Self-reflection, Work-life balance

Post holiday struggles

This week has been hard. Last week we were in the west of Scotland, 8 miles down a single track road, surrounded by water, trees and hills. Yes, it was a little rainy, yes we did get lost on walks a few times and do some unnecessary hills, but there was a sense of space. Now we still appear to be down a single track road but that’s due to the number of cars parked along our road, and although I am fortunate to have a garden to look out on, there are fences, and hedges and roads. I feel hemmed in. Hemmed in by the surroundings, but also by my diary, and email and the looming new school terms with commitments and schedules. In the grand scheme I know there are bigger problems in the world, but it is possible for it to be simultaneously true that there are people in much worse situations AND for me to be struggling with my own situation.

Loch Goil from the Drymsine Holiday Estate

Mostly on holiday I read fiction – and not all “great” fiction either – it’s good to escape to other places sometimes and books have always been the way I do that. At the start of the week though I finally got around to reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. Whilst a lot of it to be honest were things I had read before about habit forming, one thing has stuck. He points out that lots of people can have the same goal, but the people who had developed good systems pointing towards that goal were the people that achieved their goal. And that although systems can at first glance appear constraining, they can also be free-ing.

On my return to my desk, I was pleased to find that one system I set up before I went away was indeed working to free me up in some way. I finally got around to setting up a booking system for phone calls for clients – through my calendly link people can book discovery calls or coaching sessions without the to-and-fro of emails. Setting up the system has forced me to block out some clear time for these calls and therefore other clear times for undisturbed client work too. And several people had booked calls for the next 2 weeks. One small step towards implementing a system that helps me spend more time on the interesting bits of work and less on the admin!

This weekend’s task is therefore to look for systems that might be useful around the house. In theory we have systems but they have probably be viewed as optional vague ideas by some members of the household. I think I need to present them as “this is what you will do when this happens” instead!

coaching topics, Work-life balance

Balance or blend?

Work-life balance, juggling roles and responsibilities at work, at home and in the community are topics that often crop up in coaching conversations. Many times they are not the original focus of the coaching, but because I coach the whole person we tend to at least spend some time talking about how work and life fit together. What follows is a slightly modified version of a 2016 post from my blog elliehighwood.com when I was reflecting on my own situation. 

Life may not be a box of chocolates, but could it be a cup of tea?

tea2

The term “work-life” balance is much used and much-discussed. Many surveys and magazine articles discuss whether your “work-life balance” is as you want it to be. In Athena SWAN applications (gender charter mark for universities and research institutes run by the Equality Challenge Unit) we are asked to discuss how the University is supporting “work-life balance”. Typically we talk about core hours, nursery care, and any family friendly policies we have.

However, many people object to the term “work-life balance” itself, and I can see why. Balance implies the two things are playing against each other… increase attention on one and the other must pay. How meaningful is it to imply that we are only alive outside of work? Many people are at least partially defined by the work that they do, or by their actions at work. Others are predominantly driven by the work that they do… and the term work-life balance somehow suggests that these people should “get a life”.

The alternative term work-life blend has been around for a while. The thinking behind the term is that in the modern world, with new technology etc, then for many people it is entirely possible to take care of some work things from home and some home things from work. Of course this isn’t possible for all roles… particularly those in the front line service industries, and manufacturing. The other reason for adopting this term is also that it removes the negative connotations of “balance”. With a “work-life blend” a much more diverse set of existences seems possible, all equally valid, and things are not in tension with one another in the same way (there are however only a limited number of hours in the day and therefore there must remain some tension!). More recently “work-life integration” has started to be used – I am still thinking about what this means for me. 

I have previously been rather resistant to the word “blend”. Perhaps it’s because I was thinking about it in terms of paint… if you mix lots of different paint colours together you inevitably end up with a murky mess that isn’t particularly enticing. I also worry that it means never being “off duty” from work, and I at least need to give my mind and body a change of scenery sometimes and find it hard enough to be properly “present” at times outside work as it is.

However, I might be changing my mind.  In 2016 the University of Reading Edith Morley lecture was given by Karen Blackett, OBE, CEO of media.com. She spoke about having “banned” the term “work-life balance” in her company, using instead, “work-life blend”. Uh-oh, I thought. I’m not sure I can buy that. But then Karen talked about having 6 well defined and non-negotiable strands to your blend, for example fulfilment at work, effective parenting, and such like, and using this to discuss your working practices with managers etc.

And this morning I thought of a new description for “blend”  – a careful combination of different ingredients that are not subsumed by each other but together make up something delicious and supporting. In other words…  my favorite English Breakfast tea!