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.

  • Tom Huang

    Tom Huang is Sunday & Enterprise Editor at The Dallas Morning News and Adjunct Faculty member of The Poynter Institute, where he oversees the school’s writing program.


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