I’ve been thinking a lot about balance lately. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the balance between faster-paced, high-stress and high-adrenaline parts of my life, and the lulls of relaxation where I’m expending little mental or physical energy. It’s not explicitly a work/life issue. It’s an energy issue.
Here is a typical week for me:
- Sunday – It’s time to start preparing for the week ahead. I browse Pintrest for a little culinary inspiration. What are we going to eat this week? I head to the grocery store and pick up the necessary supplies. Laundry gets sorted, washed & dried (mostly by my husband – this is our unspoken deal). I clean up a little – run the dishwasher, pick up around the house. I spend 3 or 4 hours working on school or Ed to Save the World stuff. As afternoon turns to evening, I’m getting more and more stressed out by the unreasonable number of items I have on my to-do list, so I start adding items to the list that I’ve already accomplished just so I can check them off. By 11pm I give up and go to bed.
- Monday – It’s the start of a new week, which means I’m scrambling. Sunday is never as productive as I want it to be, so I cobble together lessons, materials, feedback and email responses to get through the day. This “just-in-time” work model has me running at maximum capacity (and efficiency) most of the day. By the end of it, I’m beat. Do I have time to exercise? Sure! Do I make it happen? No way. Too tired.
- Tuesday – It’s worse than Monday. I’m still scrambling but with less energy than before. This is a self-imposed scramble, obviously. I could easily assign independent projects or papers, or throw in a documentary for an easier day in the classroom. But that ruins my favorite part of teaching — the creative and intellectually demanding process of designing experiences that make students better thinkers, citizens, and human beings.
- Wednesday – Phew. My easy day. School ends at 1:30 and I head home before traffic becomes a nightmare. Once home, though, I crash. I watch four episodes of bad TV in a row, or I struggle to stay awake through a documentary I’m considering showing in class. Somehow, it’s 5pm and I need to start on the materials I need to prep for the next day.
- Thursday – A repeat of Monday.
- Friday – The scramble is a little less intense, as my teaching load is lighter on Friday and…well…it’s Friday. My stress ebbs as I think about all the time I’ll have over the weekend to finish my barely-addressed to-do list.
- Saturday – Where does it go? A late breakfast + cleanup leaves me with an afternoon for one or two errands, or chance to see family/friends. Mostly, though, I’m drained and I treat the day as a “recovery” period.
If I map my week, I get two steep waves, one building up quickly on Sunday and crashing on Wednesday, then another building on Thursday and crashing on Saturday. Kind of like this:
It looks – and mostly feels – crazy. But having spent a good amount of time reflecting on the matter, I actually think it’s fairly “balanced” — there are many lulls of just “hanging out” in between peaks of stress and hurry. And I enjoy both ends of the spectrum, oddly enough. I derive great pleasure from working intensely and seeing my efforts in action. And my husband will verify that one of my favorite activities is sleeping (I may even look forward to plane rides as opportunities for napping).
But I’m not sure this is the type of balance I should be striving for. Somehow, when I think of life balance, I think my week should feel a bit more like this:
But, having come back from a recent vacation filled with a lot of “doing nothing,” I know I get restless and bored when there are no “waves” at all. So It’s likely that this type of balance — an evenness of energy spread throughout each day and week — wouldn’t be all that satisfying to me.
Nor would the other extreme of “work hard, play hard.” No matter how much I gear up for a big weekend of fun, I don’t really enjoy working hard AND playing hard. Playing “hard” seems exhausting. Seems like this:
I know people who do it, and I’m jealous, but my life can’t be a hurricane, either.
So I’m left with my week of waves. And, although it doesn’t feel like a walk on the beach…well…ever, I’m coming to appreciate it. What about you?