Getting work and life in balance

Your eyes are bloodshot. Somewhere overhead, a skull-bleaching fluorescent light hums and clicks. Inside your mouth your tongue demands another swill of Red Bull, while your kidneys begin registering vague grumbles of protest. It’s somewhere past 9:00pm, you’re still working, and in twelve hours it all starts again. All hail the modern, totally-connected digital working lifestyle, where hours are fluid and you’re a one-person brushed aluminium office on the go.

Of course, the above scenario is a bit of a nightmare one, and thankfully not many of us do jobs important enough to warrant pulling regular all-nighters. In fact, as long as lives aren’t depending on you, if you regularly find yourself working ungodly hours on and off the clock, you’ve probably screwed up somewhere along the line or you’re a glutton for punishment.

Work/life balance is one of the most important things to get right in your day-to-day. It sounds obvious but it’s true. Caring about the quality of your life and time outside the office doesn’t mean you don’t care about your work. In a roundabout way, if anything it means you care more. Because the longer you slave away without a break, pushing yourself into a corner flecked with caffeine and your own spittle, the more chance there is of you actually doing bad work.

The other day, I was sent this article by Evan Robinson. It’s a little old, has the odd grammatical flourish and talks primarily about the games industry, but the world of “digital media” (in which I work) can face the same kind of deadline crunch, resulting in the previously mentioned horrors. I should know – I’ve been on the receiving end of a few.

In a nutshell, the key takeaways that Robinson highlights are as follows (emphasis mine):

Ultimately, says Robinson, “there’s a bottom-line reason most industries gave up crunch mode over 75 years ago: It’s the single most expensive way there is to get the work done.”

It all seems rather obvious when you read it all laid out like that, doesn’t it? But it’s far harder to see it so clearly when you’re stuck in the middle of it, trying desperately not to throw your laptop out of the window or put a chair through the polystyrene ceiling tiles above your head. It’s time to think about how we as individuals, collectively as organisations and wider as the “digital media” industry as a whole approach our work and lifestyles.

Everyone is different, of course, and people will work in ways that best suit them mentally/physically. When I’m really into a piece of work, I’m happy to put long days into it, but the negative performance impacts listed above will still happen even if you’re working on a passion project.

Either way, with it becoming increasingly difficult to stay completely off the grid these days, it behoves us all to take a step back and reappraise how we approach our work from the perspective of the rest of our lives.