All too often we are told as young professionals to seek work-life balance. It is ingrained in our graduate school experiences. We talk about it at conferences and have discussions with our supervisors and mentors. How many student affairs professionals can actually claim they have achieved balance? What does balance mean? I always thought it was like a UFO; something many look for, few claim they have seen, and most believe it does not actually exist.
I have a few thoughts…
- Balance does not equal 9-5. Let’s face it; we all knew coming in that this field requires late nights and weekends.
- Balance is subjective and means something different to everyone. This is important when comparing yourself to others and when having discussions with colleagues and especially with your supervisor. Know what it is you need to achieve a healthy work-life balance.
- No one will hand you work-life balance or offer a magical solution. You need to advocate for yourself.
- Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. (See below for some steps I have taken that might help)
I would like to share some things I have learned and some steps I have taken to improve my work-life balance that might be helpful for others.
- Learn how to say no. How many times are we asked to take on another advisor role for instance? We are dedicated to our students, so we most often say yes. I challenge you to think of balance the next time you volunteer for something. Being an over-committed, hard to reach, always busy advisor is not helpful. Maybe there is someone else who is able to give that organization the time and attention they need.
- Decide whether or not you will check email from home. This could be an entire post. The subject is still open for debate. The moment I purchased my first smartphone, balance went out the window. I checked and responded to emails regularly. I’ve learned over the last 3.5 years that you can be more effective and efficient with this. I have stopped notifications from coming to my phone alerting me when a new message comes in. I check it only when I have time and feel like checking it. I use the functions afforded to me in gmail that allow me to filter out unimportant or less important emails, so the only ones I read on my phone are important. Lastly, I ONLY respond to the vitally important emails. See Ed Cabellon’s helpful blog post on Achieving Inbox Zero for more helpful tips.
- Set boundaries with students. I used to have students call, text, and email me at all hours of the day. I have worked hard to educate my students about the difference of something that would require a phone call or text and something that can wait for an email. With this, I also set the expectation that emails would not be answered at all hours of the day, so if something is indeed important, to just pick up the phone. This has been surprisingly helpful and students have respected it and communications with them have improved.
- Work smarter, not harder. Find simple ways to make your daily tasks easier, so that you can spend your time and energy on your students and larger, more important projects.
- Get a life outside of work! Find hobbies and make time for friends and family. If you are a calendar fan and schedule every daily event like I do, putting dinner with friends, a concert, date night, etc. into your calendar will help you stick to it.
- Think about becoming a pet owner. Pet ownership is not for everyone. For me, it has done wonders on improving my work-life balance. Having a dog helps me stay active (via our daily walks), improves my overall stress relief, and sometimes gives me the much needed excuse to escape the office for a little while. Besides, my students love when she comes to visit as it provides some stress relief for them
No one knows better than you, what will work best for you and what work-life balance looks and feels like for you. I hope what I shared will be helpful.