To respond to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, we at UACES wanted to bring our community together. And we went the same way everyone is going right now: online.
The third virtual coffee meeting encouraged our community to talk about the current work-life balance everyone is experiencing. We hope that everyone keeps going to maintaining a good work-life balance as it works best for each of you. To reflect on what was said, and maybe implementing some tips and tricks from others, we summarised a few key points. We hope this will help you in your new work-life environment and will support you to come through this pandemic more easily.
Why is it important to have a balance between work and free time?
Academics are often used to the interference between work and life. Those two tend to intermingle noticeable as working from home is a common thing in academia. However, everyone has a different understanding of how much work can interfere with our lives and what balance we want to create for us.
Finding a way to separate those two things, work and life, are recommendable for certain reasons: your mental health, emotional balance and even productivity. Organising yourself, spiritually and emotionally will help to maintain this balance. For some, work might be a perfect distraction from the circumstances, the media and ongoings, which again is better for our mental health. Maybe we are using the time to follow up on our thesis and research papers. Something, that is important to us and fills this gap in our life that appeared by working exclusively from home. In the contraposition, the laundry that piles up might distract others from working efficiently.
To be able to switch off – no matter from which part, work or the household that needs your attention – it is advisable to keep a balance between work and the other part of our lives. But it is different for each of us, and it solely relies on us to figure out what works for us. How about scheduling the day? What about working in ‘class timings’? What about working strictly 9-5? What about working, when the children are sleeping?
If your balance started being disrupted 10 years ago, maybe reading further might inspire some of you to build this balance up again – it might help to continue life from a different angle. Maybe even something positive for you will arise from this pandemic in the end: Finding your work-life balance one more time.
Challenges to keep the balance
Those who embrace the fact that work intermingles with our life at home might find it more challenging now to maintain a physical distance between work and life though. The home office might be a separated room but might not separate you from your children, home noises or the pressure to look after the household.
Generally, it is hard to normally switch off from work emails or tasks that need to be done when returning to work, and now, this is even harder. Distraction leads to longer working hours eventually. Longer working hours lead to less time for other things. For others without a room as an office, home might not be the ideal place to work, no space, no equipment and everything is just more forced. The whole situation changed and the adjustments we had to take, demand for a lot more time on top. Changing classes to online was not been done in an hour. Preparing the autumn semester? This needs to be thought through in different ways and possibilities. And these emails… More and more emails are flooding our inbox as this is the main way of communication now. Responding to emails takes so much of our time that we might feel, we didn’t even finish anything by the end of the day. Are we working longer then to get on track with the other things on our list? Maybe we shouldn’t and just adjust our workload?
Online meetings are a great alternative and embody a fundament to our work-life these days. But they are stressful. They take a lot of coordination. Technical issues are constantly happening, no one is left out dealing with the audio not working, the video being stuck. ‘Can everybody hear me? I can’t hear you’ is probably the most asked question in those online meetings.
Those, who are able to easily use the time they got to finish projects and follow up on their readings, might face the next problem: What to do next? It might not be as easy to find the ‘next’ thing to do as we would expect. This ‘waiting it out’-feeling doesn’t allow us to plan other, ‘new’ things. We don’t know whether teaching will continue as normal, whether we will be able to continue our research. What will happen next? This question makes it hard to motivate some of us, even hold us back from starting something new, because we might wonder if it will be worth it to start it in the first place.
Actually, who had time to plan the isolation? If we had a hobby and liked to sew, gardening or something else that needs material, what if we run out of the material and utensils?
So, more time for research?
For some, it is the time to dedicate themselves to research. Many picked up their reading list but also attending online webinars or conferences that are related to their research. Attending them wouldn’t be feasible in our usual environment and the current circumstances opened up a range of possibilities to take part in online seminars or discussions that benefit our research. This might even mean balancing out the so-called work-life-balance in a way, that works for us. As mentioned before, this balance can mean something different to all of us.
If it means using the time for being more productive in our research, it opens up a whole new world of webinars, online workshops, conferences and courses, for which we can even gain a certificate.
For others, this dedication also comes with a negative connotation/byproduct. The ‘I want to’ is different from the ‘I can’ conversion. Distraction comes in our way and blocks us. We might have more time to read, but how much do we really read? Some are feeling unable to read longer texts, and are still not getting as much done as they would like to.
Maybe, we will all learn more about ourselves, once the bank holidays arrived. What are we doing, when there is no email waiting for us. When there are no classes to prepare, when the teaching stops?
New circumstances demand new practices
Some of us changed their hobbies already, adjusted to the new everyday life. If running wasn’t a thing before, it might be now, as this is our chance to pick it up. We are still allowed outside for our daily workout. So basically, this is the new way of enjoying being outside. Others were runners but are now discovering new roads by choosing the more quiet side streets. And it might even bring you more joy than you first would have expected.
Some got more creative and learnt more skills. If your desk is your main perch now and it is hard to get away from it, why not trying to bring your new hobby there? ‘Desk’-hobbies are easy to implement, calming your soul and you might not even need a lot of material, but it is still different from work and might help you to find your balance from your desk.
The same applies to Netflix. Have you tried to use it for learning languages? It might not be a new thing, but maybe something apparent just got forgotten. If we are an eager language learner in our free time, and we feel we cannot pursue it anymore because of isolation, let’s try to think outside the box and find an alternative. It might even give us a feeling of achievement.
On that note, some have also noticed that the change of tasks is influencing our moods. Tasks we didn’t like so much before might now be the ‘achievable’ ones because we can easily do them from home. Ticking it off our to-do-list for the feeling of achievement might be just the right thing we need right now.
Others find more time to ‘meet’ friends. The new ‘normal’ of catching up with friends opens up the chance to see friends and family more often. If we felt too busy before, now we can easily see them from the couch at home, in pjs while the kids are in bed. No babysitter needed, no arrangements with the partner needed.
Maybe the circumstances even illustrate how we can enjoy the things more that are around us. Spending more time with the family, enjoying the garden or the seaside more often or listening to live music online instead. Some are even continuing their choir practices online.
So maybe finding this balance means also changing our perspective.
And if we change perspective even more…
…we can see that we can learn more about the people we live with. It is an extraordinary situation, which demands to be together 24/7. If we achieve to make our home our ‘Ashram’, maybe we can find our balance more easily than expected. Regularly arranged coffee mornings with colleagues might be the chance to really spend time with each other instead of meeting them in the faculty kitchen or on our way to the coffee shop.
But probably the best side effect most of us would agree on is the fact that we are all helping each other more than ever!
And once this is over, we might end up with having learnt a lot. Maybe we will see how it influenced our lives for gaining a good work-life balance and even beyond that. It will be interesting to see, what of those mentioned methods we can maintain and keep ongoing.
The next #MidweekMeetup will be on 22 April, asking how we can provide support to students, colleagues and each other. Register here to join the conversation – as usual at 11 am or 2 pm (BST).