Achieving Balance Through Work-Life Integration

by Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS, FACSM

The Scholarship of Public Health addresses topics relevant to scientific publishing, dissemination of evidence and best practices, and the education of current and future professionals. This column presents some considerations and best practices for finding time to produce scholarship in the form of a manuscript or presentation.

I’ve often mused that the benefit of technology is that you can work anywhere, but the downside of technology is that you can work anywhere. With a few connected devices and a good IT person, we can now be as productive from a coffee shop, automotive dealership, airport, or countless other locations as we can be at our desk. I have an array of VPNs, cloud servers, and other productivity apps that allow me to spend a month visiting with my Chinese colleagues and not miss a beat back home. However, the same technology that allows me to work seamlessly during business hours regardless of location can become difficult to turn off when I’m at home after the workday officially ends. As such, it’s important to step back, early in your career and make a plan to successfully integrate your work life and personal life in a manner that helps you maintain balance, avoid burnout, and nurture the relationships that make both aspects of life better. In hopes of encouraging introspection, I’d like to share some points to ponder as you find your balance.

  • Define “balance” early and revisit it often. As I mentioned previously in the context of avoiding burnout, it’s important to explicitly define your work hours and protect them from creep in either direction. Through trial and error, you’ll find a work allotment that will help you achieve your goals, but you’ll also find that this amount will vary as you get more efficient at routing tasks and more things are added to your plate. In my case, the total number of hours decreased from “insane” to “mostly sane” over 14 years as a faculty member, but your results may vary. Everyone’s balance will be different, but you need to explicitly define your work hours because there will always be more that you can do in a week. Make sure you have protected time for the fun side of the balance equation.
  • Make a list of personal and professional milestones and compare those to the time allotment you’ve given each set of “tasks.” I almost jokingly called this bullet “don’t have children” but didn’t want to get vilified on Twitter. However, one of the best things you can do when trying to find balance is to make two lists of things you’d like to accomplish in your life, one personal and one professional. Once you have the lists, prioritize them as well as you can and then compare them to the time you’ve allotted for each list. My suggestion would be to start with the personal list and adjust your work time down, while being careful to appreciate the work implications of the reduction in work time. For example, if you work at a university where you teach three classes per semester, a reduction in your work week to 40 hours will mean that your goal of publishing 200 papers in your career will likely need to be adjusted down (with a focus on quality over quantity). However, this might mean that your goals of having three well-adjusted children while taking time to explore the world are still on the table.
  • Tell yourself that you can have all you need and love all you have, but you can’t have everything you want. Try it now: “I can’t have everything I want.” Choices will need to be made, and if you don’t make them for yourself, life has a way of making them for you. This is where prioritization is so important.
  • Once you’ve defined balance, protect it vigorously. This will take a good bit of willpower and communication, lest you be considered a jerk. Strategies addressed previously in the context of finding time for writing may be important, but regardless of your strategy, you’ll need to set firm boundaries and then make sure not to cross them. These strategies may seem counter intuitive to some, but you should do what works best for you. For example, I share my calendar with numerous people across the medical center where I work so that they can see when I’m free or booked. However, I block writing time, personal time, lunches, etc. when necessary. I also try not to check emails before 7am or after 7pm, but I give out my cell number or instant messaging handles to those that might need them in case of something urgent. Hypothetically, if it comes in outside of my “work time,” and it doesn’t come via text/IM, it can wait until 7am the next day. Again, this requires communication to be effective. However, it doesn’t require explanation. Don’t feel that you have to justify spending time with your partner, children, pets, TV, mountain bike, or any other important noun in your life.

Ultimately, life is about choices. I encourage you to make those choices rather than having them made for you. How to best define balance and how to integrate business and pleasure is up to you. Regardless of whether you’re striving to win the Nobel Prize, visit every country on the planet, or raise a large family, balance is achievable with careful planning and vigilance. I simply encourage you to make every day count.

Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS, FACSM, is the Associate Editor of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice and an Associate Professor in the Department of Implementation Science of the Wake Forest School of Medicine at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, USA. Follow him at Twitter and Instagram. [Full Bio]

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