Work-life balance is an ever present topic on my mind, especially the older I get which seems to coincide with more responsibilities. It was the reason I started this blog in the first place because I wanted to share with others how it is possible to have a professional career, a spouse or partner, children, pets and still get eight hours of sleep most nights. While I definitely have balanced living fails more often than I would like, whenever possible I relish in sharing the little tips and tricks that make life feel less insane.
One of my favorite life hacks has to do with the nature of work itself and when to do it. I’ve written before about my success in making time for my personal projects such as my self-help book and blogging by not going home straight away after work. I’m not sure I would be able to make as much progress in the areas not covered by my 9-5 if it weren’t for this strategy. Yet, my actual day job doesn’t always fit neatly into eight hours of work.
As a PhD student I am afforded a great deal of flexibility in when to complete projects since I am the only person fully responsible for the outcome of my research. Yet even with this flexibility, the sheer number of tasks that need to be completed on a daily or weekly basis can still be quite daunting. Add to that my teaching responsibilities for the last six months which take up about half my time at the University, and often times it’s all I could do to not feel like I’m falling behind.
While there are activities that can only be done physically at work (I don’t have a chemical hood at home after all), many small tasks that still need to be completed don’t necessarily have to take place during the official work day. Yes, I still send emails for a good part of the day but do I need to read a research paper during my lunch break? Not necessarily.
Instead of invading every hour of my workday with the minutiae of reviewing a memo, going over a presentation for an upcoming meeting, or revising a speakers itinerary for a seminar, I batch all those tasks for early afternoon on Sundays when I can get to all of them at once in the comfort of my own home. Most of the time, an hour is more than enough to handle all of these tasks. Instead of spreading them out throughout the workday in the often minuscule pockets of time in between meetings or lectures, I save myself the stress and accomplish everything I need to get done in a more relaxed setting.
Batch processing of mostly administrative work is not a new concept, but what helps me to actually do this on a regular basis is to pencil it into my calendar as an appointment I have with myself. This increases the likelihood that it will get done, since it is in my best interest to get a jump start on my work for the rest of the week yet I may not always feel up to it in the moment.
Even more so than the benefit of crossing off some of those smaller items off my to do list, psychologically I get an immediate boost from accomplishing something that I know it going to set me up for smoother sailing the coming week. It helps me avoid the dreaded Monday back to work feeling so many people experience. Instead of avoiding the start of a new week, I can go into work with the mindset that I’m prepared to tackle whatever is ahead of me, with the added bonus of focusing on my higher priority tasks. Knowing that I can relegate most of the minutiae of my work to a time of my choosing on the weekend makes it that much easier to focus when I am at work.
It’s a small change and may take some getting used to if you decide to implement a bit of weekend work into your life especially if you’re used to the weekends as pure relaxation zones. If that is working for you, by all means, who am I to tell you to switch but after trying my weekend work hour hack for the last year, I would never go back. A little bit of work goes a long way to buying me some much needed downtime, especially when those thoughts about work begin to circle in my brain like vultures.
Doing work to avoid thinking about work might seem odd but if you’re a knowledge worker, it might just be the ticket to a weekend filled with true rest and relaxation.