#ELGLWorkLife: A Moving Target

Posted on August 18, 2015

[vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=””][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Join in the #ELGLWorkLife series, survey and webinar focusing on work life balance.  This series aims to address that age-old challenging of balancing professional work with a personal life.

About the Author

0c9c368Shannon David (LinkedIn & Twitter) is a local government enthusiast who joined the City of Syracuse, NY after graduating with a Master’s of Public Administration from Binghamton University in May of 2011.  He currently serves as a Management Analyst with the Office of Management and Budget and his previous experience includes work with the City’s Bureau of Research. David’s analytical background allows him to work with a variety of City departments, assisting with budgeting, planning, forecasting, and development of the capital improvement plan. Working in local government is something David finds meaningful and challenging, an opportunity that allows him to serve his community every day.

A Moving Target

My wife and I vacationed in Cape Cod recently with plenty of beach time to pause, reflect and take stock of our lives. On our vacation I kept thinking that a week of complete restoration–no social media (sorry ELGL!), no email, no work-related books or blogs, just me, my wife and the ocean, was not a balanced week. How could it be? Yet, after getting married, buying our first home and adjusting to new jobs, it absolutely went a long way toward restoring balance for us at that particular point in our lives.
giphy3This got me thinking that a universal definition is a moving target. It’s difficult to define at a single moment, or in terms of  how much time it takes to balance things out and what part of our lives needs balancing. That wouldn’t leave me much to write about, though. So, what else can we say about work-life balance to at least get to a place where we can do something about it?

Three Selves

In order to get close to pinning down what work-life balance is, it’s important to consider what needs balancing. We all have different roles we play in different spheres of life–a private self, a public self, and a professional self:

  • The private self includes our roles and responsibilities as they relate to our friends, families and ourselves.
  • The public self includes those regarding our community and neighbors.
  • The professional self includes those concerning our employer, colleagues, and affiliated stakeholders.

The common theme is relationships. As with all relationships, none of the selves should dominate to the point of harming our relationships within a sphere, or between spheres. This is a fairly general definition, but that is because balance will always be shaped by the unique demands we place on ourselves and that others place on us. We all face different demands based on our stage in life, our personal inclinations and the inclinations of others. The one constant is that, over time, our different selves must be in balance or we risk damaging our own personal health, and the health of our relationships with others.

Track Your Emotional Bank Account

Achieving work-life balance can’t be boiled downgiphy to a top five or top ten list. However one principle can shed some light on how we go about defining and achieving work-life balance: Stephen R. Covey’s metaphor regarding the “Emotional Bank Account.” Introduced in his widely read, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” the Emotional Bank Account, similar to a financial bank account, is where we make emotional deposits and withdrawals. A deposit may be making a commitment to attend a birthday gathering for an out-of-town family member. A withdrawal may be canceling a similar commitment at the last second further down the road. At times we may have more withdrawals than deposits or vice versa. Over time, we must balance our emotional checkbook to make sure withdrawals never exceed deposits. It’s also good practice to build a reserve to draw upon in the case of unexpected emergencies when we have to make large withdrawals, such as a big project deadline (professional self) that causes us to cancel dinner plans or to miss our child’s event (private self). Covey speaks of the Emotional Bank Account in terms of trust and our relationships with other people. Since we’re fundamentally talking about relationships when talking about work-life balance, it provides a roadmap for how to think about and how to engage our three selves.

Balance Your Account

Here’s a simple rule of thumb that works for me and shrinks the problem of how to achieve work-life balance into a manageable size: Take time to hit the pause button to reflect and restore. Don’t worry about whether a single day or week feels off.We live in a harried, fast-paced world that values business and constant communication without the productive value of some good old-fashioned thoughtful reflection. It is far too easy to fall victim to the trap of not giving ourselves the mental space we need to even begin that process, let alone begin to feel balanced as human beings. “Just do things.” “Get stuff done.” “Be productive.” When we forget to hit the pause button and reflect, we never learn to adjust. If we don’t do this we risk becoming like the Joker in the “Dark Knight,” who says, “I’m a dog chasing cars, I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! I just do things.”
giphy1If we ever hope to catch work-life balance, and know what to do with it, we have to be aware. To be aware you have to make a commitment to reflection. To make a commitment to reflection we have to remember what our private, public, and professional selves, in public service are really all about–relationships with others. Be aware of where things feel out of balance and make a commitment to restoring it, even if perfect balance at a single point in time is unachievable.Where you begin to find your relationships faltering, make a commitment to doing something to enhance the portion of your life that is suffering. If it is the private self, go on a date, go for a run or read a book just for the fun of it. If it is the public self, give blood, volunteer for a neighborhood clean-up or join a civic organization. If it is the professional self, take a class, read a book to increase your knowledge in a particular subject, or (gasp!) attend a networking event.
We cannot boil work-life balance down to a precise definition with a defined series of steps to achieving it. It is like creating a poem, story or painting–more art than science.

Your Help

You can continue the conversation by leaving comments, or discussing on Twitter using #ELGLWorkLife. If you’re interested in joining the conversation as a guest writer please contact Benjamin McCready at benm@elgl.org or Freida Edgette.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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