I shared Jan Thomas’s concerns about how to structure ourselves when working remotely so that we can be productive while balancing our work and non-work lives effectively. Much of her blog post resonated with me especially in reference to how I normally try to figure out how to get some work done at home while also being ‘summer Mom’ (a much more present and entertaining version than ‘school year Mom’). But in the last week, I have been struggling with a new layer of difficulty in working remotely and work-life balance. I have been more literally remote.
Last week, I was planning to join the discussion on Friday afternoon. I had a tight schedule of work and Mom responsibilities but I thought it should be fine. I was going to participate in the discussion at 2:30, but also had to pick up my middle daughter from camp between 3-4. OK, I can already see potential for problems here. My plan was to drive the two hours south toward the remote, rural, and hilly location of the camp, pull over somewhere close where I had a good signal, join the discussion, then dash out a few minutes early to get to camp.
The plan, and my work-life balance, got off to a solid start. I got up early and spent some time working on our department’s annual review documents. Then my youngest daughter and I hit the road early so we could stop for a hike on the way.
I made good progress on the review documents, the hike was great, and we even had time to make one last stop for lunch. I drove to a small town about 15 minutes from the camp. I then realized that I had no phone service. I stopped at a convenience store for water and advice. I was told that if I drove 15 minutes back north, it was much better (and I could even use the free Wi-Fi at Kroger). Unfortunately, this added driving would not allow me to get back to camp on time. Something had to give.
What have I learned from this long story? I was originally going to write about the significant pockets of the world where being digitally connected comes with more practical limitations. I was also going to discuss the inequity inherent in this as the remote and rural places where these challenges exist also tend to have higher poverty rates.
But instead, I will focus on some other things this story shows. One, I have a tendency to overschedule (and don’t always factor in practical things like drive time). And two, trying to work remotely may not be helping with work-life balance as much as we think. Sometimes something has to give.
I am currently in a cabin just outside of Yosemite National Park. I am writing this blog post in the notes on my phone because I have no internet. The phone service is spotty as well, and I have been instructed not to rely too heavily on GPS.
I am on vacation and have plenty of fun, non-digital, offline, activities planned to keep me busy. However, I am also trying to get just a little bit of work done, and my remote location is adding an extra layer of challenge. Balancing the demands of my life requires that I am able to connect to others and work from wherever I am. I am, remotely, supervising a student who is collecting online data. I am, remotely, collaborating with departmental colleagues for our upcoming review. I am, remotely, participating in #digPINS. I take for granted that I can generally do a lot of work from my phone.
There is good and the bad in this. It both helps and harms my work-life balance to be this connected. It makes the time I spend waiting for my son to come out of track practice an opportunity to catch up on work emails. It makes it possible for me to have virtual office hours in the evening before an exam. It allows me to read scholarly articles before bed and write blog posts in my pajamas at 6am. But being able to do these things doesn’t mean we should. Is it really balanced if you are trying to do everything at once?
Sometimes something has to give. When thinking about work-life balance, we need to impose structure and limitations on what we will do and when we will do it. So what I am going to do is disconnect with work for a few days and be summer Mom. (But first I’m going to share an article on Twitter, because I just got internet access and found Week 4).