Achieving A Good Work-Work Balance

work workA lot is said and written about achieving a good work-life balance, as though work is only one thing (and life another). Work is in fact several things and achieving a good balance between them is also important. In fact, a good work-work balance is an essential prerequisite for a good work-life balance.

Let’s start by thinking about paid and unpaid work. If you’re doing more unpaid than paid work, you are more likely to be a woman than a man. For sure some men do more unpaid than paid work, and anyway gender isn’t binary, but nevertheless this is a feminist issue. Having said that, sometimes more unpaid than paid work is inevitable, such as if you’re an unemployed job-seeker or on maternity leave. But if you’re employed or self-employed such that paid work occupies a good chunk of each week or month, you’ll need to take care to balance that paid work with any unpaid work you take on.

Of course people can have more than one job, or a job plus self-employment, or several kinds of paid self-employment. I currently earn money from research, writing, teaching, speaking, private coaching, and occasional bits of consultancy advice. Unpaid work, too, comes in a variety of forms. Although I earn money from my writing, I don’t receive any income until after my work is done, so the actual act of writing is unpaid (except for the rare occasions where some lovely person decides to pay me to write, which I’m glad to say does happen from time to time). But I love writing so I’m going to do it anyway. My visiting fellowship at the UK National Centre for Research Methods is also unpaid, though I do receive access to academic literature and some mentoring in return for providing help with various academic tasks, none of which are overly time-consuming or onerous.

Other forms of unpaid work include:

  • Formal volunteering (I’m currently a member of the publications committee of the Academy of Social Sciences)
  • Informal volunteering such as helping out a neighbour on request, reviewing an article for an academic journal, or joining a community litter-pick
  • Caring for family members who need your care, perhaps because they are very young or very old or living with one or more disabilities, and
  • Domestic work such as cleaning, shopping, and cooking.

We all have to do domestic work, though there are shortcuts – grocery shopping can be done online, ironing is not as important as some people seem to think, and if you have spare cash you may be able to outsource cleaning/gardening/DIY etc. But you will still have to do some domestic tasks. Also, caring may not be optional. If you have children you’re generally expected to meet their needs, while caring for older relatives or those living with disabilities may be optional in theory but is likely not to feel optional in practice.

However, formal and informal volunteering are optional and when necessary you can resign from formal positions or say no to informal requests. I have posted before about why and how to say no; it’s not always easy but it is essential if you are to create a good work-work balance. We all know people who wear themselves out doing everything for everyone and forget to meet their own needs. Maybe you’re one of those people. If so, you need to look at your unpaid work and think about what you can jettison. This can be difficult: it feels good to be needed, and it can be demoralising to realise that you are not indispensable. But it’s not impossible. And if you don’t control your unpaid work, it may end up controlling you.

In the final year of my PhD, realising that push actually had come to shove and I needed to spend a lot of time writing my thesis, I gave up all of my formal volunteering. I had a few roles at the time and giving them up was the only way I could meet my thesis deadline. I also turned down various offers of unpaid work – some of which were really tempting – on the grounds that I needed to get my thesis written. My doctoral work was also unpaid, as I was self-employed, and spending lots of time writing my thesis was quite enough unpaid work for one year. This meant I had a good work-work balance. (I gave up most of my social life for that year, too, so my work-life balance was terrible, but it was temporary and a means to an end.)

These days I take on one formal volunteering role at a time plus an honorary fellowship. Alongside my unpaid writing work, and the unpaid admin that goes with running a business, this is plenty to set against my paid work. So on the whole I think I have a good work-work balance. What about you?

This blog is funded by my beloved patrons who help with my work-work balance. It takes me around one working day per month to post here each week. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding of $34 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $34 – you can help! Ongoing support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Creative Research Methods and Gender

gender not binaryLet me begin by saying that I know gender is not binary. In fact, it is probably not reducible to any system of categorisation or classification. I am well aware that some people are physically male but mentally and emotionally female, or vice versa, and that some of these people find this problematic and would choose a hormonal and surgical remedy. Other people, sometimes known as ‘cisgender’, are emotionally and mentally in accord with their physical gender. (I’m fine with this concept, I just wish it didn’t have such an ugly word for its label.) Some are androgynous, physically, or mentally and emotionally, or both. Others are ‘genderqueer’, ‘genderfluid’, ‘third-gender’, and so on. Some societies are more accepting of these diversities than others, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to deny their existence altogether.

Nevertheless, most people, in most social situations, talk happily about men and women. And I am going to do that in this post, though with an acknowledgement that ‘men’ or ‘women’ includes those deemed by society to be ‘men’ or ‘women’, who as individuals may be more or less happy or unhappy with the definition they are given.

I am a woman, physically, mentally, emotionally, and sometimes quite crossly when I think about how women are treated as second-class citizens in many ways in many parts of the world. We’ve come a long way, for sure, but we’re not there yet. Such as in academia where, for example, only 20% of professors are women, and 70% of fellows of the UK’s Academy of Social Sciences (AcSS) are men (yes, I counted all 1005 of them, just for you). Professors and AcSS fellows are also predominantly white.

I am a feminist, always have been, probably always will be. So I was delighted to be asked, last month, to speak on Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. This programme is an institution. It is sometimes criticised as ‘tokenistic’ (why should women only get an hour?) or ‘discriminatory’ (why isn’t there a programme called Men’s Hour?’). But it has a large audience, of whom a big percentage is male, and it deals intelligently with topics of interest to many women – and evidently to many men too.

The subject of discussion on the programme, female sterilisation, is irrelevant here. What is relevant is that, even though it was a completely unrelated subject, the debate started me thinking about my latest book from a different angle. When I got home, I checked the 109 boxed examples – and found that 80% were generated by women researchers. This felt exciting. Was there, could there be, an area of research where women were at the forefront?

Then, being an ethical and reflexive researcher, I began to wonder whether I’d introduced a bias. After all, I had selected these examples from the many more I’d read. I thought I had selected them on merit, but had I really? My thoughts turned to the 94 abstracts received by the Social Research Association for presentations at the forthcoming conference on creative research methods. How many of those were led by women researchers? I counted up, and guess what? Eighty per cent. Just like the examples in my book. And non-white researchers have a sizeable presence too, both men and women.

Taimina crochetWomen are not just doing fluffy girly qualitative research, either. Have you heard of Daina Taimina? She succeeded, where men had failed for centuries, in modelling hyperbolic geometry. In case you haven’t heard of that either, it’s the geometry of frilly things, like kale or sea kelp or oak leaf lettuce. And it’s evidently really difficult to model, or someone would have worked it out before Taimina realised crochet was the perfect vehicle. I recommend her TED talk on the subject, it’s fascinating even if you know little or nothing about geometry. And women aren’t only using arts-based methods: both the book and the conference abstracts show that they’re also using technology in research, mixing methods to good effect, and working within transformative research frameworks.

So I think, in creative research methods, we have a field of enquiry where women are leading the way. And it’s not before time!