A couple years ago, I went on vacation to Costa Rica. I was taking a break from my job as an assistant professor in a college or university. I was not leaving it for a free weekend or to teach another class. I was just taking a trip to a tropical island, away from everyone. I was worried that my colleagues would ask me about the time off when I returned. So, I told them first. I didn’t actually tell them about the vacation until the day before I left. I assured my colleagues that I was always available if they had questions. They didn’t seem too alarmed. We did not have a really serious issue of balance between my professional life and personal life.
Even though I had told them I was leaving for vacation, I had to come up with a solution to the problem. I couldn’t relax and let myself naturally recharge. I ended up reading a lot, walking around and really letting myself be alone. “I had to find a way to avoid having everything remind me of work,” said Elliot Kaner, a friend of mine and well-known to my students. It was the little things that made the balance more important than my success. For example, when I used to study books on wine, an important part of that process was to pour myself a glass or two of wine every hour. I used to take my morning coffee break to use my computer. I was able to do this because my smartphone hadn’t been set on vibrate yet. Not only was I holding the smartphone in my hand while doing this stuff, I was talking on it. When I went to the grocery store, I made sure to take my phone down to the cash register and didn’t check any emails. It wasn’t because I was expecting a text from someone, but because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t interrupted by something important. I did this even though I was a busy professor. I actually didn’t even have a goal to read more. I just wanted to avoid the things that reminded me of work.
So, if you are going on a trip or doing other activities that have a lot of time or effort, I suggest setting a separate task or a separate time of the day when you are going to do it. This might mean not doing any online work while you are driving, or using your phone only when there are other people in the room. You could even try doing the work while you are relaxing or doing your errands. “Balance” in my experience is often just about being in control of your time. Unfortunately, when we are under pressure and our needs are more pressing, we have no control over our time. We are under competition in our culture and when people tell us, “Don’t worry about it, just remember to balance your life.”
It’s going to be difficult to pay attention to this kind of advice. However, I see myself getting better at it as the years pass.