January blues: Part 3 – Work-life balance

I’m back after my week of sketchbooking! Now I can finally conclude (in more ways than one) the January Blues series I began a couple of weeks ago.

Last-last Thursday I wrote about my difficulty in setting good goals for myself. At the time, I’d planned for this third blues post to be about my longtime struggles with work-life balance. I’ve always had trouble compartmentalizing my life, and when I started working at home, it became an even bigger problem. After all, it does save time to run errands in the middle of the day, and it is important to take breaks between work sessions so I don’t burn out. Ideally, I’d work most of the day with only short personal sessions, but the personal stuff has had a tendency to take over. It makes sense: personal tasks are easier, they’re just as necessary, and they produce an equivalent sense of accomplishment (in the short run). Moreover, it’s impossible to get by without doing at least a smidgen of personal stuff each day (cooking, exercise, cleaning, and so forth), whereas my work can be put off indefinitely (if I don’t have deadlines I believe in, as I discussed in Part 2). It’s no wonder my grand creative dreams have so often been reduced to a tidy living room and a full fridge.

However, I’m pleased and proud to report that almost two weeks after my initial blues post, I’m inching closer to a happy work-life balance! This practice I’ve discovered has totally changed the way my days are structured, and it’s been working really nicely for both Erik and me.

Before Christmas a friend told me about a trick that helped her write her dissertation: work in 45-minute increments. She’d heard someone say that this is the optimal duration of work sessions, because it stops you at your peak flow, and you can then continue from peak when you start your next session. Obviously, 45 minutes can’t possibly be the perfect number for everyone, but so far it’s working shockingly well for me. The 45-minute session is long enough that I can get into what I’m doing, but short enough that I can’t dawdle and don’t get bored. I then take a 15-minute break to rest my wrists, eyes, back, and mind; those 15 minutes are also a great time to finish mindless little household tasks (on my first day, I unpacked from my weeklong holiday vacation, and cleaned the toilets).The 45/15 division really helped me keep my sanity and my hand and wrist health while I was working on the sketchbook project. When I was feeling “off” and distractible, the knowledge that I would get a break in 45 minutes helped keep me going; when I was on a roll, breaking at 45 prevented me from going all afternoon and then burning out at dinnertime. And, since I lined up my 45 minutes to end at each :45 on the clock, if I needed to take a longer break, or a slightly longer work session, it never got as out of control as it used to; I could do whatever I needed to do, and then realign during the next hour.

In addition, following a predictable work/break schedule has allowed me to synchronize with Erik, who also works from home. Although he needs work sessions that are longer than 45 minutes, when he knows I’m breaking at :45, he can still coordinate some of his breaks with mine, so we can use our 15 minutes to chat and check in with each other. That has been one of the best benefits of this 45/15 split.

My early-January blues are already receding into the distance, and I’m feeling great about the rest of the year. Finishing the sketchbook project gave me a huge boost in creative satisfaction and optimism, the 45-minute work session is empowering me to work hard without burning out, and I’ve received so much superb support and advice from my goal-setting post, I can’t wait to try it out! Look for another goals post on this blog in future!