Maintaining a Work-Life Equilibrium

Its 6:30 a.m. and I am heading into town on the METRO train traversing the underworld of federal politics. The trip is made shorter by the musical stylings of a woman sitting across from me who is singing along to the earspray of an all-too-loud MP3 player implanted in her ears. 

Still, my mind is preoccupied by the piddle puppy that I left behind. Today will be a long one and I am worried that I won’t make it home before her biological clock sounds an alarm to empty her personal flood gates. I’ll have to remember to call the kid across the street to ask if he can let her out for a little play time and relief on his way home from school.

These days there are many things that compete for my time. And sometimes I just can’t get it all done during working hours. For those items that will wait, I will. But some tasks like this article have firm deadlines that cannot be moved, so I’ll just complete them at home in the times that I would normally consider personal. It’s just the way things work. It’s the way I work.

Gone are the days when life could be compartmentalized neatly into leak-proof polybags each segmented and hermetically sealed. With the advent of cell phones, crackberries, and instant messaging, I am open to the world at any time—available 24/7. But I don’t mind most of the time, as long as I’m allowed the flexibility and tools to integrate these work activities with my more mundane tasks like laundry and yard work. It is actually very similar to the way that my grandparents lived a century ago in the agrarian age.

In those days, as my Dad often recounts, everyone lived on a farm. Life began before dawn feeding chickens and milking cows. Kids went off to school and both parents set into their chores. When the kids came home they started into other work like plowing fields, washing clothes and finally, after dark, doing homework. It was a complete integration of family, work and life.

As we look toward the future, we are likely to see more of the same. Futurists predict further integration of work and life with some people choosing to telecommute at least one day per week. Others will split their time between projects in Chicago and Beijing using the Internet to fold time and space. Whatever your fate, there are a few things that you can do to ease the transition.

  1. Schedule time for family and friends. Don’t rely on happenstance to bring you together to share your lives and experiences.
  2. Set limits on your availability. Use the auto-off functions on your personal communications devices rendering them harmless at the end of the day.
  3. Set personal goals for creativity and fitness. Every once in a while you have to give the left side of your brain a little R&R letting your right-brain pick up the slack. The same is true for your body. It was made to move.
  4. Fight entropy with organization and prioritization. Doing tasks as they come along is the surest way to fail. It’s a bit like making the “minimum” payment on your credit card balance each month.
  5. Take your life back. Every intrusion that work makes into your personal space should be balanced by something fun at work.

This is the time of the year that most people set resolutions that they never plan to keep. As we begin 2007, I hope that you will make the commitment to bring your work-life balance into equilibrium. Remember Le Châtelier’s principle which states that an equilibrium system, when stressed, will shift its equilibrium to alleviate that stress? Just ask yourself, “What would Le Châtelier do?”

This article was written by David Harwell, Assistant Director of the ACS Department of Career Development and Management.  Origianally published in the newsletter on Dec. 18, 2006.

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