Diary entries of a young lady’s experiments with work-life balance
I was tossing madly in the air. What happened? One minute I was on a see-saw, and the next minute, I left the see-saw handles far behind. I was desperately flapping my arms and legs, hoping that a nocturnal bird would happen to be flying around. There are good Samaritans everywhere, right? My luck, obviously, was running out. And I braced myself for the inevitable thud.
2:00 am: I woke up in a sweat, gasping. My husband slept on, oblivious to my discomfort. I switched on the night lamp and reached for a drink of water. I decided to read a little to calm down.
“Studies show that a poor work-life balance can result in unhealthy levels of stress, unhappiness, and unproductivity. A recent study by the European Union revealed that more than 70% of people who suffer from stress at work experience physical and psychological impact such as sleepless nights, headaches, depression, anger.”
I closed the report. This obviously was not going to work.
6:30 am: Groggy, irritable, and anxious. I wasn’t supposed to feel this way. I was on a three-month-long campaign (WLI – work-life integration) from work. This included seven-eight hours of sleep every night. I dutifully work backward from the time I want to wake up, and here I am.
Meanwhile, my husband covered his ears to drown out my complaints.
8:45 am: I finished my round of yoga and meditation, and was ready for a bright new day. The children were sent off to school, my healthy lunch was packed (WLI frowns on fried, preservatives-rich food) and I was ready. Though the hubby would look amused at my daily time tracking, he remained mum. I took it for support, though, as I scribbled away at my WLI timesheets.
10:15 am: Our morning scrum just got over – a 15-minute catch-up with our WLI coach.
Let me explain. I enthusiastically volunteered to be a guinea pig in my company’s HR intervention program. 30 of us were divided into groups of three, and we were coached by a, well, WLI coach, on how to balance our lives. This was an initiative to make life easier for us, and for the company to roll out similar pilots.
“We’re going to change this,” said our HR head, almost growling at a printout which stated: According to EY’s Global Generation Research, nearly one-third of millennials say that managing their work, family, and personal responsibilities have become more difficult in the past five years.
12:30 pm: After the mandatory afternoon meditation before lunch, I was back at my desk. Surprisingly, I was feeling more energetic. My colleagues laughed at my nightmare, saying that the see-saw was symbolic of my work-life balance. I didn’t find it funny.
6:15 pm: The mandatory evening scrum is on. It reminds us of the rules to follow once we step out of the office. Honestly, this was getting a little stressful. I quickly took a few deep breaths and paused all my work. This was creating the recommended white space in my day: little pockets of ‘blank’ time to unwind and relax.
10:23 pm: The WLI checklist:
- Did you check your work mail after getting home? No.
- Did you get dinner two hours before turning in? Yes.
- Are you getting support from your family for this initiative? Yes. (Hmm…The children laughed at me as I fill in the checklists. Also, the husband smugly reminded me about the WLI-imposed 30-minute television curfew, telling me not to watch Netflix. Does this count as support?)
- Did you color in your coloring book /listen to music/ journal/do some creative activity for a minimum of ten minutes? Yes, I drew a rabbit watching television, while I longed for Netflix. Note to self: remember the orientation program. Though this activity might seem simple, it is critical. Artwork and creativity help to balance the two hemispheres of the brain. We mainly use our left brain at the office and need to stimulate the right brain too. Balance in both leads to clarity, and better productivity.)
- Did you get any thoughts (anxious, guilty, boredom ) about pending office work? Yes. (Guilty about not finishing the report, but promising to finish it tomorrow noon.)
- Did you log in to your social media account/watch television for over 30 minutes? No. (This was the hardest for me. I missed my paparazzi avatar on Instagram and the Facebook stalking. I momentarily worried that my skills would rust away, but brushed it away. Believe you can do it: the first golden rule of WLI. I’m sure I could apply it to social media spying as well, albeit after a full one quarter of the year later.)
Three weeks later:
10:15 am: Thankfully, no nightmares. We had finished a month into the WLI program and had some introspection to do on this anniversary.
- What did you learn?
I realized that I couldn’t live without my social media accounts constantly buzzing, I need to have more than two cheat meals a week…
Yes, I learned that I could get better at managing my time, my priorities, and have enough energy to pursue other activities in life. I learned that small habits are worth investing in: sleep, exercise and meditation, and the right food. My childhood punishments had become my adult goals. I also realized I only missed one deadline the whole month, instead of my average three.
- Has your understanding of work-life integration changed?
Yes. Work and life are part of one whole, that is me. I realized it’s like riding a bicycle. I instinctively know when I’m going off balance and which area of my life is losing priority: my children, home, work commitments. And I can quickly regain my balance by making a few corrections.
- If you had to advise your colleagues on three things to help them with work-life balance, what would you say?
Prioritise on what balance means for you, take time out to relax, and manage time better.
- Do you want to continue with this program?
Yes! If more people change the way we look at work-life balance, we will be closer to exploring the potential of our lives. Instead of becoming stressed corporate warriors, we will have more developed facets of our personality. I want people to look at me and say: Here’s what a life well-lived looks like.
Written for The Art of Living website