Work life balance: four essential life activities

Did you have a week right before a grant proposal deadline when it felt like you were doing nothing but work? If you skipped any of these four things, you did not use your precious time as well as you would have with them, even if work alone were your reason for existing. You know these four things. They are sleeping, eating, exercising, and socializing. In case you have forgotten how to do them properly, I’ll remind you.DSCF0411

Sleep is the ultimate master cleanse. It soothes the mind, lets new connections form, returns joy to a harried life. We don’t understand it fully, but know that problems that are hard without it become solvable. Creativity soars with enough sleep. This elixir works best with dark and regularity. If you are setting an alarm clock, you are not getting enough sleep unless you wake before the chime.

I’m also a believer in naps and take one daily, even when grant proposal deadlines loom. For this I do set a timer, usually for a half hour. After a nap you have a glorious new morning.

IMG_1301Eating should be done well, at a table, ideally with friends or family, slow and balanced. I like to eat at home mostly vegetarian, but not entirely.  I like home cooked meals, so just finished canning the last of the 225 pounds of roma tomatoes. The 135 pints should last us until harvest comes again. (No, I did not grow them all.) But I do not need to tell you how to eat. Everyone is telling us how to eat, after all.

Exercise clears the brain, makes the heart pound and the cheeks blush. It makes you learn where your IT band is, or your trapezius. Walking counts. You have found what works best for you, so don’t ever neglect it, though an injury might make you inventive. You always actually do have time for this!

Unscripted relaxed socializing is esDSCN3337sential too. It might be with family or friends. It might be at lunch, or combined with other meals. You might spend hours socializing. Whatever works for you, without it we humans just shrivel. Look at what the psychologists say about the torture that is solitary confinement, after all.

How many hours do these four take in a day? Minima might be sleeping 7 hours, exercising an hour, socializing and eating combined for another two hours, for 10 hours in all. These 10 hours are time you need for yourself, firmly on the life side of the equation.

No doubt you would add other things to this side that are non-negotiable. I would add reading fiction, getting out in nature, and taking care of others, though besides the half hour a day for fiction, these are harder to quantify. Cooking and gardening also give me deep pleasure, but can be put aside if necessary. What else matters for you?IMG_0753

Hey, I totally skipped things like bathing and dressing, not to mention washing those clothes, paying the bills, shopping, or even commuting to work (I walk). I’m beginning to think we have no discretionary time at all!

The essential activities are not just for weekdays the way work hours typically are. They are every day of the week. But looking just at a weekday, if work is 8 hours, and essential human activities are another 10, along with a couple for all the things I left out that are actually essential, that only leaves 4 hours in a weekday to agonize over appropriate work life equilibria. It is also a strong indication that we have to be really efficient with our actual work hours.

I’ll spend what is left of the weekend when I’m not out hiking, gardening, or making pies thinking about my daily optional 4 hours.



About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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