I am probably not the best person to ask about work-life balance, because, frankly, I work all the time. I get up early, do my morning practice (a mini yoga/meditation/reflection routine that can range from five to 15 minutes long), grab breakfast and a cup of coffee, and then go to my desk.
From there, I work like a woman possessed — right up until I need to go work out, or I get hungry for lunch, or I feel like my brain is shutting down. Then, for a little while, I make it a point to do something fun and relaxing that doesn’t involve too much thinking.
If I’m working at home, I might get the mail, or hang out laundry, or lie down on the floor and pet my dog for a little while. If I’m at the office, I might check in with my teammates, go fix a snack, or run a quick errand. While I am doing these things, I usually wind up remembering something important, or I am struck by a great idea — generally an idea for work.
So back to work I go, and that’s pretty much the way my days proceed. On meeting-intensive days, I’m moving continuously from one conversation, update or presentation to the next. On writing- and editing-intensive days, I can look like Jack Nicholson’s character (albeit, I hope, with better hair) madly typing away in The Shining. And on days like today (when we are finishing the magazine), it can be a chaotic, shuttling dance: Mark up layouts, write my column, review illustrations — all while fielding phone calls and remembering that I need to refill my water next time I pass the office kitchen.
For the most part, I love this. Yes, I’ve been known to work long days, but I’ve also managed to stay surprisingly healthy and happy working this way for, oh, about a decade now. So while I’m probably not the best person to ask about work-life balance, I might be a decent person to ask about how to remain relatively sane and resilient in the absence of it.
If you’re one of the many busy people out there treading a similar path, here’s some advice:
- Listen carefully. If you pay attention to your body’s subtle cues for food, water, breaks, rest and sleep, and you respect those cues, you stand a better chance of avoiding what I call body-mind mutiny. That’s where your body says to your brain: “To heck with you, bossypants! You clearly aren’t qualified to run this show, and now I’m going to demonstrate to you just how in-charge I can be — by shutting things down, in part or entirely, depending on just how peeved I am.” (This is the point when you start getting rashes, headaches, digestive disorders, insomnia, slipped discs and cardiac events.) Ignore your body’s needs, and you do so at your peril.
- Be discerning. If you’re going to work really hard, strive to work on things you really love, and for causes that matter to you and with people you care about and enjoy. In such situations, work, play and purpose intertwine in ways that make the undoable seem strangely doable. That doesn’t mean we should ever run ourselves ragged, of course. But if you are working mega-hours for something you don’t adore or deeply believe in, you are slowly but surely allowing your life energy to be drained away. At some point, you will have cause to regret this.
- Respect the connection between your self-care and your self-fulfillment. Work done with clear intent and passion is one means of expressing your full potential as a person. But you need to be at your best to give your best. If, in the name of hyper-producing, you allow yourself to become diminished, you’re going to experience diminishing returns. Regularly taking time — to get a massage, take a bike ride, sneak away for some fun, or just totally power off and stare into space — is not only OK, it is often absolutely necessary, even (or maybe especially) for workaholic types. If you feel you are falling prey to “empty well syndrome,” switch gears or renegotiate your commitments in ways that let you fill back up again.
I’ll end on that note, because my water glass is empty and my brain is asking for a break.