What is your work/work balance?

Longtime readers know I am not a huge fan of the phrase “work/life balance.” I use it, partly because that’s what people search for, and it’s something people generally understand.

But the metaphor is problematic. Work/life balance implies that work and life are on opposite sides of a scale. For one to go up, the other has to go down. It’s by its nature adversarial.

Anyway, that said, I was intrigued by a phrase that our Best of Both Worlds guest Laurie Weingart used in this week’s episode. She talked about people’s “work/work balance.”

Given her expertise, this was about breaking down your work into promotable and non-promotable tasks, and making sure that you weren’t spending inordinate amounts of time on the latter. But really, this concept could be used for many things. Any job consists of many different activities. There’s the core “stuff” of the job (which might be further broken down into various projects people do). There’s often learning and professional development. There’s network and relationship building. There’s planning and prospecting. There’s administration. There’s probably stuff that’s hard to categorize.

One reason to track working hours is to figure out what proportion is spent on each of these things. There’s no right answer, though certain categories (learning, networking) tend to get shoved to the side when things get busy. If a given category (perhaps non-promotable tasks) seems very heavy, then the balance is off and it’s time to figure out ways to change this.

I would imagine that work/work balance often influences work/life balance. I know when work feels tedious — too many tasks I don’t want to do — than I feel like I’m working too much. When I’m excited about work, I don’t feel that same way. In terms of numbers, my work/life balance might be the same either way, but it feels entirely different.

In other news: The Next Big Idea Club ran my “book bite” on Tranquility by Tuesday recently. You can check out the printed form here. And you can check out the audio version on the app here!

Photo: The old office. It’s been almost a year since I’ve been in there! 

3 thoughts on “What is your work/work balance?

  1. That’s really interesting. I am supposed be 30% teaching, 50% research, 20% service but teaching can gobble up all your time if you let it. I try to contain the teaching by giving myself one day for teaching prep, and doing as much as I can. I will assign the day based on how fragmented it is, I won’t dedicate a nice clear day for teaching prep, that’s for proper writing, but if I’ve got lots of meetings or am just tired, I can make slides, etc.

    I want to do a good enough job teaching – engaging, supportive but I am not going to reinvent the wheel or throw my whole soul in it because, sadly as my mentor said “no one ever got promoted because they are a great teacher”.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this lately, and will thinking about it more as a result of your podcast interview! My job right now is unfortunately probably 60% non-promotable tasks. And what’s really sad is not only is it non-promotable work, it’s completely meaningless work. My organization has an incredible mission, and very interesting scientific work, but I got hired into upper management, and now my life is mostly trying to figure out bureaucratic process. Not even DO bureaucratic process, but, spend unbelievable amounts of time trying to figure out what part of the “official” guidelines are 15 years out of date and which are current, *what* form to fill out, whether my boss needs that form in paper form or electronic or an official memo, etc. It’s crazy. I live in a very hierarchical world of lots and lots of unwritten rules, and unfortunately my admin is also new so she doesn’t know the rules either. The simplest tasks takes weeks, and I randomly get yelled at for not doing things “right”. I’m 3 weeks into trying to figure out how to get my boss to “properly” approve my staff member request for roaming minutes on her phone, for an international business trip. And because all of that takes so much time, I have very little time for the things that I actually consider my job – helping my team set priorities, going after funding options, improving the quality of our research and software development, etc. I try to look at this as a chance to make things better for everyone, by documenting what the process is once we figure it out, and creating checklists with useful things, like links to the correct forms. Hopefully just my first year will be filled with this chaos and then I will have more time to focus on the real job. But it’s completely insane and I never would have believed an organization could be so poorly managed. And I feel I’ve gained no useful skills in this time. But this is making me think about being more intentional about carving out protected time do to the meaningful work.

    1. @Holly – oh my goodness, that sounds terrible! Here’s hoping that after a while you will have reinvented all these processes, made everything better, and people won’t even be able to believe that the organization functioned before!

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