Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working exceptionally hard. I love my job and I like the feeling of being in control of my destiny (well, at least my diary) afforded by being self-employed. I am by no means complaining about being so busy but it has thrown up some issues for me, the main one being knowing when to stop. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the business case, as it were, for rest and recuperation (see All work and no play) and today I’d like to explore the personal side.
When it comes to the work/life balance, the problem is the tension between what’s really, fundamentally important and what’s urgent. I take my work seriously, put a lot into it and get a great deal out of it on many levels but, when it comes right down to it, my list of what’s really, fundamentally important consists of the people I love, followed by health and welfare and a few other abstract-but-vital concepts. In normal circumstances, I make a point of – and enjoy – nurturing what’s important to me: I make time to connect with my loved ones and I work at my relationships, I go to the gym, I cook and eat properly, I read, I go to the theatre. When I’m overloaded with work, that just takes over. It fills my mind, distracts me from conversations, disturbs my sleep, causes me to abandon the gym and all cultural activities and to live on instant or takeaway food. Work is urgent and urgent trumps important in the immediate-action stakes.
But of course if this is allowed to go on for any length of time, the important things begin to unravel. I don’t need to go into this; you know what I’m talking about. So how do we decide where to draw the line? In my case, I’m prepared to let work take over my whole life for a maximum of a week. If there’s loads on, the rest of world can manage without me for a week, my body can put up with junk food and no exercise for a week, if I hardly sleep for a week I can just about make it. Beyond that, though, adjustments have to be made, clients inconvenienced, emails answered more slowly. I ringfence time for friends and family and for the gym and I have a cut-off point in the evening, after which I shut down the computer and give my full attention to my partner and whatever we’re doing together.
I realise I’m lucky to be in a position where I can make this happen relatively easily but, whatever your situation, it’s salutary to take stock every so often and make sure you’re giving enough priority to the things that matter most to you. If you let the urgent run roughshod over the important for too long, you’ll wake up one morning to find that’s all you have left.