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Being-Doing Balance over Work-Life Balance
My fantasy for work-life integration today
The term work-life balance is used all the time when people describe their jobs.
Shitty work life balance usually means you’re expected to be available all the time, work nights and weekends on top of regular work hours, with no regard for your personal commitments.
Good work-life balance tends to mean that people log off at some point and feel comfortable scheduling an appointment or running and errands during the typical workday. For parents, it typically means that a company is supportive of parenting schedules, with its pickups, drop offs, dinner and bedtimes.
But what I don’t hear a lot about is how people are balancing being and doing in their lives.
What’s the difference between being and doing?
This is something I didn’t really think about a few years ago, and honestly I’m still thinking through and figuring out now. I found this breakdown in this post useful.
Doing is what I’m used to, from a young age. Studying for the test, to get the good grade. Completing my homework to hand in on time. Building and shipping new features to do well at my job. Checking the items off my to-do list at work. Getting food on the table before the kids (or myself) get hangry.
These days, being spaces are still less common for me, but depending on the day, might look like lingering with my journal with a cup of tea, slowly making breakfast and enjoying it without somewhere to get to, gardening with no specific goal, or relaxing in the bath after the kids go to bed.
Does it describe the activity or the mindset?
The past few weeks, I’ve been trying to nudge myself more into the being space. So I take more baths, take a few moments to snip some flowers, take the dog we’re dog-sitting for a longer walk.
But to be honest, I’ve noticed that even what I consider my being activities take on a doing flavor. Gardening becomes less spacious and detached from goals when I look around at all the things that need to be done — flowers to deadhead, repotting that is way overdue. Taking a stroll tends to happen when I’m headed to pick something up from a Buy Nothing group. Writing my morning pages sometimes feels leisurely and detached from a goal, and sometimes feels like I’m just trying to check the box to not break my streak. And bath time often includes my kindle or Netflix on my phone, which feels more escapist than time alone with myself and my feelings.
I imagine it’s easy to bucket activities that are more in the being or doing space, but perhaps all that means is that they’re more conducive to a being or doing mental space. It seems like it’s possible to have a doing mindset with activities more associated with being. What would the opposite look like — to bring a being mindset to more doing activities? Perhaps I am just describing the mindfulness movement at tech startups…feel free to nominate me for Wisdom 2.0.
Being and doing in work and life (especially for parents)
What if, instead of focusing heavily on work-life balance, managers and companies supported people in having a healthy being-doing balance?
Thinking about my own being-doing balance would have helped me not burn out at my last tech job, or at least recognize that what I was experiencing was even burnout. Burnout didn’t even cross my mind because I worked normal hours and didn’t feel particularly overwhelmed with work. But I was constantly doing — commuting two hours on Bart, doing dual morning drop-offs, coming home to scrounge up dinner. Commonly, weekends are the more spacious time for people to recharge, but parents of young kids understand that weekends are even more doing as you try to keep kids happy and healthy. There was no time for rest or recharge, despite feeling like I had a good work-life balance.
I’ve been talking to some new moms lately, who have expressed some apprehension and guilt about the reality that they’re not able to put in as many hours at work as their pre-parenthood lifestyle. Rather than focus on the slight drop in active working hours, I encourage them to think about the massive drop in time to themselves pre-and-post baby, and find some ways to carve out some being and being alone time.
Being-doing balance in a remote world
Being is also something that was, in some ways, built into in-office spaces. It might have looked like people watching on public transit, or taking a moment to have coffee in the office kitchen. Despite my desire to never go back to commuting 5 days a week, I have to admit I am always pleasantly surprised when the occasional train ride of drive is less painful than I expect and is actually quite a nice way to let my mind drift a bit, without any goal or agenda.
In a remote world, we’re often in back-to-back zoom meetings, 6+ hours a day, everyday, with few breaks in between. And because of the lack of visibility, people often feel like they need to work non-stop (as opposed to being in the office and having lots of snack breaks or casual chats or lunchtime walks).
But I think remote work also has many opportunities. A post-lunch neighborhood walk. A more leisurely breakfast, since you’re not as rushed in the morning to get out the door. A few minutes between meetings to look at the greenery outside. And more flexibility in picking up kids after school and enjoying some spacious time together.
There’s lots of doing in tech
I know people who lean heavily on the doing side of the spectrum, and people who lean heavily on the being side of the spectrum. But most of the people I know in tech are heavily doers. Or doers who are trying really hard to carve out space for self-care or vacation — sometimes those activities look like how an overachiever would achieve being activities, like getting an A+ in relaxing.
But I think the body knows when the balance is off. I think it’s why so many people in tech fantasize of retiring early and buying land somewhere remote, where they can live out their days on a multi-acre farm, raising chickens and growing their vegetable garden. Or leisurely run a combination cafe-bookstore.
That yearning for space to just be is so strong, and I think it’ll take a lot of unlearning to switch from being so doing-focused to being-focused, even on a multi-acre farm (also, by the way, farms are actually a ton of work, as are cafes and bookstores).
My fantasy for working in tech
My fantasy isn’t 20 years from now — it’s that, for many people, the way that their work and life exist together supports a much better balance of being and doing.
Work-life balance feels like table stakes. What would it look like if as an industry, we acknowledged the important of spaciousness, of aimless wandering, of just being as well as the doing, the being productive, the relentless completion of tasks?
This is something I’m still figuring out (and perhaps will be for decades to come), and I’d love to hear from you, whether this is something you’ve been thinking about for years, or this is the first time you’re pondering it. What’s your being-doing balance look like? What does your being space and time look like? Is it structured? Is it just mindful moments throughout the day? Is it a hobby?
A bright future
I have great optimistic for the next generation. As I filled the bath around the kids’ bedtime, my 9 year-old Alina wandered in to brush her teeth. She took a look at the bath filling up, and said, “Mama, I think it’s good to take baths a lot so you can relax and have some time to yourself.”
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Recent things I’ve been involved in
I’m so excited to share this particular episode of Lead Time Chats with you all. I chatted with my friend Brooks Scott, who is a fantastic coach and facilitator. Or perhaps you already know him if your company has worked with him for training courses. Brooks and I went through many hours of Co-active coach training together a few years ago. He has a ton of practical advice on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, especially around how to give feedback to under-represented folks.
Along with two teammates, I was interviewed about how we work at Range. Our processes, mindsets, culture, meetings — everything you might wonder about. So much content about teams is abstract and somewhat detached from the specifics of how teams work, which is why I especially love this series and am so glad we finally have a post about our own team.
The topic for this podcast episode was generally about managing remote teams, but a small section ended up being about meetings with remote introverts, so somehow that became the title of the podcast episode! After hosting so many Lead Time Chats episodes, it was interesting to be on the other side of the microphone!
More coming up - stay tuned
I’ll be on a panel in October at the Interact conference. I’ve never been described as a “profound figure in the engineering community,” so that’s pretty fun.
Things I’ve been enjoying
Possible community? - I attended a small meetup for East Bay moms in tech and want to join the co-working and community space it was hosted in — Mothership Hackermoms. The idea of a physical gathering place and getting to know other moms who are carving out space for creative pursuits feels very aligned with what I’m craving more of right now.
Online community - for a long time I’ve thought that I’m not a community-oriented person, but I’m realizing that I have a really robust and large online community, including all of you and folks on twitter. For example, I went to a birthday dinner recently and was introduced to someone, and we both were like, “Yeah we know each other from the internet” as mutual twitter friends with a few DMs shared over the last decade.
Wavelength - At Range, we have weekly (optional) social time. I’ve been really enjoying Wavelength, which we played in person at the company offsite. We brought it back to our virtual game time with this online rendition. Try it out with your team!
Dedicated physical creative space - ever since we’ve moved, I’ve been eyeing the finished attic as my creative space, but haven’t moved things up yet. I climbed up this evening with a floor chair, to finish my newsletter, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset as well. I’m looking forward to making this light-filled space my own, with craft supplies, stationery, books, and a cozy space for writing.
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