Juggling the activities we like to do along with the things that we need to do has been a problem ever since there have been people. A neanderthal forager, while gathering food so that his tribe wouldn’t starve, probably had daydreams about relaxing next to the warm, cozy fire back at the cave with a nice, carved wooden bowl of fermented mastodon milk and enough fingerpaints to decorate an entire wall — from floor to ceiling — with pictures of all the big, fuzzy things outside that he’d like to eat. His mate, while tending to an unruly brood of offspring and preparing the day’s foragings for consumption, likely would have rather been down at the hot springs with her friends, soaking in the soothing, geothermic bubbles of bliss while gossiping about the next tribe over and how they were so behind the times for dressing in last year’s pelts.
So what’s your solution to balancing work with play? Do you take it in stride and plan accordingly, stress about it and vent to all who will listen about how there “just ain’t enough hours in the day” to get close to anything done, or do you let it overwhelm you to the point where you just drop everything and flee town on an emergency snowboarding vacation? Julie McCarthy, associate professor of organizational behaviour at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC), says that “people need to ask themselves, ‘What roles do I play?’ and ‘Are these roles working for me?’ And if they’re not working, we then need to ask, ‘What are the strategies I’m using to make things better?'”
In a study of how employed undergraduates at the university most commonly deal with the stress involved in balancing their education and workplace responsibilities, three strategies emerged as being the most common:
- Problem Focused. Solution-driven, active engagement with an assortment of tasks is generally considered to be the option taken by the most organized and most efficient go-getters and is usually the “right” thing to do, it’s not always realistic. Sometimes there just really aren’t enough hours in the day, and an overachiever who’s trying to cram everything into them to avoid missing out on a bountiful life often winds up sacrificing in other areas: sleep and sanity, for starters. “People need time to refocus in order to learn or study well,” says McCarthy.
- Emotion Focused. Venting to others about how hard it is to do everything on one’s plate is something that most of us have done, legitimately or otherwise, at some point. It’s a valid concern, and something to which we can all relate; misery loves company, after all! If you’re one of the people who resort to this strategy over the others, just keep in mind that, uninvited, you could be bogging down someone else’s time (and forcing them to resort to one of these strategies)! Make sure it’s a two-way conversation and not an endless gripefest, unless you want your friends to start avoiding you. Which takes us beautifully to the next strategy…
- Avoidance. Distracting yourself with other activities. “This technique is traditionally seen as running away from your problems,” says McCarthy. “But maybe by backing off and taking breaks, students are able to replenish their resources.” This shouldn’t be a fast pass to shrug off every responsibility you’ve got just because you’d rather be golfing on Maui than doing inventory or figuring out next month’s budget; avoidance is only a healthy strategy if you find that it replenishes you sufficiently to get the important stuff done. A little brain vacation should be a recharge and not a decoy!
Someone who’s inclined to favor strategy 1 could learn a little something from the other two. It’s okay to share a burden with a willing listener if you’re feeling like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders — they may help you reorder your duties in a way you hadn’t considered, but the most important thing is that you’re taking the time to breathe, share, and reflect on the situation. And avoidance is also known as “vacation” for most of the world. We all need one from time to time. “People need to assess which strategies they’re using to cope with their problems and make sure they’re making time for resource recovery,” says McCarthy. “Too many roles can be detrimental unless we begin asking ourselves honest, pointed questions.”
All that being said, which of these three strategies do you tend to employ when you’re trying to strike a healthy work-life balance? Or is there another one that the study left out? Leave a comment and let us know!
CC licensed Flickr photo shared by BLW Photography