Anyone would think we’d got our work/life balance pretty well sorted. After all, seven female self-employed editors had taken a weekend away from our usual home responsibilities to gather around a kitchen table in a chic London suburb (one remotely), leaving partners, pets and kids to sort themselves out while we discussed our careers. Of course, you could also argue that we were missing precious family time by choosing to work on a Saturday, but we all felt liberated by the opportunity to focus on ourselves for once.
So the discussion about work/life balance, coming at the end of a long, hot, productive day, was well timed. But first things first – what exactly does it mean? And does it matter? Work is part of life but has anyone ever, honestly, achieved the perfect balance with their personal time? After all, we would all far rather work from home, with all its domestic distractions, than in a noisy, stuffy office with a two-hour commute.
When life gets in the way of work
Clearly, enjoying your work is key to making long hours easier to manage. Sometimes writing a blog post or proofreading an intriguing book doesn’t even feel like proper work. But then there are the endless, stressful, troublesome projects that take forever to disentangle and straighten out. Either way, it’s easy to blink up at the clock and wonder if that time should have been invested in our families instead. Will the kids’ memories of their childhood be their mum, harassed, at her desk, snapping ‘Make your own dinner!’ when they poke their heads round the door?
Perhaps it’s because we’re women. Perhaps, in allowing ourselves to take charge of domestic routines, our generation has failed to take forward the lessons of feminism. Even if our partners willingly contribute to the household chores (and, on the whole, they do) we still help to perpetuate the myth that we can achieve it all. Is it entirely fair to complain about our husbands’ full-laundry-basket-blindspot or should we take responsibility for deskilling our men when we insist on doing all the ‘wife work’?
It's time to take control
Whatever our personal circumstances, we agreed that it was the ‘life’ part of work/life balance that’s often the problem. We all hate those pick ‘n’ mix days that involve short bursts of work interspersed with personal obligations. Whatever we often tell ourselves, work is far more controllable than the randomness of our personal lives. But how can we control it without obsessing about losing income? Well, we had plenty of ideas:
In short, we must fight our inertia and take time out of that endless busy-work, even if it’s just to identify exactly what needs to change in our current routine. But don’t beat yourself up about what you haven’t done. Nobody can do it all but everybody can find ways of making life work for them.
Now, I’d better go and do some proper work. It’s either that or hang up the washing.
My book review blog: Ju's Reviews