Work-life balance is difficult enough to achieve, especially when you must balance your own development with that of your dependents. Like the information diet — limiting the intake “junk” information and information over-consumption — I thought of how my attention is spent, relative to my goal of leading a “considered life”. What are the “food groups” for my attention that require balancing? Considering how I fill each 24 hour period, came up with some categories:
These categories reflect the current situation in my life (ie. a new parent), so your mileage may vary. Also, I am not arguing that each of these categories have equal distribution. The “professional” category takes up about 50% of my time and attention, and the physical only about 5%. But I digress…
The above categories might remind you of the top bits of Maslow’s hierarchy. Indeed, the first three categories are about self actualization; the fourth is about love and belonging; and the fifth is the stress-reducing “junk food” of attention, which is overlooked by Maslow, but important in itself (and if you look close enough, you will find that even here one can find personal development).
Both your time and attention are a limited resource. If you are to spend them in the pursuit of work/life balance, or living the considered life (or whatever your goal is) consider what the optimal balance should be for you. Think of all you do and how they fit into the above categories, and how much time in total you dedicate to each. It is a simple problem of economics: the allocation of scarce resources.
Forgive me now as I break down each of these categories using personal examples.
Obviously work, and the types of R&D, Meetup groups, and extra-work study you do to better yourself professionally is important. Having a work environment that supports your personal development gives you a great sense of well being.
This one has been a challenge for me since having children. When you do have a spare minute, who wants to go to the gym? I just want to sleep. I look forward to my kids becoming more independent so that I can get back on this. Walking or riding to work, having a good diet, going to the gym and doing some jujutsu are what I wish I were doing.
For many, mental development is closely aligned to professional development. For me, it is exercising my brain in ways that my professional environment does not. This usually means reading, specifically non-fiction (politics, science, philosophy, etc) or challenging literature. Writing about my thinking is also important to me and my mental development. It is why I dedicate so much time to this blog, despite having a very small audience. 😉 To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, “Those who cannot speak, cannot write.” Engaging in enlightening discourse through different types of talk clubs are a great way to exercise the brain. The internet — being asynchronous — does not count.
Developing as a parent is important, since your kids will only have one childhood and it is your duty to give them the best one you possibly can. I mix this a lot with Entertainment, since it usually also involves play, outings and watching movies together. Another important part of parental duty is being a spouse. Don’t skimp on the husband+wife time, especially if your spouse is stay-at-home.
Life without fun, isn’t. For me TV, movies and reading (eg. genre fiction or comic books) fall into this category. I also watch the occasional football game, and recently was invited to a D&D group which is about as escapist as one can get. That is not to say any of the above categories cannot be fun. They should be. (In fact, “husband time” can be a highly recommended form of escapism, wink-wink, nudge-nudge).
Taking stock of each of these categories in your life and arranging your activities for optimum balance, even on paper, is a brilliant exercise in self-evaluation. If you are a subscriber to the idea of “the quantified self” you already understand the value, even if this is more of an abstract/subjective approach. A constant struggle, and like a diet you must occasionally return to first principles, periodically taking stock of how your spend your time and attention is rewarding.