Monday, July 15, 2013

Work-life balance: a sine curve, not a scale

I just took a week off from work. I almost made it the whole week without checking my email, but I caved on day 5 when I realized I had 200 emails in my inbox. Fortunately, a fair amount of them were things like "there are cookies in the break room" and "the copier is up/down/depressed/homocidal". I was able to handle anything that truly needed my attention easily with email, and everything else appeared to be well in hand, thanks to the great interns that work on my team.

This week off is part of my summer-of-scaling-back, which was preceded by the months of October 2012-May 2013 being fast and furious (sans Vin Diesel) with deadlines and workload. It was during that time that I remember a phenomenon that is arguably particular to architecture. It's the phenomenon of our work-life balance. The general world of white-collar work gives us this image of work-life balance as if it were scales, like the sign for the zodiac sign of Libra: always in perfect balance and harmony. We're told that every day is balance: some work, some play, some chores, some sleep.

But the truth, especially for architects, is more complex: it's more like a sine wave. There are times where the work calls for more of your effort, time, and attention. There are times where your health calls for the most attention. Sometimes it's your partner or spouse. Sometimes it's your parents. Sometimes it's your hobby or side business. Life's demands ebb and flow depending on what's going on, and the illusion that everything is always only demanding X or Y is a myth. The sine wave shows this a lot better than the scales: above the X axis is work and professional demands, below the X axis is personal demands.

After my major deadlines passed in May, I pulled my boss aside and let him know I needed some rest this summer, and he concurred and has been supporting me in that. The project and the team are in a place where I can do this, and even better, they can get rest too. (I wasn't the only one who was worn out.) So I'm planning some vacations and time off this summer with my husband to make up for answering work email on our anniversary trip in February.

Accepting the ebb and flow is a lot easier than constantly struggling to make things balance every single day, and it's a lot more realistic. Allowing yourself to deal with demands and deadlines by month Or week instead of by day takes some pressure off. But do remember: it's up to you to say when the sine wave has gone too far for too long in one direction.

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