Thursday, September 13, 2012

Work and Life and Balance

In the desperate throws of job hunting, I found it really hard to consider work-life balance.  I mean, you need a work life to have that problem, right?  But endless hours surfing the web and lining up interviews with strangers made me realize that neither of these activities makes me appear like the thoughtful, bright and engaged person I want to be as a professional.  I don't like having deadlines and to-do lists hanging over my head, but I'm a lot better at dealing with those things when I have taken some time to collect myself.

Working from home moves the work life-balance into a much starker contrast.  Aside from being in a position to micromanage every single aspect of my career (Which client is worth spending the time to impress?  Who is more likely to send me lucrative contracts in the future?), I'm also faced with the immediate consequences of those choices.  I literally get to choose: should I continue working or go do something fun with my spouse? 

However, being able to micromanage my work-life (I tend to have a pretty good idea of how long it should take me to write certain documents, so I can work on various projects for a set amount of time) I also notice when I'm not as sharp as I need to be.  It's been illuminating to notice that when I start working too many hours, or working on too many different things during the day (there is an energy cost to switching tasks, perhaps?) I'm way less productive.  The work I produce takes longer and often isn't as good.  It's tempting to just say, "I can't write at my best when I am busy! I have so many things going on!"  But I'm a professional.  I get paid to produce decent (not Pulitzer prize winning) writing.  My editors don't really care that I have a lot of other things on my plate right now, I've committed to producing things for them. 

It's been refreshing to realize that, for me, at this time, work-life balance means that I have to limit the amount I work so that I can be better at the work I do. Seriously, I have to go do something fun, with other people, and make sure my home is dealt with (I am no domestic goddess, but the absence of clean clothes and dishes is distracting), or I can't work at my best. I'm sure this was true in grad school as well, but I wasn't attuned to it in the same way. That internal sense of dysfunction just seemed like part of the sacrifice I was making for my career, not that I was failing to be my best. It's liberating to get away from the guilt of "not working enough;" having a social life contributes in a meaningful way to my ability to do my job and advance,  it's not a distraction.

I still have occasional fits of "there might still be work to do" panic, but for the most part, it's getting easier to clock out when that time of the day arrives when I remember that I need to.

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