part of the not losing your mind is getting some feedback from colleagues, and part is triaging the Real Things To Worry About from the needless dross that appears (if only to drag your mind away from actual Work that Matters)*, and part is learning what balance feels like and recognizing it as a good thing.

    Does that help?

    * With respect to the middle thing, every time you’re about to Add something to the To Do List, ask yourself, “How is this going to further my goals?” And if there is no good answer, don’t even put it on the list, say no to it, or delegate it.

    • Thank you! This is all very helpful. You’re probably right about the ever rising bar and that is something that worries me. I was already reviewed earlier this year and it was fine (the usual publish more, get more money, but not in a bad way). One year at a time, I guess.

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