Work Life Balance
The picture on the right is very important to me. I came across it about 10 years ago and found it both beautiful, thought provoking and the more I studied it more the meaning and subtlety I got from it. I pinned it to the whiteboard in our dining room. Everyday I would look at that picture and it would remind me of the need to rebalance my life, each year it faded and became more ragged and so did my commitment.
Eventually I took it down and maybe co-incidentally this was also a time when work became too important in my life, my health suffered and I propped myself up on more and more drugs, a vicious cycle of decline started to build. It took a few years to recognise this decline and several years to reverse it to the happy position I find myself in now.
When I had the idea to write this post I hunted around and found the image again and was struck by it anew and I set it as my desktop background, the perfect companion to the family collage that I use as my welcome/lock screen on Windows 8.
I’ve had a lot of support from work and family that’s helped me turn my life around, but the biggest impact has come from a combination of three related factors:
Time , without doubt time has been the most important, when you have chronic health conditions everything in life is a little bit more difficult, these conditions sap your energy, your motivation, your willpower. Being able to reduce my working hours meant that work used up less time, energy, willpower leaving more left over to invest in the other areas of my life that needed more attention
Discipline, time alone is not enough, there are plenty of people who don’t work at all who fail to achieve anything resembling a well balanced life, they don’t break out of vicious cycles of decline and turn them into virtuous cycles because they lack discipline, discipline is hard to come by. The trick I used was to consider that the time I no longer spent working was gifted to me by my employer to invest in restoring my health and I used the skills, professional attitude and tools that I used at work to achieve that. I developed a vision, a strategy for achieving that vision, a set of habits (plan) that implemented the strategy. I included restoring my health as an objective in my performance review at work and reported on progress to my employer and my doctors.
Tracking, a vision, strategy, plan are of little use without tracking. Tracking reveals the difference between the fiction that your brain creates and the cold reality that the facts reveal. You think you get plenty of exercise until you measure your steps, you think you sit down as a family for meals until you log on a calendar the few time that you actually manage it, you think you have your headaches under control until you see how many days you didn’t take pain killers and so it goes on. I use 6 tools for tracking.
- I have a set of habits that I consider important to a life well lived and I track these using the Lift App throughout the day. Lift has great trend revealing visualisations and the gap between my perception and the hard reality continues to amaze me. I also track a few negative habits that I’m trying to eliminate
- I track my pain levels, pain areas, possible causes and associated symptoms in Chronic Pain Tracker app. This is a much more powerful tool than Lift, but of course has a very specific purpose
- I track my activity and sleep with a Fitbit, no effort required and highly motivating
- I track what I eat with MyFitnessPal, quite a bit of effort for the first couple of weeks, then simplicity itself if you eat like I do (which no one else does)
- I keep my diary on Twitter, and recently this blog. I aggregate them both into the Momento app which provides a great search interface. This Twitter diary provides some context to the tracking data, for example if I notice my sleep started to get worse 2 months ago, I can look back in my Twitter diary to see what I was doing differently
- Finally each week when I book my work time, I save a copy of my time sheet into Evernote and write a paragraph about how things have been going at work that week, how stressful, frustrating, intense it’s been, how my health has been, if I’ve been forced to push myself more than I’d like to, and more.
Each of these tracking tools meets a different need and each has proved incredibly valuable.
So maybe it would be useful to see some examples of these different tools. The vision you’ve already seen, it’s the picture at the top of this post. Next up is the strategy, which is perhaps best summarised by the following poster that I have pinned up in my home office and look at every day.
Then, here’s any example of some of the habits that I track
And an example of how well I am achieving one of them
An example of Fitbit, activity tracking
An example of MyFitnessPal, food tracking
Then an example of tracking pain and related symptoms, guess when I went back to work!