Balance And Boundaries

I’ve been thinking about balance and boundaries this week. A lot of people assume I’m bad at balance because I do so many things, but I’m actually surprisingly good at it. I know this because I used to be awful.

When I worked in advertising I used to work a 70-hour week almost every week. I also had a commute that ranged between four and seven hours per day depending on where we were living; and I worked in an industry that required me to go out almost every night drinking. It was not a healthy way to exist. 

I left in 2012 and started working for myself, and then the whole thing happened where my life fell apart and I had to spend some time just building the basics and putting it (and myself) back together again.

Over the last four or five years though I’ve found a nice balance. I work well rather than working especially hard: I used to spend loads of hours in the office, but now I get the same amount – sometimes more! – done in 5-8 hours depending on the day.

It took so long to work out how to do this because it wasn’t about following someone else’s advice. There’s a lot out there: get up at 4am (ew); go to the gym before work (ugh); do the pomodoro method; spend the morning working on a certain kind of task and the afternoon working on another… the list goes on and on.

How I did it was to work out how I work best, and then stick to that as rigidly as possible.

I love working a long day on Mondays. I don’t know why, but there’s something about beginning the week with a 12- to 15-hour day in the office that makes me very happy. So that’s almost always the case. I like to work at least one other day per week from the office, but I prefer that to be a more moderate length: between five and eight hours depending on workload and my mood.

Since I’m currently at uni during the weekends, I’m taking a couple of weekdays as semi-weekends. Realistically I can’t just abandon my clients in the week since they expect me to be online, but I’m scaling down a bit and doing only the things that are really important on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are academic work days, and Fridays I work on my novel. This works for me; themeing my days is a great way to keep me engaged and stop me getting bored or exhausted. It might not work for you. The important thing is to understand yourself – your body, your rhythms, your preferences – and stick within that framework as far as you can.

I’ve been thinking about this in relation to a couple of things lately which I’ve taken on. The things themselves don’t take too much time, but the peripheral stuff around them, like meetings and calls, do. They’re at times of the day when I’d normally not be working, and because I’m so in tune with my body’s rhythm now it affects me much more when I do something jarring. I’m at a bit of an impasse about what to do: should I do the work but not be on the calls? But then that’s not fair on the other people. Should I drop out of the projects altogether? But I don’t want to. Should I just suck it up and deal with it? But it’s not that simple: I did that once last week, and then it had such a knock-on effect that the rest of the week was about 50% harder than it otherwise would have been. And life’s hard enough anyway without making it harder for ourselves.

I’m not yet sure what I’ll do, but I’ll work it out. In the meantime I thought I’d share it because it’s important to acknowledge that this stuff is hard, and there aren’t always straightforward answers, to this or to other questions in life.

Anyway, what have I been up to over the last seven days?

Uni last weekend was challenging but interesting. On the train back home I had a bunch of psychological realisations (psychotherapy courses will do that to you!) which was uncomfortable but also helpful. I’ve spent a lot of time writing in my diary lately – on Monday I wrote thirty pages, although some of that was because I went to a lecture at LSE in the evening, about psychiatry and philosophy. It was very interesting.

Monday to Thursday morning were fairly standard: office on Monday; working from home on Tuesday, then choir to rehearse for our upcoming concert; a singing lesson on Wednesday and then more work from home, followed by dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in way too long; and Thursday morning was spent working on the novel.

On Thursday afternoon I went to Sussex, and I drove all the way there! It was terrifying but I didn’t hit anyone, which is always my main goal. I did accidentally change from 5th into 2nd gear instead of 4th a couple of times, which made Yolanda (the car) unhappy, but aside from that the journey was OK.

Friday morning was a panel discussion at my old school. It always brings me hope to sit talking to teenagers all morning: they’re so engaged, so intelligent, and not overly cynical yet. I do it every year and I always come away feeling like life might not be entirely doomed. This year was particularly excellent and I met some very interesting and genuine young people. I hope I get to go back.

I’d been planning to see a few friends in Sussex but I decided just to drive home instead, to get it over with. The drive home was much easier than the drive there, I think because it started in the countryside and gradually got harder until I finally hit London, which is a nightmare to drive in. Starting a drive in London is like plunging yourself into the rapids and expecting to immediately swim; starting a drive elsewhere and ending up in London is a thousand times easier.

I got home earlier than I’d expected and nearly opened my computer to start work, but then I remembered that I’d told my clients I’d be offline on Friday, so I was like… why not use this opportunity to chill out and take a few hours off? So I did. I watched several episodes of the new season of One Day At A Time (I hugely recommend it), and then went to bed early. At the weekend was uni, which once again was challenging but fun; and I caught up with a couple of friends in the evenings. Now it’s a new week, so let’s see what this one brings.

If you’re interested, here’s what the Bohemiacademia team got up to this week.

Tell me about your week.

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  1. I appreciate your descriptions of themeing your days. I’ve always struggled with boundaries, in part because I’m a people-pleaser and in part because my brain is wired to want to do everything at any time! But — I also have a deep brain, and I need to be able to dive in to be most effective. Where the two are at odds is when I deep-dive but then have to switch gears for some kind of emergency. I will say that last time I was self-employed, I did reserve Fridays for fiction, and I loved it. It was a great bridge between the workweek and the weekend.

    I concur about teenagers. They get a bad rap. Have you noticed also how vulnerable they are? They have all these observations and opinions but they’re still fairly uncertain what to do with them. They worry they won’t be taken seriously, but they also worry that they will!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, teenagers are wonderful. And you’ve captured their paradox perfectly: they have such strong opinions, but they’re so uncertain about them. And when they realise you’re taking their views seriously, often they can freeze up for a while before they work out that you’re not trying to trick them or make them pass a test (probably says as much about the education system as about the fundamental nature of teenagers…)

      I used to be a people-pleaser but at some point that died down, I’m not sure why or how. I fully get the concept of wanting to do everything though! One of the reasons I actually quite like how my body gets ill every few years is that it forces me to step back and look at how my life’s going, and work out whether I’m happy with it and if not, why not. The most recent example of this made me realise I missed thinking deeply, thinking hard in a way that challenges me, rather than just thinking about a lot of things all at once; this was a big part of the reason for being stricter about my daily themes, and for going back to uni.

      Life’s hard and confusing, but so much fun. There’s so much to do! 😉


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