Last week was an awesome one. 💪
It was great. Particularly when I think about how I’ve struggled to meet my own expectations in the past.
I presented a couple of demos. Shipped the monthly and weekly newsletters. Published a product updates post and a blog post. And published a whitepaper/guide answering the question “What is knowledge base software?”
All while tackling tickets and doing anything else that was required of me—including taking a morning off to run some Christmas errands 😬 🎅
For all intents and purposes, it was a damn good week. And for a second I felt like I’d accomplished the things that I’d set out to accomplish at the beginning of the week.
I should’ve felt great.
But I didn’t.
And I didn’t really know why. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I still hadn’t done enough.
Could I have gotten more done if I’d have spent more time working?
Would the 4 hours on Thursday morning have made a difference?
Last week I wrote about the importance of setting realistic expectations. And I don’t wanna rehash the same thing. But I do wanna expand a little on my closing though in that post.
Essentially, the idea of being willing and able to take a break.
As a remote worker, one of the most difficult things is to allow yourself time away from work tasks. And when you do, it’s easy to let self-doubt eek back into the picture.
There’s Only So Much Time to Go Around
One thing I’ve begun to realise about working remotely is that it leaves you very much at the mercy of your work ethic, expectations, and ability to balance work and life.
Most roles come preloaded with a huge amount of autonomy and self-direction. Sure, there’s a workload to manage—and if you’re anything like me it’ll be filled with some regular small tasks and a backlog of pretty hefty projects.
The lack of a fixed workday structure means your time is your own. At least it kinda is! ⏲️ It’ll probably differ from role to role; in a job with a support focus there are obvious times to be “present”—meaning actively able to tackle tickets when they roll in. So that helps a little with some of the elusive structure.
In general though, I think most remote workers find themselves juggling at work hours and general day-to-day living. Blocks of 3-4 hours working intermingled with breaks for chores and life.
When I started working remotely 5 years ago this freeform approach was pretty amazing. It blurred the lines of work and life. And it was great.
As a freelancer it became super easy to juggle multiple clients and block of parts of my day for walking the dog and general life.
But as time goes on the line went from blurred to faded. And I’ve found it harder to negotiate and balance work time and non-work time.
I’ve seen a bunch of people talking about this recently. Railing against the very notion of work-life balance. Dismissing it as a ridiculous myth and something that’s “unbalanceable”.
Hell! Back in June, Time ran an article on this very topic. In it, they inferred the concept of work-life balance pits one part of life against the other. Assuming non-work is good and work is therefore bad. Life is light and enjoyable where work is heavy, dreary, and monotonous.
The authors go on to say how “work is not the opposite of life. It is instead a part of life — just as family is, as are friends and community and hobbies”.
Most of these commentators seem to be either business owners and entrepreneurs though. That, or people who work a 9-5 from a fixed office. Of course their opinion on the topic is equally valid. But I can’t shake the feeling their experience of work-life balance is inherently more structured. And therefore more balanced.
Of course that’s not to say the point of work being part of life isn’t true. It kinda is. Work is a part of a wider classification of life. The broad category of “The Life of Matt” includes all the things that exist within my little bubble, work notwithstanding.
But the misconception is that people who seek work-life balance see work as bad. We don’t! We simply see work for the necessity that it is.
Moreover, seeking work-life balance is a simple acknowledgement that more time working means less time with family and friends. Less time to spend on hobbies, relaxing, or recuperating.
And while these are similar—they are all part of life—it seems to me we’re missing an important distinction.
Because working is literally the opposite of not working.
It seems so obvious to say it. But unless your work is your hobby it’s absurd to say “work” and things that are obviously “not work” are the same. Even if they fall under the banner of life.
They are literal opposites. But that’s not really the point of this post.
Reassessing Work-Life Balance
When I started working remotely, it was important to me that my work didn’t suffer. And as you might guess, juggling the temptation of Netflix or “just another 20 minutes” playing video games was initially the biggest challenge.
Keeping motivated is tough when there are non-work temptations around every corner.
Initially it was tough. But the cure was little more than willpower and focus. Honing a drive to deliver good work. Gradually the temptation lessened and I found my stride as a remote worker.
It was great. I found balance. I was able to take time out for things like walking the dog when my motivation lulled. And then pick things back up in the evenings if I found I was behind.
And when I’d close my laptop of an evening, that was it. I’d spend time with Cat and enjoy my evening.
To begin with I kept a close eye on how long I was attached to my laptop. I’d heard horror stories of people struggling to maintain balance with both their work and non-work lives.
Some resulted in burnout. Something I was keen to avoid. But over the years it became less of a concern. I got into a flow. And as a result I paid less attention to my time.
Un-blurring the Lines
While it pains me to admit it, the belief you don’t need to separate work from life can sometimes be incredibly damaging. And I think that’s particularly true as a remote worker.
I say it pains me because it’s a complete u-turn on how I have viewed work and life over the past 5 years.
I’ve always wanted to see work as a part of life. And the benefits of an intertwined lifestyle are undeniable. The blurred line between work and life can be a wonderful thing.
But when you try to blur the lines too much the line just kinda disappears. And if the line between work and life disappears it becomes impossible to distinguish the two. To separate when you’re working and when you’re allowed to relax.
Can the two be intertwined? Is that balance? Or maybe the lack of separation is what causes anxiety about my output. The feeling that I’d been relaxing when I should’ve been working.
I’m not sure. And it’s possible I’m overthinking it.
One thing I am sure about is that right now I need that sense of separation. And if I think about it, it’s something I can actually get already with the goodbyes and goodnights we already say in Slack everyday.
These seemingly small acts give me the permission to stop that I need. The green light to switch off the work brain.
But on the flip side maybe I don’t need permission to be happy with my output. Or to feel like I’ve done enough. Because at the end of the day, does anyone ever really feel like they’ve done enough when there are things left to do?