In Pursuit Of “Balance”

January 20, 2016

Work-life balance: it’s the elusive state discussed by many professionals, especially in the ad industry. It’s also one that’s rarely defined or arguably ever achieved. We search for it, discuss it, use it as an excuse and beat ourselves up if we haven’t found it. The search for it permeates our world in every ad-industry thinkpiece article, Facebook post, company mission statement, informational interview, conversation about “how busy” we are — you get the picture.

Work-Life-Balance-TDWhile work-life balance can remind us to be more considerate, thoughtful and intentional human beings toward our colleagues, loved ones and clients, it can more often feel like it’s better defined as a work-life juggle, especially if we think about balance as time.

I was recently asked by a friend to provide insight about my experience during a recent fitness challenge. She wanted me to shed light on how to fit the six-week challenge into a busy life (traveling for work, demanding work schedule, active social lives, etc.). She was receiving a lot of questions about the “balance” aspect, and people wanted more insider information before they took the plunge. I totally get it. It’s hard not to get nervous about time commitments or adding things into an already crowded calendar – many of us have busy lives, demanding jobs, social commitments, passion projects that we pursue outside of our 9-to-5 and loved ones who need a little TLC. But, the request got me thinking more about the idea of work-life balance and the prospect of making an intentional effort for more “life” in my every day.

We all know there’s no universal secret to achieving balance, but everyone has their own personal tips and tricks for creating their individual version of it, whether that means sticking to a daily routine, making time for sporadic adventure or simply keeping cell phones out of reach at the dinner table. In the case of the aforementioned challenge, you just find a way to make it work because it’s worth it. Your health and happiness – essentially your “life” – is worth the work.

Here are some insights into how the Fast Horse Ponies create a bit of balance amidst the chaos of work and life. One thing I can promise: You won’t see any of the “if you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work” quotes. While the intent of the phrase is understandable, busy seasons still feel busy… but they feel a little less “busy” here when you enjoy what you do and you’re in the trenches with good company. Plus, we can hotdesk.

  • In an attempt to maintain a clear division between my work and life I elected to turn off lock-screen email notifications on my phone. I’m on it regularly enough in the evening that I typically see emails as they come through anyway, but the absence of an ever-present reminder on my resting phone screen goes a long way toward putting my work responsibilities out of sight, out of mind (even if it’s just for a couple of hours).
  • One of the best nuggets I ever received about work-life balance came from someone who has become a good friend and mentor. We were talking about work-life balance – she had a wide variety of work experience – and she said that one of her biggest lessons was becoming aware of how she set the tone for her team by sending emails at night. It set the expectation that everyone needed to be online and working, even if that’s just when she was getting to things because of her schedule. So, she stopped sending late-night email unless it was critical. She would work on things and save them as drafts, preserving the sense of urgency for things that were really urgent and needed immediate attention.
  • Our hotdesking policy is super helpful for me to manage work-life balance. Sometimes I just need to work and get a load of laundry done at the same time. It’s so nice to have that option! 
  •  I create set appointments for my workouts and vow not to miss or move them. They’re my “me time” and I keep that time sacred.
  • I only have 30 minutes with my son in the morning and an hour with him at night during the workweek. It ain’t much. During that time, I give him 110 percent of my attention.  He thinks my phone is only used to play Justin Bieber, take silly videos of ourselves or FaceTime our family. It’s surprisingly hard to stay away from work for that small amount of time but, in our limited hours together, I want him to feel like he is my everything.
  • A lot of what I do is event-focused, so it’s usually crazy busy for a few weeks, including the actual event with travel, setting-up, being the first person in and last person out, shipping things home and traveling back home. By the time I’m done, I usually feel pretty exhausted! Pre-, during- and post-event days are typically 14-18 hours – so it definitely adds up!  When I’m done with an event I always like to try and take a little time off, whether it’s a half-day on a Friday, or something like that. It’s always helpful to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I also try to get a massage or pedicure or something to help myself relax and reset before the next big thing! 
  • I try to uphold a no-work-on-Saturday policy, if possible. Also, my boyfriend and I will play cribbage or some kind of card game when we’re out… can’t be emailing with cards in your hands! It keeps the focus on the conversation instead of letting attention wander to our phones. 
  • I schedule at least one dinner date/happy hour with a friend each week — it helps break up the week and gives me something to look forward to after work!
  • I find that one of my biggest stressors during the week is lunch, especially if I have back-to-back meetings and I’m running around for most of the day. It’s chaos and I’m the type of person who needs to know when they’re having their next meal. I started taking the time on Sundays to plan meals for the week and prep lunches through Wednesday. It takes the edge off the beginning of the week and is a weight off my shoulders to know that I have an immediate solution for any hanger problems that may arise.
  • I try to jam-pack one day of the weekend with as much humanely fun as possible. Brunch to breweries to museums to comedy shows to dance parties all in the same day. I then try to have the other day be as chill as possible – Netflix, movies, reading, napping, and ordering in takeout. It makes me feel like my weekend was fulfilling, and I can go back to work on Monday fired up!
  • Book vacations well in advance – just book them and make your work schedule fit into the vacation, rather than the other way around. It’s the same with other activities.
  • No computers (or phone) during dinner/meals.
  • Make time for exercise as many days of the week as possible.
  • Perspective. Some time ago, I read an article in which the founder of a graphic design shop said something to the effect of, “In all my time in this business, I still have yet to see anything I’d consider a true design emergency.” This “chillax, bro” sentiment is mostly true in our line of work, too. Anytime you’re dealing with clients and events and launch dates and deadlines and crises and whatnot, you’re bound have the occasional urgent s#!tshow. But few things are more detrimental to people’s happiness and sanity than an unnecessary urgent s#!tshow. They ruin productivity. They ruin moods. They ruin evenings. They ruin birthdays and holidays and vacations and couch time and so much more. Maintaining a solid perspective about what really matters to you and to your clients — and what might be able to wait until morning, or what might be handled a bit differently than discussed in the heat of the moment — is a great way to salvage some semblance of work-life balance — and actually be a better partner to your colleagues and your clients. Agency people who run around like headless chickens aren’t much help to anyone, and they’re not particularly pleasant. 🙂