From my late 20s through my early 40s, my routine was a pretty predictable one. Now, the job I had wasn’t very predictable at all, except for the few regular meetings that were scattered on the weekly calendar. I was in marketing at a television station, and every day was an adventure of how to engage customers and move them to action. There were national partnerships and local causes, advertisers who were funding community service campaigns, and news departments needing viewers.
Creativity was always in demand, and I was determined to deliver. I would rise early, scribble notes in a journal, pour myself into the day, leave just long enough to pick up my son, and rush back to the office with him in tow to keep working. I laughed at the phrase “work/life balance.” I would say, “I’m working. And I’m living. And I’m still standing. That’s balance.”
I loved the adrenaline rush of accomplishment. Even when I wasn’t at the office, I was still working. Late nights turned into creative sessions, dinner dates turned into informal focus groups, and Sunday nights became Monday Eves.
I didn’t realize that not letting go of the work I loved was slowly killing me.
Yes, this is a cautionary tale of work/life balance. Now, before I share the three things to guard to help keep work at work, there are a few things I need you to know:
- I believe balance is overrated and rather boring. A perfectly balanced see-saw doesn’t go anywhere. We are incomplete without the ups and downs of circumstances. We learn to lean in, to share strength with others, to trust, to breathe. God reveals Himself fully in the ups and downs. He is our balance.
- I know there are seasons in every life that are “all-in” moments where extra amounts of grace are extended, extra reserves of energy are discovered, and extra helpings of caffeine are welcomed.
- I am a workaholic who comes from a long line of workaholics. My grandfather neglected time with his family because “things just needed tending.” My dad found solace in alcohol and prescription drugs to deal with the stress of “never enough time to do it all.” I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder almost two decades ago, in the midst of one of the most successful chapters of my career. For me, every season was an “all-in” out-of-control rodeo ride on that see-saw. The drive to succeed still lives within me.
I’m writing this while sitting with my laptop on the patio while my dog snores by my chair. Birds are singing, and in the distance a golfer is cursing a bad shot. I’m now in a traditional office setting only once a month. And working from home definitely has its benefits. But leaving work where it belongs becomes even more challenging when it’s accessible 24/7. There are plenty of late nights when I think, “I could get a few more things knocked out – just to get ahead.”
Search Google for “time management tips” and you’ll see 31 MILLION possibilities. No matter the vocation, finding ways of doing good with our lives while we do good with our hands is something we all long for. Mind you, I’m still learning. But there are a few things I’ve discovered along the way—including three things you should guard to help keep work in its place.
1. Guard your time.
Time can be such a threatening word in a world that never seems to have enough of it. We make time, keep time, give time, use time, waste time. I realized that, in not keeping work at work, I was actually squandering the time of my life, and my way of guarding it now may seem a bit elementary – but it works. Here it is:
Let your calendar be a trusted timekeeper. Use your calendar for more than scheduling meetings and setting project deadlines.
Make appointments with yourself, blocking time for strategizing and goal-setting, reading and research, and tackling administrative tasks.
I even block time to simply enjoy time with others—to catch up with colleagues over coffee or to serve someone in need. I’ve found that the task list seems to get done when it’s transformed into bite-sized chunks on a calendar. The focus moves from “there’s so much to do” to “this is what I’m going to focus on right now.”
2. Guard your focus.
Focus is a great word, isn’t it? We want to be focused, to be intentional, to have laser-focused vision on the goal. Focus is so easily thwarted by things like anxiety and stress. Certainly, the calendar is one way to help with focus. But there’s something else I’ve found that helps me rightly focus my mind and attitude before that calendar chirps its first appointment.
Begin your day with the right focus. Quiet time isn’t a revolutionary thought at all, I know. But it’s often the first thing that’s pushed to the side when the days are full – and everything suffers when we sacrifice the time to set our hearts and minds rightly. My day begins with worship. Most mornings I’ll read scripture, journal my thoughts, and spend time in honest, gut-level prayer.
I’ll admit, on some days the prayers are happening in the shower and the scripture is a Bethel Music song on the radio, but I’ve found that how I respond to what the days holds is directly impacted by how I tend to my soul before the day begins.
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3. Guard your life.
I remembered the day I sat in the doctor’s office and heard the words, “You are not okay.” I thought about my husband and son, about my family and friends. I thought about the staff that trusted me to lead them, about people who trusted me to serve them. And I thought about God—the very One I had said was my Lord and my Guide. For every “what” I was willing to sacrifice to do everything well while never having enough time to get it all done, there was a “who.” My own unwillingness to leave work at work caused everyone around me to carry the load. My own all-in, out-of-control rodeo ride revealed my disregard for others. I thought about my family’s heritage, and the history I didn’t want to repeat. I learned an important key to guarding the life (and lives) we’ve been given:
Gather your people. Invite others into your life who will ask the hard questions about your time and your focus. Ask for the blessing and prayers of those who are closest to you when you need to give undivided attention to work in the necessary seasons of “all-in.” And practice the healing power of confession. James 5:16 says, “Admit your faults to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” My circle includes my family and trusted friends. It also includes a couple of folks who know the type of work that I do, and who understand the unique pressure and isolation that can accompany officing from home.
I’d love to hear from you now. What challenges do you have in keeping work in its place? What demands are placed on you that feel overwhelming? What tips do you have to find balance? Share them in the comments!