Work/life balance can be a bit of a buzzword; but do we actually take the time to schedule our work/life balance? And what happens when your work/life balance needs to swing in one direction or another?
Rhiannon Thomas, Operations Manager at Suvera, has been trying to balance a whole lot of life recently. More specifically a litter of 6 Labradoodle puppies, alongside a day job ironing out the various processes at Suvera and making sure the whole team is pulling in the same direction. ⚖️
I've always worked from home, in digital health start-ups at the beginning of their journey. My first day in the working world was sat on a plastic garden chair in my living room surrounded by moving boxes. It's not exactly the height of glamour, but it works well for me. It allows me to break up my day with off-peak food shopping and laundry, and I can create a working environment that suits my mood on that particular day.
But it does have its downsides - the temptation to wake up, immediately check your phone and get stuck into work before thinking about showering or breakfast can leave you quite hungry and the postman thinking you're a mess. It takes away the boundary between work and the rest of your life, and it's even harder now everyone is doing it. When I lived in a houseshare in London, my housemates arriving home from their office jobs would signify to me it was time for me to switch off, but now with my partner John and I both working from home, there's no external force telling us when to stop.
Unless you count Pepper, our 5-year-old Labradoodle. She is quite punctual when it comes to 5.30pm dinner time, and getting us out into the fields to "commute" back home from work. When I first started to work from home, I heard about people who literally walked around the block at the start and end of their day in order to train their brain to create a boundary between work and the rest of life. Now during my evening commute/dog walk I can feel myself migrating away from work mode, step by step.
Sounds idyllic right? Except we thought that was too simple and serene, so we decided to introduce puppies to the mix. John's childhood was full of new puppy litters and dog shows, but as an adult, his office job stopped him from be able to breed from Pepper - cue Covid-19.
Pepper's pups arrived in June and for the 8 weeks after their birth, the life side of the work/life balance was a lot to handle. We both took a week off after they were born, a very sleepless week hoping that none of the tiny "squiggly pigs" got squashed whilst feeding. As they got stronger and more independent they got louder, and their toilet presents got bigger. They've recently moved on to their "furever" (sorry, I couldn't resist) homes and John and I are enjoying a more grandparent role where we make cute comments on their Facebook pictures - but don't have to deal with any mess or chaos.
Our situation is not entirely unique, sometimes real-life needs to cut into your work life. People move house or go through break ups, family members get ill or friends need your support. I found it really difficult to adjust to that shift in the balance, like I was doing both of my "jobs" half hearted.
Work/life balance is not something someone else will arrange for you, and that balance will see-saw from one to the other from time to time. Make a plan to balance your time, adjust that plan as things change, show someone else your plan, empower them to also make their own plan.
Of course, how feasible a lot of this depends on how progressive your employer is - we're definitely privileged at Suvera to be actively encouraged to have a life outside of work. Not everyone is this lucky, but if you are too - take advantage of it.
I don't know to what extent I took my own advice, nevertheless these are my thoughts
- If your company, like Suvera, supports flexible hours then use it - set your working hours in your calendar so people cannot book you in your down time. Protect your time, no one else will, but they might follow your example for themselves.
- Promote honesty about how you're feeling - at Suvera we change our Slack status if we're feeling a little slow or our mind is elsewhere, this context helps us adjust how we might approach someone. I asked to move a meeting because I had no brain space left that day; the reaction - yes absolutely, take all the time you need and thank you for feeling you could be so honest.
- Set boundaries, set expectations - when you are given a new task, ask when they expect it to be completed. Be clear if you don't think that is achievable, suggest a new timeline and don't just add it to the generic pile of "things to get done". Setting boundaries and expectations at the start stops you from being overburdened later on.
- Spend your overtime piggy bank - actual structured overtime is quite rare, especially when working from home. So keep a mental tally of all those times you've snuck back into your inbox in the evening or worked early, late or through lunch. This is your currency to spend on another time; when the sun is shining on your local beer garden on a Friday afternoon, or your child is doing their best angel impression in the nativity play. It's yours, you can spend it.
- If it's sunny, go put your face in it - with SPF on. Book it in if you have to, it's free and it'll boost your vitamin D levels, and in turn your mood. In the garden, on your balcony, in the park or even in that patch by the window - get in it, take a moment.