Work-Life Balance in a VO World

What is work-life balance?  We hear about it all the time, but what is it?  Well according to an article in the Business News Daily, “How to Improve Your Work-Life Balance Today”, written by Marisa Sanfilippo, “work-life balance is the state of equilibrium where a person equally prioritizes the demands of one’s career and the demands of one’s personal life.”

Equilibrium?  I totally get that work and home are supposed to balanced, but equal?  Is that possible? 

When I worked in corporate America, when I was at work, I was at work.  Home stuff waited until my lunch hour, if I took a lunch.  I’ve always been good at compartmentalizing.  But if I’m being honest, I have not always been good at balance.  Even though I kept home out of work, I definitely did not keep work out of home. 

For ten years, I worked business continuity (a/k/a disaster recovery) for a large financial institution.  I was on-call 24/7/365.  At any time my pager could and would go off or the house phone would ring.  It didn’t matter if I was doing laundry, making supper, meeting with teachers, taking a shower, or sleeping. And the rule was – always – you have to answer.  In fact, I got really good at answering my phone at 3 am and sounding perfectly wide awake and coherent.  Out of years of habit, I still answer my phone, “This is Querida, how can I help you?” 

Sometimes it would be something simple.  Staff needing to know how to reset a server or to report an incident they had already taken care of.  Sometimes it was something more serious like the chemical spill that had me activating my team and relocating staff to an alternate facility.  But the common denominator was always the same – work takes precedence.  You need to respond now.

That urgency steeped environment was stimulating.  I loved it.  I thought I had the greatest job in the world.  I got to investigate every aspect of a business, learn what each department did, what equipment it used, how it worked and what drove the bottom line.  Then I got to identify all the break point and find all the ways to damage it, in my imagination of course.  Then I got to design all the stops, the redundant systems, the backups, and the work arounds to prevent or circumvent the failures.  Business continuity and disaster recovery are a lot of fun for a mind like mine.  But it’s hard on you too.  And its hard on your family.

My point is that sometimes work-home can’t be in balance.  Sometimes one of the other has to take precedence. There can be legitimate demands on your time at work for high priority projects, needing to fill in for staffing vacancies when someone takes sick or leaves unexpectedly.  And there can be even more urgent demands from the home front when accident or illness intervene.

Tips for when work and home can’t be balanced:

Take responsibility and be honest and upfront about it.

                Communication is the first tool in your toolbox.  Let work or your family know what happened and how long your attention will, of necessity, be out of balance.

Clear your plate

                Move any non-essential appointments and tasks off your calendar to make more space.  Give yourself some space.  It will help you stay more balanced and calm during the disruption.  Swap tasks or chores with someone and ask for help where you can.

Be realistic about time and energy.

If this going to be a short-term or long-term period of imbalance?  Set a schedule.  What are the maximum number of hours a day you will need to work on this?  Don’t forget about taking breaks, eating, and especially about sleeping.  Be realistic about what your mind and body can handle. Set a time limit or check-in point with those affected to let them know how it’s going and see how everyone’s doing.

Learn how to say no.

This is the hard one for me.  Learning how to say no can be very powerful. Let’s be real, we can’t do everything.  Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that will happen if I do not do this?”  Saying no is an option and sometimes it’s the better choice. 

The lines between work and home can become fuzzy when you work from home.  Maintaining boundaries is a good place to start.

How do you find work-home life balance when working at home as a VO?  What are the major challenges you face? How do you remain productive and focused through unexpected interruptions like the neighbor’s lawn mower?

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