As students and employees in a pandemic our work lives and personal lives feel as though they have converged into a grey area. Our bedrooms are now lecture halls, our kitchens the new office, and our free time seems to no longer exist as we struggle to co-manage our work, duties to others, and personal wellbeing. Once, working from home was seen as a good method for improving the work-life balance, but as Crosbie and Moore evaluated back in 2004, working from home is a double-edged sword. How can you strike a good balance between work and life, especially when the line has become blurred?
The term ‘balance’ implies work and life should be equal. However, this depends on you: your priorities and your goals. Don’t let other people’s definitions of a good work-life balance interfere with what matters to you but equally, give some attention to both aspects. If you enjoy your work, think about how other areas of your life can enable you to work better. What can you do to feel recharged or inspired? If you favour life over work, consider how you can manage your time efficiently for work to make more time for life. Some might think a good work-life balance means you are performing perfectly in all aspects of your life. But it's simpler than that. Sometimes, it’s the continuation of small parts of the day that improve our quality of life over time, such as daily exercise or meditation or hobbying. You can plan an ideal day, but the bigger picture is about finding sustainable satisfaction in the long term. You do not need every single day to be perfectly balanced, but by taking a mesoscale view, balanced weeks and months over time are likely to culminate in an extended sense of wellbeing and productivity.
Be honest with yourself, where is your time really going? A time audit can show you what happens in the day that seems to disappear so quickly, with little to show for at the end. You can start by writing down what you intend to accomplish for the day. Then, document what happens in your day hour by hour. At the end of the day, assess how much you achieved and how long it took. You might find you spent three hours ‘working’ but in reality were distracted during most of it. Acknowledge those distractions in order to work more efficiently. Additionally, you can audit your energy. When did you feel most energised or drained, and why? Is it your diet? Is it spending too long indoors? Using these metrics alongside time-diaries will help get the most out of your work, chores and activities.
Are you wasting time on things that mean very little to you? Identify what matters to you mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Your energy audit is a good starting point, helping you identify those things that make you feel good and productive. These will be personal to you and could be anything from socialising more (even digitally, which is infinitely better than isolating yourself), meditating, sleeping better, or simply finding time to cook yourself a nice meal at the end of the day. Remember not to delay the life you are working or studying for; you can enjoy life each day you live it, not only when you reach the end of your studies or retirement.
The ability to switch on and off for different aspects of our life is important for achieving balance. You can do this by setting clear boundaries for when you start and stop work but also, when you will rest, do chores, or take breaks. Additionally, allocate a space for work and a space for rest - this is particularly important when working or studying from home. If you find this difficult, have someone else hold you accountable, like a flatmate. Make plans with someone that prevents you from going back to work when resting. Or, choose to work alongside someone else; even though you'll probably be working on different things, that shared sense of endeavour and subsequently accomplishment makes the work component all the more satisfying and thus sustainable.