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[personal profile] liv
[personal profile] falena gave me a very thinky prompt of:
Work/family/social life balance? You seem to be doing it right, despite all geographical limitations and full-time work.
Honestly, I'm not sure I do get it right, but let me try and talk about this a bit.

There's a sort of glurgey saying people sometimes quote about how nobody ever regrets on their deathbed that they didn't spend more time in the office. Whereas to an extent I do worry about ending up regretting that. Because my work is in many ways more exciting and more worthwhile than most of my hobbies. I'd in many ways rather be in the office than playing around on the internet, or doing housework, or even than going to parties which I enjoy but aren't as satisfying as training future doctors or helping to contribute to advancing human knowledge.

It's also hard not to feel like the only way to succeed in academia is to work way more than your contracted hours and put career ahead of absolutely everything else. On some level I recognize that my feeling like this, feeling guilty every time I take a full two-day weekend or knock off for the evening 8 hours after starting, is a sign that academia is a sick system, not that I'm "not dedicated enough". But it's also the case that pretty much every one of my colleagues who is achieving more visible professional success than I am is also putting in more hours than me, often substantially more.

I'm in charge of what I want to do with my evenings and weekends, of course, so if I feel like this I obviously do have the option to spend them, not necessarily physically in the office, but doing work. And I don't, partly because I am in fact lazy and not that dedicated, but more seriously because I politically believe in labour rights and the principle that people should in fact do what they're contracted to do. Tens of hours of free labour a week should not be the requirement for career advancement. I'm also less and less productive the more hours I'm trying to work beyond a sensible level like 40-ish hours a week. If I don't take breaks on a daily, weekly and holiday basis, if I don't spend time doing things which might be in the grand scheme of things less satisfying than my job, I won't be able to do my job well. In some ways I'm a bit scared of success, I'm scared of making myself ill or burning out, and I'm scared of the way that the reward for doing well at your job in academia is very much the opportunity to work more; if I get on the treadmill, I'm afraid I'll never get off.

I'm sorry for bitching about academia so much. In many ways the flexible hours of academia do help with having a balance. I don't have to clock in or fill in timesheets, so I completely can work four long days instead of 5 short ones, or take a morning off to deal with practical life stuff and make up for by working a Sunday, or finish an hour early if there's nothing useful for me to do, or work from home which means I can multi-task with housework and internetting a bit. So that helps as well as being a huge great thumb on the scales I'm trying to keep balanced here.

There's the question of what I'm balancing with. For a long time I believed that since I'm childfree and very much intending to stay that way, I don't have any major conflicting obligations so the right thing to do is to concentrate on my career. But that's not really true; I have obligations to myself, to my community, to my friends, family, partners, and they may be less pressing than the obligations a parent has to young children but they're still real. So it's not just a matter of taking care of my mental and physical health, it's a matter of people having meaningful claims on me, even though they're not paying my salary. It is in fact important to me to have time and energy for Jewish community volunteering, and I find myself a little at odds with both the rationalist community and some of feminism in my attitude to how important volunteering is. It is important to me to be a good friend to my friends.

So how do I actually balance things? As a university student, I made the decision that I would remember the Sabbath. I would not treat it as optional, which is kind of how things were when I was growing up, and I would equally not focus heavily on the ritual observances that constitute keeping the Sabbath, something I experienced for a bit when I was dating people who do in fact keep those observances. So no matter how much of an essay deadline or looming exams I had, I did things other than academic work from Friday evening until Saturday evening. And I've kept that up into my professional life. I sometimes end up working after sunset on Friday, especially since I've never lived further south than the 50th parallel, meaning that sunset on Friday can be very early. But once I go home on Friday afternoon, I stop work. I simply don't count the hours of Friday evening and Saturday as part of what's available when I'm planning my time (even in a crunch), if something has to be completed by Sunday then the last possible minute I can do it is 5 pm on Friday. That does actually help a lot, because having my sabbath be non-optional means it never gets overridden by "urgent" work requirements.

Another thing I do is I volunteer for things that require a regular commitment. I can't just decide I don't feel like, or I'm too busy for, leading services or running events this week, because other people are relying on me. At the moment the bulk of that commitment does in fact fall on Friday evenings, which works well with my attitude to the sabbath, but there's enough stuff that comes up on other days that I simply can't live life in the expectation of having all my evenings and Sundays available for work.

I make sure I set aside time for keeping in touch with people, primarily through keeping up with both reading and writing here at Dreamwidth, but that's quite a high priority for me. Like, right now I'm taking a little time out of the working day to write today's December Day post, having other commitments this evening. And that in turn means I get invited to social things. I accept and issue invitations for at least one thing most weekends, and those I could get out of if I absolutely have to, but I prefer not to. That also means that I don't spend too much of my downtime doing things that are basically pointless, like playing silly computer games or getting into a mindless gratification loop of reading the internet. I have, as I've discussed in several other places, a regular routine of weekly commuting to Cambridge, which means I get to spend time with [personal profile] jack even if we don't do all that much other than just being in eachothers' presence, and it's often also an opportunity to see other friends fairly spontaneously, even if I don't get round to planning something in advance. That can be a pain because of the travel time, but it does help to keep me from treating weekends as a potential extension of work time.

I think in many ways my work/life balance ideal is what I observed in Sweden, putting in real effort to working hard without distractions for about four two-hour chunks during the day with appropriate breaks, five days a week, and completely not thinking about work at all during evenings, weekends and the summer vacation. And I don't always live up to that ideal, I faff about and procrastinate during work time, and have to make up for that by extending the hours I spend doing work-related things.

To an extent this isn't the ideal as far as university management is concerned; they kind of want people to spend all their contracted hours doing boring admin stuff to keep the university running smoothly and bring in income and so on, and use their 'free' time to do the actual interesting research. Doing things that way round of course gives a further motivation for academics to put in extra hours, because there's a perception that the stuff you're actually interested in doing, the stuff that motivates you to work in this sector, is discretionary rather than compulsory. (Can't quickly find the really horrifying article I read recently from an academic explaining unironically why putting in more hours is a good thing.) So if that means that I'm not competitive compared to the people who do give free labour in that way, I'm more or less at peace with that. Not perfectly at peace, but I do generally accept that I might end up getting stuck in a dead end or even losing my job, and if that happens I'll deal with it and not regret all the time I've spent with my loved ones and looking after my own wellbeing.

I hope that isn't depressing, [personal profile] falena! To give an example, and because I'm doing daily posting and therefore not having much time for typical journalling, last weekend [personal profile] jack's parents visited, and I spent some of the time hanging out with them and some of it working on the lecture that needed to be done by Monday. And managed to fit in playing board games and drinking tea with [personal profile] cjwatson and [ profile] ghoti and their children for a couple of hours. And this weekend I've spent quite a lot of the mornings asleep, and managed more gaming with [personal profile] cjwatson and [ profile] ghoti and family, and dinner with [personal profile] ceb and IWJ one evening and with H WINODW another. And I've been working from home today, which meant I had time for lunch with [personal profile] cjwatson and time for a longish tea-break writing this post, and tonight I'm going for dinner with [ profile] ghoti. At the same time I worked late several evenings last week because immediate student welfare crises came up when I didn't have any slack in my schedule to deal with them. And it's nearly chanukah which is needing a bit of organizing, on top of my normal Friday night services and Hebrew teaching, so that's taken up a lot of the remaining evenings.

I really admire people who manage to balance serious caring responsibilities plus a full-time job, or have a work-life balance in spite of chronic illness or disability which may well be hard to plan for and schedule round. But from my relatively comfortable and easy position, this is about how I manage, or don't.

[December Days masterpost]
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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