July 26, 2019

Balancing Your Work-Life Experience

In this post we dive into the importance of work-life balance and how to achieve it!

Balancing Your Work-Life Experience

As a student I am very interested in how to create a balance between my work and personal life activities.  During a school semester I find myself studying at almost every moment.  Last semester I attempted to find techniques to balance the work-life experience to maintain motivation and avoid burnout.  In this post we will explore the techniques that I found useful in creating a balanced life.

Why Should You Care About Balance?

Doing one thing every day can get dull and boring.  In my first semester of college I would wake up, get dressed, eat some food, and trudge down to the common area to study.  Every single day.  This monotonous routine had no variation and no balance.  After a while it got boring and mind-numbing.  

The importance of a work-life balance is to maintain the interest and desire to keep completing work.  Also, having a balanced life allows the development of non-technical skills such as sports or crafts.  Everyone, especially young adults, should have skills and interests which are not related to their technical field of work.  Having these interests allows you to create interesting conversations, develop your thought process, and have an outlet for relaxation.

Finding a Hobby

Hobbies are vital to having productive free time.  Without well-defined hobbies, free time can easily devolve into mindlessly binging Netflix or Youtube.  Of course, watching TV, movies, and videos are not inherently bad, but doing nothing but obsessively watching these media outlets can be harmful.  

Finding a hobby that interests you and can be the hardest part about incorporating a hobby into a schedule.  Currently I am looking for a craft to do in my free time.  I would like to brew beer but I am under the legal age for alcohol production and consumption.  Googling hobbies returns the same generic lists: fishing, knitting, music, etc.  This can be a good place to start, but you may have to get creative in your hobbies to find one which seems interesting.

Once you have found a hobby,  start doing it immediately!  Do only enough research to get started.  For me, this is crucial to starting activities because otherwise I get bogged down in analysis paralysis of how to do the hobby "the best" way.  Starting activities with minimal research can be beneficial because it allows quick hands-on access to the activity.  This is important because it will build interest or disinterest in the activity and allow you to make an informed decision on whether to pursue the hobby.  Also, doing an activity with only basic understanding of the process will reveal challenges associated with the activity.  By encountering these challenges you have an opportunity to appreciate them and individually find a solution.  Finally, doing a small amount of research and only getting necessary equipment will prevent you from wasting money on a hobby you will only do once.  Many people are scared of dumping money into hobbies they will not pursue.  Keeping starting investment costs low is important until you decide to pursue or discontinue pursuing the hobby.

To visualize this pioneering process, consider an example. Let's say a person was getting into brewing beer and they quickly bought the basic gear they needed.  They forget to sanitize their equipment, the batch is contaminated, and their batch is ruined.  This person can now develop their own techniques, or research techniques, for how to properly sanitize their brewing equipment.  Now, the person has a sense of accomplishment of solving a personal problem.  Also, the person will may now have a higher chance of appreciating brewing guides which stress intense sanitation.  These guidelines will no longer look like tedious tasks.  If the person does not like the hobby, they invested little so walking away is easy and not painful.

My current hobby is Jiu Jitsu.  Every week I find myself going to at least four or five classes and staying at the gym after class.  Doing Jiu Jitsu has kept me in good shape and gave me something to think about in my off time.  Going to the gym can be a short endeavor of 45 minutes or up to around 2 hours.  Jiu Jitsu has given me an outlet for physical exercise and an easy, scheduled way to take break from school work.  Going into training, I did very little research on how to start, what gym was the best in my area, or what gear I "needed" to train.  Instead, as soon as I was back in Gainesville I googled gyms, found one with was conducive to my schedule, called to make sure the class times were accurate, and joined the gym that night.  The process took less than a day.  By not worrying about the "best" processes or if I was cut out to do Jiu Jitsu, I quickly started a hobby which has lasted me for 8 months.

Personally, I like to have a couple hobbies to occupy my free time.  I separate these hobbies into three categories: physical, intellectual, leisure.  Physical hobbies are completed at least 4 times a week and require physical exertion.  My past physical hobbies have included tennis, weight lifting, and Jiu Jitsu.  Intellectual hobbies are those which require critical thinking and advance a technical goal.  Examples of some intellectual hobbies I like to do are programming personal applications, chess, or reading books/websites concerned with developing skills.  A leisure hobby is anything else which is primarily done for pure enjoyment.  My leisure hobbies include video games, blogging, watching media (Netflix/Youtube), reading for pleasure, playing with my pets, going out with friends, and more.

Taking Breaks

Other than my hobbies, the main way I have found to keep a balanced and motivated life is to take breaks from work.  This simple strategy is effective in allowing your brain to recharge and complete tasks more efficiently.  As a student, completing tasks efficiently leads to getting work done faster, which leads to more free time.

My process for taking breaks is very simple.  The first area where I always take a break is during meal time.  I do not work while I eat.  This allows me to either relax during this time or socialize with my friends and family.  By taking 45 minutes to relax during meals, I feel energized to begin or continue work.  Plus, working at lunch is never efficient anyway due to being distracted by food.  The other part of my break system involves switching topics every 1 to 1.5 hours.  This habit was built by my high school chemistry teacher, who had a doctorate relating to brain science behind learning.  He explained that switching topics allows your brain to recharge (Kreb Cycle).  Different areas of your brain are used for different subjects, so switching subjects at timed intervals will allow you to be more focused and engaged.  Finally, there seems to be some merit to the idea that momentarily walking away from a problem can help develop a solution.  While you are not looking at the problem, your brain clears and can form ideas in the subconscious.  Then, once you revisit the problem it looks trivial.

Taking breaks is vital for maintaining motivation and sanity while doing work.  Constantly working can lead to feelings of dread and depression.  Develop a break strategy which works for you, or adopt my strategy outlined above!

Get Some Sleep

It still boggles my mind that people ignore this piece of advice when talking about living a healthy, balanced life.  Sleep is one of the easiest and important activities a human can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Following a healthy diet won't mean much if sleep is neglected.  Exercise won't be effective if sleep is neglected.  Critical thought will not be possible is sleep is neglected.  

Force yourself to set a bed time and follow it.  Make sure the time you go to bed will be consistent regardless of the next day's activities.  This means if you have class at 8:00 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday but have class at 12:00 Tuesday and Thursday, do not wake up at 7:00 M/W/F and 11:00 T/R.  Doing this will harm your sleep schedule and make it harder to get a good night's rest.  Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning has been the number one source of improvement to my quality of life.

Getting a good night of sleep will allow you to be more productive and get more done during the day.  It will allow you to think clearer and achieve a higher quality of work.  Neglecting sleep will cause a lower level of efficiency, likely leading to incompletion of daily work.  This can lead to the feeling of needing to work more, causing free time to be consumed by work.  Finally, once the work is finished you may feel like you have no energy to do any other activities.  This can lead to work being dreaded and consuming.

Closing Thoughts

Maintaining a good work-life balance is crucial to being productive and happy.  In order to have this balance you must find hobbies which interest you, take breaks from work, and get good sleep.  These three core ideas have helped me to improve my quality of life and feel more motivated to complete school work.

Not mentioned in this article, but also important, is maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine.  This topic warrants a standalone post due to the intricacies of designing diet and exercise programs.  Look out for a post on Diet and Exercise next Friday!