Monday, November 05, 2007

Is your work your life?

Reconstructed after a browser crash. Ugh. Using ScribeFire instead of Google. Sigh. Usually I save as I go, but failed to so this time.

Anyway, I will not be able to elegantly retie all the threads I had going, but I'm going to try anyway. I'm normally a David (GTD) Allen fan, but today he has a post that I think I partially disagree with. There are two things I was immediately reminded of as I read this post. First, I thought of my post from earlier this morning, a post that was inspired by my beginning to make a list of all the house stuff. For now that list is separate from the work list and is actually on paper only. Second, I thought of the recent controversy spurred by Dr. Crazy's announcement of making a cut for a job and her further explanation. In that discussion, very nicely summarized by Leslie Madsen-Brooks here, the issue of how much t-t faculty should be devoted to their institutions was central. Why did I think of these two things? Well, I realized that a) my house/personal life deserves some real attention and b) I have to balance that with my commitment to my career. This is a tough balance for academics, I think, one that institutions take advantage of and one that is obviously ingrained in the culture as evidenced by the discussion at Dr. Crazy's. Most academics care about their work. Whether that translates into caring about the institution or not is another story. Many conflate the two, which is what ultimately causes problems. It is a classic tale, often seen in academic novels, where an academic devotes so much time to his/her work that he/she neglects his/her family (or never collects one to begin with). Despair ensues and sometimes the academic realizes that the personal part of life should have received more attention. That "work" is sometimes not about the institution. Sometimes it's about ego and self-importance. This is often seen in the superstars who hop from job to job, usually because they're being wooed by every top institution. Most academics fall in the middle--committed to work, but not neglectful of a personal life and/or pursuing personal career goals while being mindful of commitment to a particular institution. As some of Dr. Crazy's commenters note, institutions often increase work loads and expectations in such a way as to make this middle position impossible.

As I started reading Allen's post, I thought he would show a path out of this dilemma by trumpeting work-life balance or something along those lines. He was talking about putting your personal and work lists together and seemed to be suggesting a way to combine these two areas in a way that makes sense for you. He says this makes people uncomfortable. So he offered a possible underlying reason: "Perhaps it's really the bigger question - you mean it's OK to focus
with as much rigor and integrity on my personal life as on my
professional stuff?" I thought, yay, personal life gets the attention it deserves.

He goes on to talk about how we've only recently separated work and home life and quotes at length from a Division President of a Fortune 50 corporation who encourages integrating your whole life, which is messy, he says, but more realistic. What Allen really proposes in the end is that you set up a home office as your central workspace. I thought this was a cop-out. I realize he focuses mostly on making people productive, but in the end, he still seems to mean work productive, not life productive. Why not encourage people to do some of their "personal" stuff at work--within reason? For example, I need to make phone calls to contractors to do some small tasks around the house. These calls need to be made during business hours which is when I'm at work. Why not encourage these things? What about encouraging vacations to recharge? Taking a single day to take a long weekend with the family or just to decompress? Or why not mention ways to negotiate a flexible schedule or telecommuting situation? I mean if our personal life deserves "rigor and integrity," shouldn't we be allowed to devote some of our time at work to achieving that rigor and integrity. I'm guessing that the clients that he works with--mostly upper-level management--just do these things. (Or maybe they have people or spouses for that.) They don't need to ask like some folks do. (I'm sure this is somewhat foreign to faculty who don't separate quite the way we 9-5-ers do.)

And by the way, we already have two home offices and I know most academics have offices at home. We're already decompartmentalizing. Now we need to balance.