Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Balance: What is It?

I've recently read some posts about balance, particularly these two: this post by Alice at Sciencewomen and this post by mrswhatstit at I Love Science, Really. These posts mostly go into the balance one hopes to find between work and life, family, play, all those things you do when not working. What I've been concerned with recently is how to find some kind of balance when working 15 to 20-day work stints, out in the field, away from our home at the lake, and while working 10-hour days. I do, after these stints, get about 10 to 12 days off, depending, which goes a long way to creating some overall balance - but what about those 15 to 20 days?
A little background is perhaps required. More than a year ago, I took a fairly long-term (so far) consulting job, and in order to keep our small family together (it's just MOH and I, no children or plans/hopes for any at this late date), MOH took a job with the company that hired the company that pays me. He gets 7 days in a row off every 28 days, plus some other days off during his rotating dayshift-nightshift schedule - days off while I'm working. While out here, in the hinterland or outback of eastern Nevada, we live in a tiny house, which the company rents for me in lieu of paying the expense of renting me a motel room. The house is about 450 square-feet in size, and contains absolutely no insulation as far I we can figure out - based on rapid heating rates in the summer and even more rapid cooling rates in the winter. Fortunately, as part of my expenses, utilities are also covered - although it would be entirely more "green" if our landlady would insulate the place! For our part, we do our absolute best to keep the pipes from freezing in the winter.

When staying in a motel while doing field work, which is how I've mostly done these 10-4, 20-10, or 30-15 type work stints (hardly ever renting, but sometimes getting a motel on a monthly basis so I don't have to haul my stuff back and forth on days off) - in the evenings, I usually spend time talking to MOH on the phone or Skype, I email or call parentals or others, I write, I read, I download photos, I watch motel TV, or I just crash for the night. Because I don't tend to go out to dinner that often but instead have long preferred to eat in the motel room, I have a little more time for these activities - maybe from about 5:30 to whenever I get to bed (generally 8:00 to 10:00, with 10:00 being rather late). For motel mornings, I have a little time beyond eating breakfast in the room and getting ready for work to have coffee or go get it at a nearby espresso shop, time to walk if I get up early enough and don't mind the dark, a bit of time to write, time to talk to MOH on the phone or Skype, and time to sleep in late some mornings - with me having to be out the door by 5:30 to 6:30, depending on how far I have to go for work and how early I have to be there.

Now, because I'm not in a motel but am in a small house with MOH actually working in the same town in which I'm based, the schedule or routine that I go through varies, depending on whether he is on dayshift, on nightshift, or on days off between shifts.

In this new, little-house rental setting, I normally get up by 5:00 am, and have about 1 hour prior to when I get ready for work. During that one hour, I can do things like make coffee, shower, read or write blogs, download or upload photos, crop or otherwise enhance photos, pay bills, find things I need to take to work so I can make daytime personal phone calls like for paying or checking on bills, maybe send an email - not much different than the motel routine other than not calling/skyping MOH. I then normally arrive back at our little house by about 5:30 - and then I have a mixed schedule in the evenings. If MOH is on dayshift, I have about 1 hour to do things like exercise, check or read mail, pay bills, read or write blogs, mess with photos as above, do very minor errands if some place is open after 5:00 pm, organize or find things needed for the next day. If MOH is on nightshift, I have at least 3 hours in which I can do any or all of those things, assuming I'm in bed by 8:30. If MOH is on days off, I may have a half hour before dinner in which to mostly wind down or maybe to check mail or maybe to read a blog or two; I then may have 1 hour after dinner in which to do whatever, or a bit longer if I stay up later, like to 9:00 or 10:00. On his days off and when he is on dayshift, we usually watch a DVD of some old TV program like Stargate. We don't have TV, though.

The balance problem is, I think, that I really do like to spend a fair amount of time with photos I've taken and creating and reading blogs. It's easy to stay up too late, and it's also easy to forgo other things like sorting mail or paying bills (not that these don't get done). It's also been way easy this year to not get very involved in keeping in touch with people via email. I probably should be better at that, but have regressed to being about as good at that as I used to be at writing letters. (I by no means grew up with email; in fact personal computers weren't around at all until I was about 28 to 30 years old! Can you believe it? And I had the first personal computer of all other geologists at Former Mining Company: a Compaq -they called it portable; it was huge.)

Recently, because I was feeling burned out [and wrote about it here] [MojaveEx blog currently not available], I slept extra hours to get caught up, ignored blogs almost entirely for at least 24 maybe 36 hours, and called the Alaskan parental types. I got a little bit caught up on mail sorting and bill paying. And I've been using lavender at night in order to feel somewhat de-stressed. I also started doing my evening exercise, but lapsed when MOH went off nightshift. Should start that back up again.

Anyway, I guess this is a rather long post about finding a kind of balance that I'm not sure I've really found. It's like trying to have balance while almost always away from home, or while traveling. We have a kind of home, more than a motel room, but with that comes more things to do (like trash to take out, beds to make, sheets to wash - things done by someone else if you are in a motel!). I'm wondering if anyone has any ideas or comments?


Amanda said...

I really don't have much advice for you. It's hard though to find balance with such things. My schedule is pretty much set, but Dr. Man's varies (because of his call schedule). Recently, I've been trying to prioritize. I really need some time in the evenings to unwind and journal. So, I'm making sure to get about a half an hour of that in everyday. However, it's led to me not being able to catch up with other people (via blogs or email), so I'm not sure it's that great of a plan. Anyhow, I'll stop this long and ramble-y comment and just say that I'm interested in seeing any other advice!

Lost Geologist said...

I am also fighting the burn-out feeling. University got very stressing in the last semesters and some private problems on top of that, too. Main problem: I cannot stop having university/geology/preperations/stuff I must do on my mind.

On the few times I managed to do it different I noticed that I am actually more productive (+ feeling better) with less time spend working on any particular issue and with the time free spent on hobbies, friends, relaxing instead. Hmm...I'm not helping, right?

Silver Fox said...

I think it's something that people seek, find, have, don't have - like it comes and goes? I'm just thinking I need to change my routine, somehow, maybe.

Amanda, I don't journal hardly at all anymore now that I blog, although my blog doesn't serve quite the same purpose my journaling did - except sometimes. That is a good idea; that's why I sometimes post to that other blog, although it isn't really private, either!

Lost Geologist, yeah - more time off, more of the time, more interspersed with long work "weeks" - that could be the answer! That's not how it's working right now, though! We all need to inherit a bunch of money, in other words? :D

Perry said...

My advice is worth twice what you paid for it.

If you think you need to change your routine, you probably do.

When I am feeling restless and frustrated, I tend to start making plans - witness grad school, climbing trips, etc.

This usually helps me fool myself into thinking that I have some modicum of control over my life.

What do you like to do? What excites you? What could you get really, really psyched about? What kind of opportunity, if it came along, would you jump at without a second thought?

Oh, and thanks for sharing the other blog!

EcoGeoFemme said...

Do you miss being able to see friends other than MOH on a regular basis? I imagine that it would be difficult to maintain friendships with that kind of work schedule.

As for your trouble keeping up with emails, have you thought about blogging with those people? My family has a private blog where we are all authors. It has dramatically improved our overall communication. If there is a group of people you like to keep in touch with who also talk to each other (your family or a group of friends), maybe a blog would help. It takes the pressure off because the conversation keeps going without everyone having to write all the time.

Silver Fox said...

So many good ideas here, and I'll probably be pondering them for a bit!

Perry, I do manage to do things on days off, if we don't go home - which is quite a road trip - then we either go somewhere else (like Alaska!) or we do things around here. Maybe I need to do more of another kind of writing (stories), but I often find the time short while working. So I've been moving them along slowly.

EGF - I haven't thought about blogging with friends or family! I'm not sure I could get any of them to join me, but it's such a great idea! I'll have to think about that one. MOH and I do visit people at the lake, but it's true that I don't really have any particular friends of my own that I see on a regular basis. Sometimes I make it to the GeolSocNevada meeting in Reno when we go there - I'm bypassing that this time, though - going straight for home! Yay!

Short Geologist said...

I think it's the hardest part about fieldwork. I love being outside, but my SO has a very traditional job with long hours during the week and the weekend off. I used to work a 10/4, so I'd spend my work nights alone and only see my SO 2 days every 2 weeks.

I'm engaged in some real soul searching - can my SO and I keep this up for the long term? I'll take a pay cut for more time off, but I don't know how much that option is available.

Silver Fox said...

Constant ten and fours, without any time in a base office near home, can get old. I think the traveling is more difficult for some people and some couples than for others, and we have currently found a way for me to be 'in the field' with MOH. He even worked as my field assistant for a short time, until a few things changed.

I like the travel, and sometimes miss being totally away. Oh well!

You will have to find what works best for you. Sometimes you can work longer trips for more time off, and maybe someplace would go for something like 10-10 or 15-15 if you can afford less than full time. I'd like 15 and 15 myself!