Thought Leadership

The work/life balance (or lack thereof) and why am I so busy?

By Colin Walls

They say that a vacation is beneficial because “a change is as good as a rest”. I think that there is something in that, as I can go away somewhere and do lots of stuff, but still feel rested and refreshed. Having said that, I believe that there are benefits to be had from doing not very much. Go to any of the warm Mediterranean countries – and I have just spent a few days in that kind of area – and you notice that the people lead their lives at a slower pace. I have noticed, in recent years, that when two people meet, their dialog might start off with something like: “How’s it going?”, “Good. Very busy.”

I am not sure that this is necessarily good or healthy …

Managing my time, and leading the life that I want, is something that is very commonly on my mind. I would like to share a few insights on this topic with you.

Nowadays, people often speak of the “life/work balance” – the idea that allowing work to dominate one’s life is a mistake. As I recall: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” and, perhaps, not very good at formulating rhymes … This proverb was formulated a couple of centuries ago and things have moved on. At that time, most people who did real work were probably quite well down the social scale. They did what they did in order to survive. Having respite from drudgery is obviously attractive and beneficial. Of course, today, many people – even in richer western countries – do jobs they hate in order to pay the bills. Some people just work very hard because they want to make lots of money, but, in the process, they forget that there is no point in being rich unless you have time to enjoy your good fortune. So, maybe they need reminding of the balance to be struck.

The good news is that many folks today do work that they find enjoyable, fulfilling and worthwhile, whilst still earning a living – sometimes a very good living. I am lucky enough to find myself in this place, as I have written about some time ago. I feel that, in this situation, there is a blur between work and non-work and much less need to stress about the balance – because it becomes just that: stress. Life can be a rich mixture of activities, some of which might be tagged “work” and others not; solid boundaries are not necessary. This is no excuse for becoming a workaholic – that eliminates the “rich mixture” element.

I have a tip for keeping stuff under control, that I would like to share. I use email extensively. I know it is old-fashioned, but it has many virtues compared with other messaging systems. I use 3 email accounts: an Exchange account for work and gmail and Yahoo for personal stuff. I used to just employ the Mail app on my iPad and iPhone for all 3 accounts. This works OK, but it did mean that, checking my personal email would also give me a, possibly unwanted, heads-up on my work email. The solution was simple. I now use one app [Outlook] for work email and another for personal. I take the same approach on my computer. This may be obvious, but it took me a while to get there! 🙂

Another perspective on being busy has been on my mind. My wife and I often observe that we have a rather full calendar – we don’t like big empty white spaces. I think that sometimes we do rather get carried away and end up with no “free” time at a all. I also work from To Do lists and these can be quite long, but I gain satisfaction from checking those boxes. What I have just realized is where this urge to be busy comes from. It is an age thing. We are both 58 – which is not old [60 is the new 40 and all that]. But we spend quite a lot of time with older people – friends and relatives a generation or more ahead of us. What we see is a glimpse of the future; that will be us in [many] years to come. Our response is not to be depressed about our inevitable future failing, but to celebrate and enjoy the fact that we have good health and mobility and plenty of energy now. I have just been on a short vacation with my aunt, who is nearly 30 years older than I. She is quite mobile and leads a very busy, active life, but knows her limitations. She was great company, but it was that one-to-one time that made me realize my subconscious response to the knowledge that this was a look at the future, was motivation for having a busy life now.

I must finish now, as we are off to see a movie this evening. And another one on Friday. Meeting friends for breakfast and camera club tomorrow. A photographic workshop to attend. Repair Cafe on Saturday …

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at