During this extraordinary period of time in education it’s incredibly important not to lose a focus on keeping work/life balance. On my other blog, the Ministry of Happiness, I’ve written pretty extensively about work/life balance.
We often give great lip service in education to work/life balance. We talk about how important it is and then turn around on a Friday and ask to have something done by Monday morning. It is easy to get caught up in the ever burgeoning amount of work and documentation that occurs in education. Whether you’re an administrator seeing the ever expanding requirements related to documenting accountability; a faculty member working on student learning and program learning outcomes as well as designing, completing and reporting on assessments of each; or a classified professional who is having to take more and more required training classes; we’re all incredibly busy.
Now throw in a global pandemic that has literally changed how we do everything. Adding to our burdens without taking any off of our plate and flat out, we are all tired and worn out. I can see it on people’s faces in meetings, I can hear it in their voices when they talk about their lives right now.
Below are the normal core tips that I usually offer in regards to maintaining a healthy work/life balance, below these are my COVID adjustments.
Tips for increasing life/work balance
Find something your passionate about – It’s important to identify those things we truly enjoy. How do you do that? Focus on things that make you lose track of time, one of those for me is photography.
No working 7 days in a row – Always make sure that one day a week you don’t work. The reason is that there is no 7 days in a row, if you work 7 you automatically add the next week and end up doing at least 12. This is the quickest way to stress and burn out.
Claim your space – Personally, I do not work at home. This means I might have to stay in the office til 10 at night but it keeps my home separate from the stresses of work and truly makes my home a sanctuary. I get that this doesn’t work for most people and if you have a family you will have to work at home. However, claim your space at home, only work in your office or in one space in one room. Don’t let your work bleed into family time or to the family dinner table. I understand that 3 year-olds obey no rules or barriers so if you’re dealing with toddlers, do the best you can.
Take mental health days – We all have sick days, note they are not called physically sick days. Don’t be afraid from time to time to just call in for a day and take a break. It’s just as important to rest and keep your mental health in good condition as it is for your body.
Take your vacation days – This drives me nuts, how is it that people can max out their vacation time and HAVE to take a day off to keep form losing time. It’s so important to give yourself a break, do something you love or just do nothing at all for a day or a week. Take your vacation days my friends.
Take real vacations – Finally, take REAL vacations. What do I mean by that? Don’t take that vacation that leaves you saying you need a vacation from your vacation when you get back home. A real vacation is one where you can completely get out of your life for at least a couple of days. This means a vacation where you cut the electronic leash that is your cell phone and where you do something that so engrosses you that you can leave your everyday life behind, it’s the only true rest you’ll ever really get. Also, if you leave town, don’t come back on Sunday and go to work on Monday. Give yourself a buffer day or two between vacation and returning to work.
COVID Times add-in tips for work/life balance
Create space at home and in your life – right now we are all in crazy work from home situations. Many of us are working from home with other adults and often with several children doing distance education as well. There are the inevitable band-width and noise issues. The child or pet who always seems to pick the worse possible moment to make an appearance. I have one colleague whose toddler loves to repeat ever thing her mom says when she’s on Zoom. So what can you do? Create space, whether physical or virtual. If you have a partner or another adult who can cover, take a walk or a drive and get some time alone, then reciprocate for your partner please. In your home, as much as you can, designate work and play spaces and hold that line as best you can. Also, if you can afford it, this is not the time to economize on bandwidth. Maximize your internet connectivity through upgrades to your connection speed or investing in additional connection points via mobile hotspots. Yes, it’s a hit on the budget, but it might be worth it for the mental anxiety it relieves.
Do a better job scheduling your life and alerts – my brother, who is working from how with three toddlers between 1 and 6, is living a bifurcated life. He gets up a 4 AM trying to get a couple of hours of work in before the kids start their day. Then, he essentially gives up for most of the day except during nap time, at least on the days when they all nap at the same time. Then, once the kids are in bed he works again for a few hours. This seems to be a common strategy, so if it’s possible try and schedule your activities to minimize conflicts of time and attention.
One of the things that really gets us these days are our alerts. You’re never truly off of the clock if your phone dings, blinks or lists all of your incoming messages and emails. So take control over your life and schedule your phone connection. I saw a huge difference when I stopped my work email alerts on my phone. Now I’m in control of when I have to see, think about and deal with issues that arrive by email. Most can wait until tomorrow, and even if you’re good about that, often just reading the subject line of the email stresses you out. How often, like me, has that subject line eaten at you until at 11PM at night you just have to jump on and reply. By taking off of the alerts I can look at email for a last time at 7PM and then truly disconnect from work for the rest of the night.
Truly unplug – in my original advice above, I talk about never working 7 days in a row. In our new environment, most of us are violating the hell out of that rule. We answer emails 7 days a week. Although that seems minor, my friends that’s working, and when you work days and weeks on end without a break you burn out. You lose your emotional reserves and you begin to struggle to focus, don’t do it. One day a week, cut the phone off, leave the laptop closed, or at least don’t pull up your email accounts and shut off those alerts. Even a single day of space each weekend will work wonders on your mental health. Ideally, shut it down from Friday night to Monday morning, but baby steps for now, at least get a day, if that seems too intimidating, pick a 12 hour period on one day a week.
Seek out beauty and positivity – It’s easy to get caught up in everything that’s going on at work, with your family, in the world and politics. Which is why I wrote a post recently entitled, Don’t forget about beauty. There are many things in the world that we all love, don’t forget they’re out there. Don’t forget to go looking for them, even just a simple sunset or sunrise. An easy way to not lose track is to ask yourself the following question every day, what is the most beautiful thing I experienced today? This question will get you to reflect on the beauty you’ve encountered and start to look for more beauty in your life.
Now I realize some of you out there have the perfect job and life situation. One that does not feel like work, a job where you wake up in the morning and can’t wait to go to do what other people feel like is a chore. If that’s you, fantastic but for the rest of us these tips can help us have more balanced and happier days. ~ Michael Kane