When Work Topples My Life's Balance, Here's What I Do

Outside Work

Article originally published on LinkedIn.

The phrase “work-life balance” doesn’t really describe most of our lives. It assumes that every day is like Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. We get up at the same time, work the same amount, and go home. In that scenario, you judge your work-life balance by how much time you spend in the office and how much email you send after hours.

Of course, this isn’t how it usually goes. If you’re in most professions, there are days when you spend most of the day chatting with colleagues and juggling your fantasy baseball roster. Then there are the other times. The crunch times, when you’re getting up at 5 a.m., cramming in a few PowerPoint slides on the train, or spending a week living out of a hotel. Accountants get brutalized during tax season; attorneys during a trial. People with snowplows work 24/7 after a blizzard. Sprints happen in almost every profession, regardless of what a normal workday looks like.

In my field of advertising, for example, pitches can be brutal. We also have certain industry events, during which 16-hour days of meetings have to happen. At times like those, our work-life balance goes out the window. It has to. The question is: how do you get through the crush without burning out or having a negative impact on the people in your life?

For me, the first thing to recognize is that crunch time is normal. Sometimes you’re going to work very hard, other times you’re going to be on vacation. It’s just the way it is. Knowing this, you can start to get a handle on it. The most important step is to make sure the rest of the people in your life know when you’re going to be tuned out. Try to give them a timeline and some idea of what to expect.

Next, you have to be prepared. If I know work hell is coming, I try to get ready mentally. I turn my phone off and spend some time with the family—or I simply clear off some time in my schedule to read or have coffee with friends. The reason is that I know that if I go into a sprint mentally tired, I’ll burn out halfway through.

It also helps to see the light at the end of a tunnel. Unless you’re in a really bad job situation (or work at a high-flying startup), crunch time doesn’t last forever. When our agency is burning itself up on a pitch, we know we have a deadline, and it will eventually be over. Believe it or not, that really helps.

The last thing I try to do is give myself a break afterwards. This doesn’t have to be a paid vacation. You can simply make sure that when you do have some time off, take it off.  When you go home at night, don’t hop on email. Don’t paint the house on your weekend off. Let it wait. If I can swing it, a quick skiing or camping trip is a good moment of Zen, but you’ll have your own.

Above all, it’s best to understand that work-life balance is not static. We all have the occasional, brutal sprint, and if we’re being perfectly honest, we also have times when we spend a lot of time weighing whether to bench Wade or play LeBron. So let’s plan accordingly.

Join the conversation