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Work/Life Balance: The Cost of Always Being On

By: dev | September 19, 2013 | 
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Work:Life Balance- The Cost of Always Being OnBy Jason Konopinski

I have a confession: I despise business travel.

As someone who values their routine, shuffling through security, subjecting myself to scans of my private bits, and wrangling itineraries and bookings just isn’t my idea of a good time.

Forced downtime doesn’t jive with my personality. It’s also why I choose Amtrak for business travel over planes three to one.

Free WiFi and comfortable seating. It’s the little things.

It seems the only time I’m well and truly unplugged isn’t even of my own design.

The airlines (and the FCC) make that decision for me when all my devices have to be switched off and stowed from the time the cabin doors close and the plane hits cruising altitude.

What am I supposed to do with those 20 minutes away from my content streams and emails and social networks? Read a magazine or actually talk to the person beside me? Nap? Order a cocktail? Actually, that last one sounds pretty good.

The ubiquity of Internet connectivity in public places has reduced the moments of time where we are legitimately unreachable and offline to near zero — and that’s not a good thing.

Always On

Digital theorist and social critic Douglas Rushkoff introduces in Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now the concept of presentism, and how we are living our lives “always on.” It’s certainly worth mentioning I’m rapping out this post from an airport lounge, desperately trying to catch up on a pile of work and prepare for several meetings and presentations.

We’re trying to squeeze every bit of productivity and efficiency out of our professional lives — and more often than not, we’re failing. Perhaps more accurately, technology is failing us.

Digital technology was supposed to change our struggles against the clock. Email supplanted the physical letter, delivering messages in a nanosecond to our inboxes. I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of email. It’s overwhelming at times, getting that deluge of inbound messages that gum up the works of a finely tuned machine.

Work/Life Balance

Computers and virtual networks were going to make more time for the things that really mattered by streamlining and automating antiquated, cumbersome processes and delivery systems. I’ve worked remotely for the past six years, playing laptop hobo from the corner coffee shop or, most recently, as a founding member of CoWork 155.

Ostensibly, I can devote more focused time on doing client work and business developing because I’m not at the mercy of the ebbs and flows of a daily commute. We’ve started thinking less about the number of hours we sit in an office, and more about delivering value and results to clients. Right? Right??

Then something happened.

Instead of choosing when to work and when to – well, live – we don’t ever disconnect. Time has become the new commodity as we try to avail ourselves more, for the benefit of those who’ve hired us for our brains and skills.

I’ve noticed it in my own work, and it was a primary motivator for choosing to stop working from home, and get myself into a dedicated workspace that made it a lot easier to blend work and life into a happy medium.

Taking it Back

I’m a communications professional. I’m not curing cancer and there’s no one bleeding out on the table. No one is dying because I don’t answer that email right this second or don’t tweet more than a few times in a single week.

Having a little humility about the work we do is helpful and healthy – and it means I don’t feel guilty about taking a long bike ride in the middle of the day or spending an hour watching the most ridiculous YouTube videos imaginable.

Busy isn’t a Badge of Honor

I certainly don’t need to brag about working 15 hour days. It happens sometimes, but if it becomes routine rather than occasional, well, Houston, we have a problem. Something needs to be fixed — and fast. Working myself into one giant ball of (unproductive) stress isn’t something to celebrate, ever.

Everyone gets the same hours in a day. It’s our choice how we spend those 24 hours. Cliched? Maybe. But true all the same.

Know Your Limits

I can’t do it all. My desk is littered with projects that start with all the passion imaginable – and then fizzle. I’ll get to them or I won’t. My choice, and I’m cool with that. I haven’t posted to my own blog in – gulp! – several weeks, and nothing bad happened. The people who matter know who I am and what I’m worth.

Redefining Work

It’s not just about output and client deliverables. Those matter, but there’s more to doing meaningful work than the raw number of words written, pages developed, and leads delivered. Figuring out a crunchy client problem or introducing a new pedagogy to your industry is still work – and it matters. It might not be billable, but it’s valuable.

Technology lets us be in more than one place, but there’s a real cost to our productivity and mental well-being. It’s what Rushkoff calls “digiphrenia.” The social media streams are data flows, bringing information to us, little rivers of bits and bytes that move by whether we’re dipping our toes in the water or not.

Reclaim that time and focus on the things that matter beyond work – family, your health, and your hobbies. The Internet will still be here when you choose to login. Your terms, your choice.

See you on the other side.

101 comments
dbvickery
dbvickery

Greatly enjoyed the post, Jason. I've telecommuted since 1998, and I've done more of the Work/Life "blend" versus balance. That "always on" capability has me checking and responding to emails at 10-11pm at night...and weekends.

Knowing I'm going to do that regularly, I've tried to ensure I take time off when I need it - for family events or simply to have coffee with my wife. I've also adopted a much lighter engagement over the weekends recently. Like you said...nobody is going to die if I do not respond to their email or tweet right away. When I do connect, it is more about personal sharing with some of my online friends (such as yourself) vs trying to do work or business development.

Because you can never share enough #foodporn when it comes to homemade bacon and smoked pork shoulder, right?? And we are in the high-time for talking football smack!

RyanKBiddulph
RyanKBiddulph

Hi Jason,

After traveling the world and working online for the past 36 months, I concur. Bravo! ;) I work from my laptop. My laptop is my office. I have no smart phone. I have no phone. I check Skype. All work is done during set periods then I travel. I do tourist stuff. I go offline on long flights. I write, read, and actually talk to fellow travelers.

I learned 36 months ago when my journey began in Bali that effective acts count and when I give myself time to unplug and detach, my effective acts increase.

Thanks Jason!

Ryan

LauraPetrolino
LauraPetrolino

So I had a really amazing and philosophical comment to share about this terrific blog (which I wrote in my firewalled state on Thursday)...and then I realized the irony of the fact that I'm here at 4 am, on a Saturday tweeting, sharing and commenting on a blog about work/life balance...

Right.

So, now I'm off to the gym and I shall come back and post my comment after 9am (since for some reason that seems slightly more 'in balance', not that it actually is, but the great thing about posting comments at 4am is that there are very few people around to argue with you!) 

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg

Information is like a drug. It is addictive. I love it!!! More data...PLEASE!

When I'm running an advertised sale on one of my novels, it will generate between 65 - 220 sales in a day. Most days are 3 - 8, so the books (Kindle versions) are flying (metaphorically) out the door.

It is fun to click refresh and see if any new ones have show up. But it isn't just the joy of a new sale, it is the data. I might check ten times in an hour, between Tweets and blog post. I record every single instance, the time, the quantity, the book sold, and keep it all in a fantastic excel workbook.

I've learned a bunch from my data, so I like it.

That being said, during a promotion, it is common for me to wake up in the middle of the night, crawl out of bed, check the data and enter a new data point. This happens three of four times a night during these high volume days.


No, I don't have children or a girlfriend. (No surprises there).

My computer has three monitors. When I can afford it, I'll upgrade to five, so I'm not so cramped with my screen real estate.

It all seems pretty grim for me, doesn't it?

Well, there is one place where technology is cast aside. A place where I don't check emails, tweets, or answer the phone. In fact, I don't even have my phone on.

The golf course. Even if I'm playing poorly, missing easy putts, and spending more time in the sand traps than I'd like, it is still a good day.


Your post is a good reminder that one must not let technology rule their life. A reminder I probably need daily (he said as he finished writing his lengthy response to a blog post). Irony is cool.

Latest blog post: Micro Burst of Wind

KevinVandever
KevinVandever

Busy isn’t a Badge of Honor...I need to make a sign and post it on my office door, but that would backfire because, well, you know, everyone wears the badge. When someone comes into my office, sighs, and tells me how busy he or she is, I always think to say something like "Wow, that's too bad. I'm not that busy. I have the perfect balance of work and life. I sleep 8 hours a night, spend quality time with my family, and exercise the exact amount of time necessary for optimal health (they know I'm lying at this point). In fact, you need to leave my office now because I'm due for my mid-afternoon nap." But I never say that. I usually reply with something profound like "Yeah, it's crazy around here". It's the easy way out. The overly busy person wins because he or she is validated. I win because I've kept secret my true identity as someone who cares about, and takes action toward, a balanced life. A sometimes dangerous identity to reveal in the corporate world. Oh my, I hope I haven't said too much. 
Great post. Thanks. 

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

Jason you hit this one on the head....actually, I just finished Lean-In by Sheryl Sandberg and there's this quote that's perfect....something along the lines of "people use the phrase live/work balance like those two things are in opposition." Simple, but true. 

@RebeccaTodd and I were just talking about the information overload thing yesterday, in relation to how Gmail has tabbed email delivery now. You're right that people (myself included) get stuck in the trap of more, even when there's not necessarily a clear benefit. I've been writing this thing about why content marketing drives me crazy and how people misunderstand that the point of connecting to other people, IS connecting to other people, and that gets lost in the avalanche of numbers. I'd love to see someone, for example, create two pieces of amazing content, and build conversation around that for a month instead of delivering a steady stream of lukewarm stuff. Same goes for how I think about my life and balance it. Admittedly I have a smaller influence / network than most people I know, but the connections I do have, I really value their thoughts and actions. The whole less is more thing.



biggreenpen
biggreenpen

Really enjoyed this post, and it brought up so many thoughts/ideas I am having trouble corralling them into a logical comment! I do think that the "constant state of on" is something that has colored many aspects of parenting (for me). When my daughter was at a three week dance intensive (which really WAS intense) and could text me to say she didn't feel like going to class, I didn't have the discipline to not engage .... and that exchange did not go well. Without my instant accessibility, she would have had to suck it up and GO to class. Something is lost  --  something about having to come to terms with things internally without the external "crutches" of our electronics.

Steve Fitzpatrick
Steve Fitzpatrick

I stopped telling people 'I've been busy' when they asked how's business. Instead, I started saying 'I've been really productive' and made a conscious choice to only work on what matters.

That makes a big difference.

Also, setting a personal goal of working for only 4 hours a day as my ideal target. It keeps me focused, spending time on the important work, ignoring junk and time wasting activities. Sure, some days are 10 hours, but I keep bringing it back to the 4 hours which helps me keep things in balance.

mickeygomez
mickeygomez

Considering what happened to me the last time I traveled for business, it won't surprise you to know that I am also not a fan. 

Excellent post, excellent points. It drives me nuts when people use their "busy-ness" as a badge of honor (I'm not talking of once in a while, I'm talking about on an ongoing basis). I can't help but wonder, "Hmmm. Talk to me about your time management skills. Or your ability to prioritize. Or your ability to work smart."

Regarding the plugged in factor, people often say to me, "You are ALWAYS online." Only I'm not. I am very intentional about when I'm online and when I'm not. I still like hanging out in person, or working without interruption. Crazy, right?

Latest blog post: Sophie, Music Critic

Tinu
Tinu

So very agree. I'm finally FINALLY actually ashamed if I work more than 10 hours in a day. I'm hoping to get that down to 6 next year. My solution is to close things and put them physically away from me, then let laziness or tiredness take it from there. :)

KateFinley
KateFinley

Great post, @jasonkonopinski ! I agree that there are times for being outrageously busy ... especially if you're a business owner or a consultant who has to do everything. BUT if it stays like that, things have to change. You either have to bite the bullet and increase overhead by hiring or start outsourcing in some way. It's hard but it just has to be done.


I truly believe we weren't created to simply work all the time.

#loveit

LSSocialEngage
LSSocialEngage

Great post! I especially love the part about having a little humility about the work we do. Well put. Also, I don't like business travel much either. For the most part I find it is only appealing to folks who actually don't get to travel for work.

rdopping
rdopping

Amen brother! 

The world of consulting can get hold of you by the cojones and when it does it smarts. Notwithstanding the "always on" nature of our lives that can trap us, I recently saw something @mitchjoel  posted from David Allen which puts some of these issues into a framework that I found valuable http://www.twistimage.com/blog/archives/3-new-takes-on-how-to-get-things-done-better/

I often wonder how much better our lives benefit from technology if we are clear on how to manage our time better.

Great piece, sir.

AnneReuss
AnneReuss

Beautiful!!! You have a good head on your shoulders. Took me some time to realize this, but our social media friends - the "true" ones - will always be a tweet, text, skip, or a click away and they won't be mad when we unplug.  As long as we find our way back to each other, it's good right? ;-) 

Don't let anyone define balance for you. If it means unwinding with a book, silly television, exercise or working extra one day so you can take a mini adventure the next day, so be it! 

Like @RebeccaTodd said. You have the power to create your own adventure. Use Yelp and pick up caffeine if that's what it takes to get you out of the hotel room. 

lizreusswig
lizreusswig

So LOVE & LIVE this post!  Also, agree with the many terrific comments here, especially @lauraclick - there really is no true balance and it often is so hard to disconnect for us social butterflies! ;)

PS - @jasonkonopinski  said "private bits" hehe

Latest blog post: The Susquehanna Stage Co.

lauraclick
lauraclick

Such a great topic and post, Jason! And, so many great comments already. I think what so many others have said is dead on...

First, there's no such thing as true "balance" - you just have to find the mix that works for you (and it's different for everyone.

Second, our industry definitely makes it harder to unplug. We are waaaaaay more connected than other people. So, some of this is our own fault. I think that's where healthy boundaries come in.

I took an unexpected blogging hiatus for a couple of weeks too so I could focus on some bigger writing projects. During that time, I barely dipped into social media. And honestly, it was kind of refreshing. It made me realize that the hustle and bustle of it all is largely self-imposed - either through fear of missing out, feeling that we "have" to be there or that we need to keep up with the Joneses. All of those are bad reasons. I think it's good to pull back, do a gut check and realign our focus individually. Unplugging and getting outside of the bubble for a bit can really help with that.


RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

Great post, J! It's a hard balance to strike, that's for sure. Here is my big thought on this- we need to be a little easier on ourselves, whatever route we choose. You know I love my Sequestered Saturdays- lock myself in my house with my pack and my vinyl and my books, not speak to a single soul...paradise. I refuse to apologize or allow people to tell me I am "wasting" my day- as if listening to Sir Doug and the Texas Tornadoes could ever be a waste...but I digress. Sometimes, though, I work. Not because I "have" to, but because I  WANT to. I check my email- being 12 hours behind my direct report in Beijing, I don't want her waiting if she needs me, personally or professionally. Or I write- things that become blog posts, things that become sales strategies, or things that will only ever live in my notes folder. And again- I refuse to apologize for working on a "day off" if that is what I WANT to do. 

To me, striking this "balance" has everything to do with me being kinder to myself, and respecting that sometimes I like to work like a fiend, but sometimes I like to do absolutely nuthin'. I'm not going to force myself either way.

One word on business travel before I go- you have to find a way to make it work for you. I have to force myself out of my hotel and to a nice restaurant, and I seek out chances to meet new people and try new things. Little is as soul-sucking as going right back to your hotel, working away after an already long day, ordering crappy room service. Even if you think you should.  I tell my reps I don't want to hear about that. I want to know where they've eaten, the museums they saw, the people they met- ANYTHING other than "I caught up on work and ate in my room." That is the route to destruction...believe me...I learned the hard way.


JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@ExtremelyAvg Who among us can cast stones? But there is something inarguably elegant and beautiful about simply letting the blood course through your veins, watching the water, and feeling the boundaries of your physical frame. They can create a literal mainframe to plug me into and I'll still take time out to see, touch, and hear the world. 

Word Ninja
Word Ninja

@Tinu Wait, you mean these computers/phones/ipads have off buttons?

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

@KateFinley While I love working around tech startups and other entrepreneurially minded people, I simply cannot abide romanticizing "the hustle". Long nights at the office should be the exception and certainly not the rule. 

Latest blog post: Poetry Friday: Ezra Pound

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

@AnneReuss @RebeccaTodd Lovely line- "Don't let anyone define balance for you. If it means unwinding with a book, silly television, exercise or working extra one day so you can take a mini adventure the next day, so be it! "

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

@lauraclick I'd take it a step further and say that unless you're involved in crisis communications at a large scale, it's rare that something requires our immediate attention. 

At the end of the day, I help clients sell more stuff. I'm not trying to end world hunger or eradicate some disease.  The work that I do is important to me and to the clients that I serve, but it helps to keep a healthy perspective. 

Latest blog post: Poetry Friday: Ezra Pound

Word Ninja
Word Ninja

@lauraclick That last part, especially, is great advice. Pull back, do a gut check, realign our focus. A new perspective can be invaluable.

Word Ninja
Word Ninja

@RebeccaTodd Wow, Sequestered Saturdays. That's the solution. Name your time away something cool.

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

@jasonkonopinski @LSSocialEngage Do advocate devilishly for a moment...when people tell ME that they go to the same office with the same people for the same hours, five days a week, I think "How do you not completely lose your sanity?" So to some extent, it is chacun son gout. 

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@RebeccaTodd @AnneReuss "Choose Your Own Adventure" .... ok, I'll pass on the corridor that has a mysteriously strong wind draft through it and instead climb the rope ladder up into A CRYPT WITH MUMMIES!!oh god WHY did I ever listen to @AnneReuss that is the last time I take her advice. 

Word Ninja
Word Ninja

@RebeccaTodd That's it. I'm hiring you to officially name my Saturdays, lands...and future children.

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

@jasonkonopinski @RebeccaTodd Understandable. Now I don't know how to be at home for more than a few weeks. But my life, professionally and personally, is set up for constant insanity. 

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