Seeking a Balance

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“You are replaceable.”

My mother issued that blunt statement to me when, just out of college, I was working a ridiculous amount of hours for low pay at a job I loved. She reminded me that I wasn’t the glue holding the company together and that no matter how important I thought I was to the company, in reality, I could be replaced as could everyone else who worked there. Her main point: a person is not their job and work should not be the only thing you do. Less than a year after that reminder, the company closed and I was unemployed, searching for any job that would pay the bills. All of the long hours and hard work had amounted to, well, not much.

More than a decade has past since that original dose of motherly advice and a lot has changed. Communication is more instant than it’s ever been and my current job comes with a smartphone that is always within arms’ reach. Every time it beeps or vibrates, my instant reaction is to lunge for it. The sad part is that this reaction was ingrained in me by, well, me. I have very regular office hours and my boss has never said that I must return emails immediately, let alone when I’m not in the office. When I first met my husband I couldn’t ignore a ringing phone. If we were spending time together at his house and the phone would ring, he’d ignore it. “That’s what the answering machine is for,” he’d tell me when I’d ask “Don’t you need to get that?” He taught me that it’s OK to let a call go to voicemail and be returned later. So why can’t I let an email sit in my inbox to be returned during office hours?

This opinion column has been making the rounds in my Twitter and Facebook feeds today. And while I agree with a lot of what he has to say, the author’s “a day in my life” example isn’t realistic for the average worker. A 5 hour work day is a situation that no doubt took him years to get to. (If I did that my company would wonder why they employed me full-time.) But his column was thought-provoking and more play and less work would be great.

So here’s my experiment, inspired by the idea of more play and less work: I’m turning off the setting that makes every email instantly bounce to my phone. If I need to check work email, I can do so with the push of a button. But will I “need” to if  there isn’t a constant beep and buzz reminding me? And if I’m not frantically reading and writing emails while not in the office, what will do I do fill that time? Let’s find out what happens when making a conscious effort to focus beyond work.

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