5 ways journalists can strike a better work-life balance

One recent afternoon, I walked from my hotel through the historic Art Deco district of South Beach, following the curve of the ocean to South Pointe Park. My parents had chosen Miami as a place for a family reunion, and I was killing time before my loved ones arrived.

At the park, I saw people doing yoga. A young woman sat on top of a hill, reading a book. A gigantic cruise ship slipped through a wide channel. Gulls hung in mid-air. At the beach, a boy was spinning in the waves.

I tried to remember what it was like to be his age, and a voice inside me said: Work less, play more; work less, play more…

This is hard for us journalists, and for anyone driven by work: Finding balance in our frenetic, stressed-out lives.

You never realize just how tired you are, just how disconnected from life you’ve become, until you … just … stop … and … enjoy the day.

I don’t have any sure-fire ways to create a balance in our journalistic lives. (Ironically, I’m writing this column in Miami as I wait to go to dinner with my brother, sister-in-law and 4-month-old niece.)

I’m not even sure that journalists can truly and consistently find such a balance. But there may be a few ways to occasionally nourish our lives outside of work. Here are a few ideas.

Ditch the digital devices for a few hours a week. I don’t bring my phone with me when I go out for a run or to the gym. That’s time I save just for myself, and so I disconnect myself from the digital world, if just for an hour or two. I also try not to look at my phone when I’m out at dinner and with friends (unless, of course, they are all looking at their phones). Can you allow yourself a few hours a week to unplug from your device?

Rediscover what you loved as a child. I always ask my friends and colleagues what their hobbies were when they were kids. Give that some thought. Whether it’s playing the piano, journaling, singing, dancing, drawing, reading fiction, listening to music – chances are, you’ve allowed these passions to slip away in your busy adulthood. I encourage you to tap into those passions again. Often, that will help you remember who you are (or were) outside of work.

Allow yourself to become a fanatic. I think that obsessions can be a good thing (as long as they don’t lead to stalking). I have been a die-hard Dallas Mavericks fan for the past 12 years.

My fanaticism has helped me blow off steam on occasion and bond with other Mavs fans through all the team’s ups and downs. It also means that, at least 20 to 25 times a year, I have to leave work behind and step up for my team, attending a game or watching them on TV at a friend’s house. I know others who have become obsessed about community-league soccer, or gardening, or “Mad Men.” It seems to work for them.

Hang out with people who are not journalists. While journalists’ work can be pretty interesting, I suspect that we can become pretty boring people, especially when we talk shop all the time. I know a young journalist who has built a diverse circle of friends through her running club and a weekly dinner group.

That seems a lot healthier than hanging out with a bunch of journalists who are constantly talking about the decline of their industry. One related tip: Visit your old college or high school friends at least once a year. They really could care less about your journalistic work and will (for better or worse) remind you of who you were when you were younger.

Go someplace new. I try to travel overseas at least once a year because it forces me to step outside of my routine, and it’s a humbling experience to try to figure out how things work in a different culture.

Travel nourishes my life; it gives me a sense of meaning and accomplishment outside of journalism. But you don’t have to go half way around the world to get the same effect. Just make a conscious effort every so often to visit someplace new — maybe it’s an unfamiliar neighborhood in your city.

The possibility of adventure will help bring some balance to your life — and it might even help you become a better journalist.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/wenalway Robert Knilands

    It’s a waste of time providing that advice to Poynter. The place doesn’t get the base reality: Many people can’t afford to dream and ask questions unless they get paid something decent.

  • Than Huynh Van

    Some people from the governments do not want to hang out with journalists because they are afraid of troubles. So, is it good for journalists to hang out with people from the government?
    From mykhe0607:

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_G5BSST7S47VLPYNQPMNDJ76KPY Tim418

    This flip side of this is that it helps if we work for organizations that allow for these things to happen. Does your company offer enough vacation time and pay to allow for restorative travel? Can you unplug for extended periods of time without being perceived as unresponsive? Will managers be flexible enough to let you cut out a bit early to catch that game, or attend that class? Is there enough staff to ensure that your absence will not result in disaster?

    From my experience, we do have the ability to have a great work/life balance if we try. Some of us just don’t try and are victims of our own drive and oversized work ethic.

    But, companies need to continue to help their employees find the right balance.

  • Jay Lee

    I especially like your last point. Where have been some of your favorite places you have traveled?