Monday, June 10, 2019

Is Work-Life Balance An Impossible Goal?

Chinese junk

This morning I said no again. Usually, I’m fine with saying it because I know it’s a healthy choice. I have a limited amount of time, and so I am careful about the tasks I take on.

This time it hurt a little and so I’m second-guessing myself. The issue at the heart of the dilemma is work-life balance.

You know how it is: if you work too much, you over-stress and burn out. But it can be very hard to choose what you should do and what you might do.

My problem is that I’ve said no to a ‘might do’. Let me explain…

This is my current workload:
1.       Service the clients who come to me for help with depression, anxiety and stress.
2.       Write newspaper columns and magazine features, roughly 7000 words a month.
3.       Write two novels a year, at roughly 95,000 words each.

I have office hours from 8AM to 4PM weekdays and from 9AM to 12PM on Saturdays that cover the first two businesses.  

The novel writing is fitted in around everything else. I write roughly 20-25 hours a week. And that doesn’t include the time spent on advertising and promotion.

My downtime is going out two nights a week, plus a late lunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

The decision I made this morning may affect my novel writing business.

Conventional wisdom is that novelists who aren’t JK Rowling and Nora Roberts have to engage with readers and reviewers. If you don’t engage, fewer people buy your books.

This is probably true. If I could, I would spend a lot of time chatting online. However, I sell mostly in the UK and USA but I live in Malaysia.

I have tried to connect online via Facebook and Goodreads but when I’m at the end of my working day and free to chat, the Brits have just arrived at the office and the Americans are still fast asleep. If I get up an hour early, the Brits are in bed and the Americans are having dinner.

Staying up late means I catch people, but it also screws the next workday. It comes down to a choice: for every hour I stay up and chat, I lose out on clients and commissions the next day.

Now, this is what I said no to. I have a new book coming out soon, Twisted, and I am looking to recruit extra reviewers. I was considering signing up a review team with a promotion company but when I looked into it, I was told I would have to set up a Facebook group and engage.

I said no, but it kills me. I have this inner voice whining that it would be so much easier if I lived elsewhere. I’m frustrated. I’m also battling the urge to give up sleep and the rest of my life for a few months while I push Twisted.

And that is the real danger. We do convince ourselves to do crazy things on the basis of, “It’s only for a few weeks” and “this is a special case.” But once you start making excuses, it’s very hard to stop.

The golden rule to maintaining a sensible work-life balance is to guard your downtime and make the most of your working time, while it will never be perfect.

The ideal balance just doesn’t exist. It can’t because work has a way of expanding to fill any available space. This is partly a mindset issue: we think work is more important than living. It’s not true, but being busy is taken as a mark of success rather than slavery or unhealthy obsession.

I know all this but I still have that, “OMG did I just screw up?” going on in my head.

So, sensible me is now giving whiny, silly me a talking-to. It focuses combating fear by pointing out truths. Like this:

Whiny me: I’ve spent months writing this book, I shouldn’t grudge a few months of promo. Sleep is for losers!
Also me: You can’t work 24/7 and it makes no sense to give up valuable day-job time for a third business.

Whiny me: What if nobody knows Twisted is published? What if it bombs?
Also me: Books don’t expire. While success today is nice, it’s a long-term prospect.   

Whiny me: There’s Sunday afternoons! We can schmooze then!
Also me: Abandoning Tom on our special day off, right. How much do we value that uptick in sales?

Whiny me: What if there is no online market in the future?
Also me: If my aunt had wheels, she’d be a truck. You can’t control the future.

Whiny me: I don’t like these answers!!!
Also me: We’ll get Tom to take us to the pub. It’s nice downtime and we can talk about having the heebie-jeebies.

Talking to myself isn’t perfect but it does ramp down the fear and paranoia. Moreover, it stops me from making silly mistakes like committing myself to things that just can’t be done.

Happy Monday <3

Image by Myriam Zilles