This is part of an ongoing series of longer articles I will be posting every Sunday.
Balancing work and life has never been easy, and this is especially true for the knowledge worker. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that we keep our jobs in our heads at all times, and modern electronics like the BlackBerry and laptop tend to keep it at our fingers as well. When our jobs require us to travel, work can effectively separate us entirely from our lives for days or weeks at a time. Road warriors must consciously try to focus on life, even as work pulls their attention away.
First, let us focus on the element of time: How many hours do you spend on work? White collar “knowledge workers” enjoy great flexibility when it comes to scheduling – most of us can pencil in an early exit, long lunch, or late arrival with just a little shuffling of appointments. But we also tend to work at odd hours and locations, firing up our laptops for a late-night spreadsheet session or taking a call from the UK (or farther East) before dawn.
Flexible schedules mean less delineation between work and non-work, and those of us who are focused on excellence in our work can find ourselves saying “sure, I’ll be there” even when we ought to be focused elsewhere. It can seem almost selfish to ignore a call when driving, resting, or playing golf, but this is exactly what we must do to avoid always being on duty.
This is especially true when it comes to friends and family. We owe them our focus when we are with them, and must consciously turn our attention to them and away from work. Of course we must sometimes sacrifice personally if the urgency of work is too great, but we must not always decide that work takes precedence over life.
Out and Away
When work requires us to travel, attaining balance is doubly difficult. We are tempted to maximize our effectiveness while on the road, since we are away anyway, and can easily put in extremely long hours just to have something to do. But again, we must turn ourselves away and focus on our own lives and loved ones.
My first rule of business travel is to remember those at home. Time zone changes make calling to check in especially hard, but entering an appointment can help remind you of the time at home. Before you go, try to get a list of important events happening back home so you can continue to be involved just as you would be if you were not on the road. A little interest and concern can go a long way!
My second rule is to always find something interesting to do wherever you go. Hotels, office buildings, and airports are largely identical, and chain restaurants thrive on their predictability. I recommend looking up local museums and musical performances, since these vary greatly from city to city and also tend to take on some of the local character. Ask your hosts to suggest a local delicacy or independent restaurant to visit for a literal flavor of the city. Consider vegetarian or ethnic restaurants for some real variety, and use yelp.com to find top-rated eateries.
All considered, don’t let yourself be taken advantage of by work. It is acceptable to give exceptional effort to your job, but far less so to have this become the normal expectation. One should never settle for accommodations or treatment from work that we would not be willing to offer to ourselves.