The New Work-Life Balance

A few weeks ago I wrote a post describing how Friday was no longer the end of the working week.

Well it’s also true to say that 5:30 (or 6:00 or 6:30) is no longer the end of the working day.

Jimmy and Granddad Explore the Lake DistrictFor most people, myself included, the end of the working day is not marked by the point at which you leave an office or walk away from a screen.

However much we’d like to be able to put our life into little boxes, we don’t work that way. I can’t make myself only think about work things at work anymore than I can make my brain only think about leisure things when I’m not working. I try to minimise it by making notes, or adding things to lists, so that I can focus on the area that I need to be focussing at a given time, but I can’t completely compartmentalise.

I don’t have a big switch in my head that turns it from work mode to home mode “Engage work mode” “Work mode engaged”.

Dilbert.com

Keeping a work-life balance cannot be about hours, it has to be about focus and attention. When I’m “working” I’m focussing on my work, when I’m not I’m trying to focus on something else. Focussing on something else, of course, requires me to have something else to focus on – that’s the lesson of cognitive surplus.

The level of focus is now the way that I measure my work-life balance. Too much focus on work and it’s a problem. It’s not the volume of hours, it’s the level of focus and attention. I can cope with my mind reminding me of something I was supposed to do at work, or even of fashioning a good idea in my leisure time, but I’m unlikely to let myself get dragged deep into research on  the thing I’ve thought about.

Just this weekend I thought about a good way of visualising a problem I was trying to get my head around. I took out a note pad and pen scribbled it down in a few minutes and then forgot about it until today. I could have taken the idea and built it into a fully fledged resolution to the issue, but I wasn’t going to let my weekend be dominated by it.

Like many companies my employer requires me to book my time to particular activities. Fortunately I only have to book my time on a day-by-day basis, I don’t have to account for each bit of each day. If I did it would like quite odd, and very random with 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there. That’s the nature of my job. If there were a good way of measuring focus it would be a better way of measuring my contribution.

Personally I don’t measure the hours as part of my work-life balance – I measure the attention. Too much attention on work and I take steps to make sure that I have other attentions outside of work.

Being a bit of an information addict, I need to recognise that focus requires me to remove the distractions. You’ll have noticed, if you were watching, that my twitter activities have dropped off significantly (almost to nothing) over the last week. They had become a distraction and needed tackling, my contribution may increase, but for now I’m keeping away.

1 thought on “The New Work-Life Balance”

  1. Very thoughtful article. For a fresh take on building strong careers and families, check out Getting to 50/50 — on how men and women share roles with all sorts of good results — including a healthier sex life. The book also debunks some common myths that cause many moms to back away from their jobs. Authors Sharon Meers (a Goldman MD now in tech) and Joanna Strober (a private equity exec) share their often funny tales of combining work and family. Definitely a book worth checking out

    Like

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