Ahh, the age-old topic of work/life balance. We’re always being told to take more time for ourselves, that we’ll regret working so hard. And it’s easy to argue that modern technology is making it easier than ever to overload on work. Left an important document in the office? No worries, you’ve probably got a copy in Dropbox. And now you have a smartphone (you do have a smartphone, don’t you darling?) it’s no longer just checking work emails from home, but on the bus, the train, the plane, the holiday cottage, that little bar in Tivoli with the wonderful wifi connection.
Now that’s not to say that working outside work hours is always a bad thing. It can be very productive – some people work best in the evenings, or without the distractions of colleagues – and for people with non-work professional commitments (committees, campaigns, mentoring etc) it can be the only way to get everything done.
But what if you don’t actively choose to work? What if you’re actually trying to have an evening off, without thinking about anything work-related? The prevalence of ‘push’ notifications often means you can’t escape. Work related items will be cropping up in your RSS feeds, your Facebook notifications, your Twitterstream. Sure, you can shut all these down too. But what if you don’t want to? After all, they form part of your social life online too.
This is something I’ve been trying to deal with for a while. I separated out my ‘work’ and ‘leisure’ RSS feeds quite a while ago – and then did nothing useful with the work ones, leading to me being weeks behind on blogs and news. I had brief moments of regret that I’d given out my personal email address for professional-related activities – not because I didn’t trust people or want them in that space, but because it meant it was very hard for me to tune out. It meant that while emailing a friend late at night, I might spot an email with an action in, or a question, leaving me telling myself ‘It’s ok. You can answer it tomorrow. It’s ok. No-one really expects an answer tonight. Don’t worry about it.’ But, of course, I did worry. Even when things don’t need acting on immediately, just knowing that they’re there and that there’s another thing you’ll have to think about tomorrow can be stressful.
So, this week I’m trying to take control. I’ve taken my unused professional google account, and set myself up with an iGoogle page with my work related reader feeds and my work emails. I’m forwarding a number of professional emails from my personal account to my professional one, and skipping the inbox in my personal account. I know I haven’t got all my filters set up correctly, so it will be an odd hybrid for now, but I’m persevering, and it’s already better. This means I have a place I can use as my social media/internet hub at work, and when I choose to work at home.
But there’s still one big challenge. Yes, it’s twitter. I really don’t want to class twitter as being purely work-related. I don’t want to filter it out of my personal life. The people I follow on twitter don’t – shock horror! – post on purely work-related stuff. They also tweet funny, interesting things about life, the universe, and everything. They’re my friends, and I don’t want to shut them out. But they are still professional contacts. they do still tweet about professional things – even in the evenings! And that’s not even counting the US-based tweeps I follow, who are hard at work just as I’m trying to relax.
So what do I do? I can bookmark articles and favourite tweets to come back to later, when I’m in work-mode, and sacrifice being part of the immediate discussion. That works to a certain extent. But it doesn’t quite help with the sense of guilt, or professional shame. Yes, that’s right. When I see people tweeting about the great blog posts, articles, campaigns etc they’ve been doing in their spare time, and I’m sat there with a glass of wine, a bag of toffees, and Swallows and Amazons, well… I feel a bit ashamed. And yes, yes, I know – I work hard, deserve some time off, no-one can work all the time etc. I know the shame and guilt are ridiculous and unjustified. I just don’t quite know how to avoid them. Besides getting a more positive self-image, can anyone suggest how to manage this?