[Cathy shared these thoughts in a mini-presentation at the Heartland chapter's Fall 2016 meeting.]
Someday, someone will come up with a catchy new meme, “work-life juggling.” (Hey, it was me!) That’s what I always picture when I’m trying to give attention to my best friend/husband, my fragile mother, my needy cat, an overflowing vegetable garden, our neglected motorcycles, the dusty house, a due-next-Tuesday index, my read-me-right-now novel (currently Laura Ewald’s first Cat and Mac mystery), an uncleaned closet—I could go on for awhile, but you get the idea. I picture me, trying to juggle seventeen balls that are all different sizes and shapes.
That’s why I was so interested in a keynote speech, “YOU Management vs. Time Management,” given by Colette Carlson at a conference last summer. “Forget work-life conflict,” she said. We shouldn’t be pitting one important part of our lives against another important part. “Forget work-life balance.” We’d grow old and die, she said, before anything actually fell into balance. Everyone loses with those scenarios. The only thing to do these days is strive for work-life integration. With this scenario, there is more harmonization and mutual reinforcement.
Okay, so suppose you’ve actually ditched all your unwelcome projects. Now take a look at the ones still on your plate. Are you giving too much attention to unimportant ones? There’s been some research on the blurring of career and family boundaries, and we as indexers are particularly vulnerable to that. We’re part of the 70% of Americans who work from home at times. Because we work at home all the time, are we ever victims of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)? FOMO means you check work email when your kids are trying to talk about their day, or when you’re on a hike with your husband. Have you ever taken work on vacation with you? (Of course you have, you’re an indexer.) Those are the problems we face as we try to integrate work and life. There can be such a thing as too much integration.
So here are some tips, culled from recent research, on successful work-life integration.
1. Put all of your calendars together. Maybe you only keep indexing projects on a work calendar, doctor’s appointments on your phone, and birthdays on the kitchen calendar. I’m like that, but recently I’ve tapped everything from every calendar into my phone. Though the other calendars are still available for double-checking, everything I need to know for an average week is reliably in one place.
2. Work around your productivity. I’m definitely a morning person, and whether I’m on a tight deadline or not, sometimes I get up at 5 a.m. because I work faster in the early hours than after lunch. Afternoons are saved for errands, doctor’s appointments, canning tomato sauce, anything that takes me away from the desk.
Prioritize. If the garden cucumbers are a day past prime and the index isn’t due till Friday, deal with the cucumbers first.
3. Practice full concentration. This is really hard for me, which is why I sometimes set an alarm for 5 a.m. I concentrate better then, without wondering what new cat videos are online, or whether any digital library books came in yet.
4. Leverage technology. I’ve just downloaded a free calendar app called Wunderlist that promises to do everything but cook and clean house. I haven’t tried it yet, but the day is coming.
5. Set boundaries. Here, practice a little by saying these out loud:
- "No, I won’t be able to chair that committee. There are 17 other people in this group you can ask."
- "No, I can’t index a 288-page book before 5 p.m. today. How does tomorrow at 5 p.m. work for you?"
- "No, you’re not getting Chocolate Tweed Layer Cake today, I’m on deadline. I’ll bake it Friday, though."
- Daily lists: today, my list included work/life tasks like clean clothes closet, wash towels, start new index, send more agent queries, take birdseed to Mother’s. What I failed to put on this list was ‘write blog for Heartland,’ because it was on the last list, and I threw that one away without noticing I hadn’t crossed off one entry. When Carol reminded me very gently that I had promised it for yesterday, I added it to today’s list. As soon as I finish this, at about 1:30 today, I’ll have crossed three things off the list and be on my way to save Mother’s parakeet from starvation.
- Next-day lists: these are essential when you’re in the middle of any writing project, because life integrates itself into your work regularly, and sometimes you have to stop writing in the middle of an important thought. Next-day lists ensure you won’t lose that thought as soon as you close the file or put down the pen.
- Long-term lists: I’m a big fan of these, too, but rarely make them. I should. Research has shown that just writing down a task makes us more likely to complete it. If you want to start exercising three times a week, write that down as a long-term goal, and write it down every day. Don’t obsess, just keep it at the top of your mind, and eventually you’ll do it, if only so you can stop writing it down.
7. Take incremental steps. You don’t have to beat yourself up if an unexpected meeting interrupts indexing time, or your mother suddenly remembers the birdseed bin is almost empty. No one can be on top of everything all the time.
8. Be selfish sometimes, say no sometimes, but always remember what’s most important. Juggle the balls in a thoughtful kind of way. Which is more important right now, the index that’s due on Friday, or the sunny day that’s just right for a canoe outing? Which is the best use of the two hours before dinner, wrapping up a magazine article or cleaning out the closet? When you consider every aspect of your life to be integrated, it makes for more harmonious decision-making.