I read a thought provoking piece on Work-Life Balance recently. The author, Michael Van Osch of ThinkTankMen.com, argued that the problem isn’t really about balance but rather about alignment:
When you’re doing work that is right for you, when your work is aligned with your why you were put here, most of the time it doesn’t even feel like work. Try the litmus test I mentioned above – does thinking about the work you have to do next week give you a spark of energy or does it drain you and make you feel weaker, tired or overly stressed? If that thought seriously drains you or really stresses you out, that’s a sign. And it is your choice whether you do something about that or not. (Work-Life Balance Part 1: Why does it seem so unattainable?)
Thinking about this in relation to academic careers, I realize that the choice you face is actually more complex. And that that complexity might make it easier to address the problem (if there is one).
What if it’s a work-work balance issue?
if you do choose to act, to begin the process of changing your work and life, then I recommend starting with excavating what is most important to you. (Michael vanOsch, Work-Life Balance — Waking up to the Real Problem, Part I)
What drew you into academia in the first place? What parts of your work, when you get to them, give you energy? What do you most want to achieve?
This part of your work needs to be given priority. You need to find ways to make time for this work.
I’m not advocating being totally selfish and arrogant and refusing to do whole chunks of your job. I’m suggesting that you really evaluate your various obligations and recalibrate the time and energy you put into different aspects of your work.
Are you doing more administrative and service work than anyone realistically expects you to? Is your teaching preparation focused on the things that will really improve student learning?
What are you not getting to even though it’s part of your contractual obligations? If that thing is also the part of your work that makes it meaningful, why are you letting it drop?
These are tough questions but they are not impossible questions.
Edited May 27, 2016.