man standing looking out at the sky

Maintaining Perspective

Work

“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

In a sentence, that sums up the last week for me. As I’ve said before, I work in online learning, and at the moment I am being kept extraordinarily busy. Too much so for my liking, in actual fact.

Despite my attempts at sounding wise on the topic of work-life balance, I’ve hardly been following my own advice lately, and it’s really wearing me down. Not so much emotionally, but definitely physically and psychologically. I’m working too fast, too hard, and for too long, and am rapidly running out of steam.

In saying this out loud, I realise that the effort stems as much from ego and pride as it does from professional pressure. Perish the thought I’d admit I can’t handle the chaos that’s going on around me, and that it might just be too much for me. That I might need help.

Two days ago I wrote about the risk of overwork becoming a badge of pride, and here I am guilty of the same sin. I wrote of how important it is to look out for colleagues, and to gently express your concerns when you feel they are falling into an unhealthy spiral of longer and longer hours. It’s perhaps most important of all to be willing to see the same faults and risks in yourself, and up until today I didn’t recognise that.

So today, looking ahead, I intend to leave my desk during lunch, spend some time with my family, laugh, breathe and recharge before returning for the second half of my workday. It’s good for my mental health, my peace of mind, and I believe for my physical health as well. It makes me more productive in my work too. But I think perhaps most important of all, pulling back for a breath and some sun helps maintain a balanced perspective about what truly matters in life.

Lego man looking stressed out.

On work-life balance in a time of self-isolation

Work

I’m noticing a concerning trend lately amongst many of my peers and colleagues. With remote working increasingly standard across many sectors and industries, the normal rhythm of a professional life spent in an office has flown out the window, and many people are starting to grapple with finding a new equilibrium. In my observation (and experience) this can very easily include not knowing when to stop working for the day.

Particularly for sectors where demands for skills and services have ramped up in the wake of COVID-19, when working from home the events or triggers that mark the slow down and end of the day frequently don’t happen; or they do happen and are ignored because there is too much to do. In either case, the result is similar.

Case in point: This morning I awoke to a flurry of emails from a wonderful colleague of mine that extended virtually continuously from the point where I clocked off (after working late myself) and didn’t stop until midnight. Her tireless efforts are greatly appreciated by everyone, but I worry for her physical and mental health if she continues this pace up for long.

Still recuperating from a week-long cold, I’m more conscious than normal of the need to look after myself, but even I am working faster, harder, and longer hours than I normally do. There are times when this is absolutely necessary, and helping the university sector make a sudden shift from blended learning to fully online in order to enable students to continue their studies is arguably one of those times. But we must be very mindful of the line in the sand that distinguishes an extenuating circumstance from the new normal.

In certain industries, such as academia, that line in the sand is faint indeed, and working longer and longer hours can become a badge of honour rather than an occasionally necessary unpleasantry. As colleagues and friends, it’s crucial that we look out for each other and raise concerns with others when we feel they are pushing themselves too much. We live in challenging times at the moment. Peer support is essential now, more than ever.