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Life Balance

| September 8, 2015

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading, Life Balance, is an essay by Jenn Stringer, Associate CIO, Academic Engagement and Director of Educational Technology Services at the University of California Berkeley.  Jenn is also a recent MOR Leaders Program alumnus.  Her essay first appeared as a program reflection last winter.

We gave quite a bit of time and lip service to “family first and work/life balance” at various times in our leaders program workshops and I want to unpack the idea a bit more and challenge us all to really think about how we prioritize our energy.  So, with that let me say unequivocally that,

“I don’t always put family first and we, my family and I, are OK with that.”

How can I possibly say that?!?  Because I can also say, “I don’t always put work first.”

I LOVE my work and I LOVE my family.  I don’t want to resent my work for “taking time away from my family” and I don’t want to resent my family for impeding the work that I do to support my staff and the students and faculty at UC Berkeley.  There have been times in my life when both have been the case.  Sitting for hours at marching band championships or swim meets rather than polishing up a presentation or conversely working on performance reviews instead of hiking with my husband.  Those moments can be frustrating and energy draining.

We talk a lot about “work/life balance” but rather than think of it as a dueling dichotomy where there are winners and losers, I try to think about it as just “life balance.”  That means that depending on the circumstances sometimes work takes precedence and sometimes family does.  I’m not saying those choices are easy, but it is easier to make them when you are clear in your own mind and with those around you about your priorities. 

In 2006, I was accepted into EDUCAUSE’s Frye Leadership Program.  It was an experience that would change my professional life in amazing ways.  It was also held during the week that Alyssa, my youngest, promoted/ graduated from middle school.  After a conversation with Dave, my husband, and Alyssa we agreed that I would attend Frye and spend special time celebrating with Alyssa later in the summer.  Not an easy decision, but after talking it through and realizing that Frye was a priority for me it didn’t feel like a “sacrifice,” it felt like the hard but, right choice.

The concept of “Life Balance” was introduced to me by a wonderful mentor and colleague, Bill Hogue, the Vice-President of Information Technology and CIO at the University of South Carolina, or the “real USC” as he refers to it.  It comes from the book “From Values to Action” by Harry M. Kraemer.

One of the key concepts that Kraemer introduces is “Life Buckets.”  There are only 168 hours in every week.  Leaving daylight savings time aside, no amount of meditating, praying, or negotiating can change that number.  We make choices everyday about how to spend those hours.  Bill used “life buckets” to challenge me to put my time where my priorities are and to be honest about both (priorities and time)!

Basically Kraemer says we spend time in the following basic buckets:

1  Career
2  Family/Friends
3  Sleep/Health (exercise/yoga/etc. – I count cleaning the house and gardening in this category, since that’s hard work!)
4  Feeding your soul (church/meditation/reflection/journaling/etc.)
5  Social Responsibility/Making a Difference (volunteering/donating/etc.)
6  Fun/Recreation (TV/movies/music/reading/etc.)

He then challenges you to think about the buckets, your life, what you want to accomplish, your priorities, and set some goals for average time allocation per bucket.  Then for a week or two, track yourself to see if the goal setting makes you more mindful of how you are spending your time and more aware of where you make your trade-offs.

When I did this exercise for the first time years ago I was both enlightened and empowered.  It enabled me to take ownership over my own choices about where I was spending time.  I just did this exercise again several months ago and I realized that my Social Responsibility bucket, which used to be very full, was almost completely empty!  Something I now aim to change.

Everyone has to set their own priorities about what makes the right life balance for them in their life given their own unique circumstances.  We might make different choices if a major project has a hard deadline, we are caring for children or loved ones, we just got a new job or promotion, we have a big garden that takes time to care for, or we have decided to train for a marathon!  Regardless of our choices, knowing how you are actually spending your time and then checking to see if it matches your priorities is an exercise that I would encourage all of us to do every once in a while.

In calling our attention to Harry Kraemer’s “Life Bucket” concepts (Kraemer was a keynote speaker at the 2011 and 2012 MOR Leaders Conferences), Jenn gives us an important tool that we can use in thinking about our own life’s balance.  Here at the beginning of the academic year, perhaps it’s time for each of us to do a personal check-up.


Make it a great week!  .  .  .    jim