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Too Much of a Good Thing? Work-Life Balance

Too Much of a Good Thing? Work-Life Balance

I recently returned from Chicago where I presented at the Association for the Sociology of Religion Annual Conference. On the heels of my year-long sabbatical, I presented on how to navigate work-life balance – a topic of interest in this context for graduate students and junior faculty, but also a subject that applies to those in many professions.

I love my job, but as is the case with many things in life, it is possible to have too much of a good thing sometimes. Before I offer four insights, born out of personal experience and trial-and-error over the first seven years as a full-time faculty member, here are three questions that a colleague (Korie Edwards, Ohio State University) raised in the same session: What do I want? Why do I want this? How do I get to where I want to be? These are questions now part of my strategy for processing work-life balance.

“Inner Circle”

Surround yourself with an “inner circle” of people who have your best interests at heart; who will encourage you and hold you accountable to maintain a healthy perspective, and to cultivate healthy habits in your work-life balance. For me this includes my wife, my close friends and family, and some colleagues – people who help to remind me of the fullness of life that includes work, but is not reduced to work. Among other things, these people discourage me from bringing my laptop home or checking email on evenings and weekends. They encourage me to embrace leisure and fun. Who are those on your “inner circle” and do they help you to appreciate the fullness of life and to maintain healthy boundaries?

Planning & Prioritizing Work Tasks

A few years ago I read the book, How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing by Paul Silvia (2007). This book helped me to focus my writing endeavours, increasing my productivity in turn. Incidentally this book helped me with overall work-life balance. I enjoy lists. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I scratch something off the list. I create monthly priority lists of my various teaching, research, and committee tasks. I use my calendar to block off times for various tasks each week, which includes time for research or exercise among other things. I am trying to improve how I handle email – namely to close my email while working on other tasks and to streamline email to a few times a day. These things help with my productivity, and in turn, to have more time in different domains for the things that I care most about.

Rhythm of Leisure

Leisure is important to me. I am intentional about my daily, weekly, and annual times of leisure. On a weekly basis I strive to incorporate exercise into my routine, ranging from squash to floor hockey to ice hockey to jogging. These activities are etched in my calendar. Every week we gather with our closest friends, every semester we get out of the city for a couple of days, and each year we seek to take a vacation of some kind. I watch and play a lot of sports too, which is important to unwind from the demands of work. For me, if someone says that they have too much work to take leisure time or a vacation, something is clearly amiss – there will always be more work to accomplish. Are there ways to cultivate a rhythm of leisure in your way of life, and importantly, to keep your work and email at bay during this time?

Learn to say “No”

I had to learn to say “no,” and importantly to discern when to say yes or no. I cannot accept all research opportunities, speaking engagements, committee tasks, or teaching possibilities. Part of my process in deciding when and to whom to say yes or no involves what I am evaluated on. My formal evaluation is based on 50% teaching, 30% research, and 20% committee. How does my time use reflect this? Stage of career is another important determining factor. Someone working towards tenure will have different priorities versus someone in the latter stages of their career. My “inner circle” is also helpful for me to talk through the possibilities, toward landing on what I will pursue with my time. Finally, I listen to my body. Sometimes my body is telling me that I need more sleep, or less work, or to spend time with friends and family. I strive to listen to that. What are the demands on your time and what questions and factors would help you to navigate when to say yes or no?

In the end I ask myself this question: At what cost will I sacrifice work-life balance? Family? Health? Life satisfaction? This question helps to orient how I approach work-life balance at this stage of my life and career … and perhaps these questions and issues will change later in life.

Have thoughts or suggestions? Send me an email at and stay in touch via my website at

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