Labor Day is seen by many as the start of a new year. School begins for teachers and children. The summer break is over and schedules ramp up. Everywhere we look we’re called upon to pick up the pace.
In this day and age, work/life balance is a major theme of Harvard Business Review articles, TED Talks, HR seminars, and more. We may think this is a new phenomenon, arising from the astonishing leaps in technology which work 24/7 even if we aren’t capable—as humans—of keeping up. But the question has been around for a much longer period of time than just the 21st century. A colleague and I were discussing the need for her direct reports—who have major responsibilities and work very hard at their jobs—to take time off. She mentioned that one individual told her that he had not taken a vacation because “the place couldn’t run without me.” I smiled and suggested that she pass along the advice I heard from my grandmother, who liked to say, “The graveyard is full of people who thought the world couldn’t get along without them.” My grandmother, whose life spanned much of the 20th century, was speaking about unnecessary busyness and self-importance. Even earlier, in 1877, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote An Apology for Idlers in which he makes the following statement:
“Look at one of your industrious fellows for a moment, I beseech you. He sows hurry and reaps indigestion; he puts a vast deal of activity out to interest and receives a large measure of nervous derangement in return.”
I’ve made the case for finding the time to let your mind wander. To take time off to walk. Perhaps, even, to dawdle. When thinking of how to achieve a proper balance in life during this time of year, consider how you approach work as much as how to separate work and family life. If you find yourself always in a hurry to complete a task to move forward to the next one, consider Sara Cameron’s question in her TEDx Talk: “When are you going to stop being so busy?” Cameron—an Integrative Psychology and Relationship Coach—suggests we are engineering our busy schedules to avoid connecting with others. “It is easy being busy” but balance takes work. We have to stop multitasking in order to keep up with our busy schedules. (HINT: It doesn’t work anyway.) By taking time to be idle, walk, dawdle, be open to the serendipitous, we can be more productive and build more balance into our lives.
Cameron wraps up her talk by noting that balance isn’t an object, but a practice. We can’t pick it up at the store on the way home. We have to build a practice of balance into every day. Building white space into our lives—idling, if you will—gives us time to understand and integrate the experiences we have that all go together to make us the people we are. That white space can take the form of 15 minutes of blank space on your calendar, or a week or two away from the office.
Idling, dawdling, building in white space—whatever you want to call it—doesn’t mean you neglect your work. Stevenson had been at work on his article a year before its appearance, “which shows that his Apology for Idlers demanded from him anything but idling.” As one of his biographers put it, “there was hardly any time when the author of the Apology for Idlers ever really neglected the tasks of his true vocation.” We can do the same, focusing on what’s important and understanding that to connect, be balanced, and be productive, we have to give ourselves some time to idle.
Have a good week.
More to come..