It’s crazy that the idea of “work-life balance” even needs to be discussed. In a perfect world, a beautiful equilibrium across all facets of our lives would be so implicit that a phrase to describe it wouldn’t even exist. But we live in an imperfect world, and working in the nonprofit or philanthropic sectors means spending a great deal of time trying to keep bigger parts of the world in balance, often foregoing relative harmony in one’s own life.
In the past, I have struggled with a pendulum of all work or all play, a slightly destructive cycle that switches directions in full force whenever I’m overcome with exhaustion—a rhythm only recently broken by the birth of my son, and now all time outside of regular work hours are devoted to him. However, knowing my own penchant for the imbalance of work/life I was thrilled to learn that the first peer-led YNPN-EPIP Leadership Institute session would be about balance. Not only would I walk away with a toolkit for working toward balance, but I would also learn that I am not alone in my struggle to keep all parts of my life aloft.
The session was split into two parts: Considering and discussing our current schedules with our mini-cohorts in terms of actual versus ideal, followed by looking at the different common areas of our lives—mental health, physical health, hobbies/interests, professional, volunteer/service, and family/friends—and sharing strategies for keeping those in balance with the entire group.
Truthfully, I had never sat down to take a hard look at the schedule I had been keeping prior to my son being born. All I knew was that I had a ton to do and I was going to get it all done no matter what (until, of course, I got exhausted and then I was going to do nothing, until, of course, I got bored and was going to do EVERYTHING, and so forth). Being able to map out and visually see how much time I spent working was a very valuable exercise. When I began building my ideal schedule, I gave myself the time to do nothing on the same day that I gave myself time to do the work I am passionate about, offering each day of the week a little balance—whether or not this schedule is realistic with only 24 hours in the day is anyone’s guess.
Later in the evening, I was able to gain some surprising takeaways for keeping equilibrium that I look forward to testing out. Here are my top four favorite strategies from the session (including the best piece of advice ever):
Schedule time to unplug from the internet.
This can support crossover balance between mental health and family/friend time. Unplugging from the internet (including your phone) can set boundaries and help you avoid working outside of work hours or getting sucked into a net-hole that can distract from friends and family. While it might seem a little silly to set an alarm to put your phone or computer down for even just an hour, if that’s what it takes, then that’s what it takes.
Have walking meetings—”walkie talkies.”
Work requires so much sitting! At work, in meetings, during business lunches, home catching up on emails. Even if you have a standing desk, it’s important to get your body moving sometimes. Why not double up where you can and suggest a walking meeting? Some fresh air might and exercise might even lead to a breakthrough!
Build true relationships in the workplace.
Having open communication with coworkers on a real level can help you achieve balance by making work a place where you’ve got friends who share at least one of your passions. You don’t need to dive all-in and make everyone in your office a BFF, just start by setting aside time (e.g. lunch) with coworkers to make a personal connections. Bonus: When your coworkers understand that you’re a real person (and vice versa) it can be easier to have conversations about expectations and limits.
It’s ok to say ‘No’ (and you can also try ‘No, but I know someone else who would be great for this’).
Seriously. Don’t forget this. Don’t overexert yourself, and maybe spread some of that experience around.
Although my life is necessarily out of balance right now, once things settle down I look forward to starting fresh with the suggestions provided by the cohort. Can I keep my life in check once I’m free to set my own schedule again? I’m not sure, but I’m excited to accept the challenge.
Courtney Algeo is the brand communications specialist at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts where she helps tell compelling stories about art, communities, and the dire need for practitioners of creative wonder.