A blog by Jeff Woodward, Director of Client Productions
Work life balance in the age of constant connectedness.
Happy Family Day to you and yours if you’re reading this in a place that observes the day, and if you’re not, just hello. Family Day is a statutory holiday in February that’s observed in about two thirds of Canada’s provinces and it actually has iterations all over the globe. It’s nice to know that the government was so worried we’d be missing our families after spending all of the Christmas season with them that they scheduled a special day for them only 6 weeks later. All joking aside though, family day seems like an appropriate time to talk about work life balance.
Now, to be clear I am no expert on that matter, but I’ve worked in a couple of industries, hospitality and film, which both notoriously have zero regard for any kind of balance so this is an issue I’ve faced a lot over the years. With that in mind I’ll offer some lessons I’ve learned and a couple strategies to cope.
I think the first thing to point out, and it will seem obvious but it took me a long time to figure this out so I think it bears saying: work life balance isn’t simply an equation of “work x hours a day and spend y hours a day with your family and reserve z hours a day for yourself”. The truth is that’s just not practical, and juggling our busy lives with that sort of rigidity would probably be more stressful than not having any balance. The reality of most jobs is that we have schedules, deadlines, coworkers and bosses that dictate our ability to come and go as we please. When I was a chef I often worked incredibly long hours and those hours were dictated by the needs of my customers. I worked evenings and weekends all the time which meant that I sacrificed many family events and holidays. I didn’t know much about work life balance then and eventually I burned out. I left the world of kitchens and cocktails, like so many people, but I took some lessons with me. I learned to listen to my body, to take vacations and actually relax and not to wait until I was utterly exhausted and sick to actually take a day off. Baby steps, I know.
After working for many years as a chef, I made a midlife career shift into the arts, working as an actor, producer and director in film and television. This industry brings its own unique set of challenges but I think I was much better prepared to handle them than I had been in my early twenties. Film and television production have notoriously long hours and are extremely deadline driven, but luckily that also means there are real lulls in activity and stress. This is where I really began to understand work life balance and what it meant for me. Yes, I might work twelve or fourteen hour days for a period but I know for how long that will be and I can plan around it, to ensure I have rest periods in between. I’ve also learned that sometimes you just have to say no. Again this might seem painfully obvious to everyone but me, but in my experience a lot of people have a really hard time saying no, especially to work. I’ve learned that not only is it okay to do so, but often times it makes people want to work with you even more. Who knew?
I’ve also learned some day to day habits that provide me some sanity and balance. These won’t work for everyone but if you’ve never considered any of these maybe give them a try.
- Accept that some days you’re going to have to work longer hours but the flipside of that is don’t feel guilty if you leave half an hour early once in awhile if you’ve had a really productive day.
- Take your work email off your phone, or at the very least, disable your notifications. The truth of the matter is, unless you’re an emergency surgeon or a first responder, there is not actually anything life or death about your job. So don’t check emails at home, don’t respond to emails on the weekend. I actually take this one step further for myself, if I have a particularly busy day, I shut off email notifications on my laptop as well, and actually schedule time to check and respond to emails. That way I don’t get caught up in one of those endless email vortexes and lose half my day. (This rule applies double to social media. Responding to those notifications can suck away all your work AND personal time)
- Schedule, schedule schedule! This might sound counterintuitive to the idea of balance, relaxing and taking time for yourself but in actuality it’s one of the easiest ways to ensure you’re chiseling out enough time for everything you need. Keep a phone calendar, keep a desk calendar, keep a daytimer in your bag, whatever it takes...oh, and if you get that far then actually use it. That works even better. Our Project Manager Tony did an amazing blog on Bullet Journalling a little while ago, if you haven’t looked at it, now’s the time.
- Daydream. Daydreaming is good. It’s personal time you can take almost anywhere, anytime. It’s good for you, it helps refocus you and for me anyway it can help me tackle bigger thought problems I might be dealing with. NOTE: DO NOT DO THIS IF YOU’RE A BUS DRIVER.
- Give up on multitasking. It’s a myth, it’s a canard of the “busy worker”. The truth is humans legitimately stink at it. The skill to cultivate is to be able to focus on one thing for a short time, then move over to another task and focus completely on that, and so on. This returns to points two and three about eliminating distractions and planning things out. When I was a chef’s apprentice we scheduled our days out in 15 minute intervals, let me tell you, that teaches you a razor sharp focus.
- When you leave work, leave work behind. This is tangentially related to email alerts but I mean this is in a physical sense. One of the habits I learned from a film director I worked with that I absolutely love is this. Wherever he’s working he always ensures he has a five to ten minute walk built into his commute. That way, he has a little time each day before and after work to separate his personal and work worlds. I’ve incorporated this into my personal routine and wow is it effective. That walk lets a stressful day melt away from you so you can move on with your life. The flipside works too, a brisk walk on the way to the office helps me focus and hit the ground running when I get to work.
- Take lunch. This is a no brainer, but what I mean is this: leave your workspace when you eat. Go to the lunchroom, go for a walk, go to the mall, whatever. It’s not something i do every day but it is undoubtedly a way to provide some balance to your day. One of my favourite things about film sets is that the entire crew sits down together for a collective meal time every day. What a great way to commune and mingle with your colleagues away from the stress of the job, if even for an hour.
- See your friends and family. It can be so easy after a long stressful day to just want to stay in and scroll through your social media feeds but even a half an hour visit with friends and family can re-energize you and give you the strength you need. Also, hugs, make sure you get hugs. Schedule them if you have to.
- Make time for yourself. Have a bath, read a book, take time to recharge. Schedule it if you have to.
This one’s from my mom. CALL YOUR MOTHER! She’s smarter than you, she’ll tell you what you’ve been doing wrong and how to fix it. Plus, think of all the times she did what you wanted to as a kid instead of what she wanted to...you owe her that.
That’s my fairly lighthearted look at work life balance. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, now get back to your family. It IS Family Day after all, so you should get to it, but if you’re not quite ready yet, take 10 minutes to watch this hilarious cautionary tale about a lack of work life balance and its consequences called The Talk. (mature language warning)