Work Life Balance

October 2021

In late-August, I strongly voiced my opinions against taking work home each day and for the weekend. We were going into the third wave of Distance Learning here in Vietnam, and I knew my mental health and my eyesight would suffer severely if I sat at home to teach all day and stayed on the computer later into the evening. My team did not react well to this.

Looking back, I was really bad at communicating what I meant at that moment. Maybe I was already frustrated with online teaching and meetings. Maybe I had a bad day. Maybe I had a migraine. I can’t remember the exact reason why, but I know I should’ve said more about it. Because what I said was “I am not doing work after school or on the weekends” and I can kind of see how that made me look “lazy” or “not invested”, but that wasn’t what I meant at all.

As a teacher with chronic migraines and mental health challenges, time and energy is not something I have an unlimited amount of each day. Especially during online learning, chances of migraines caused by screen time & noise from the laptop increases exponentially - I’m lucky if I can go 2 days out of the 5 work days without a migraine in the afternoon. They vary in intensity and sometimes I can push through to finish the bare minimum of what I need to finish, but other times, it’s laptop closed, lights off, and a cold compress on my face 5 minutes after my last class. And I’ll sleep until the next day - my body shuts down from the pain.

Of course, logging off right after my last class, usually around 2pm, leaves me with almost no time to prepare for the next day, the next week, the next unit. And of course, I find time to “make up” the time I “should’ve been working but didn’t”. Usually I’m awake as early as 5am so that gives me time to catch up on the work I didn’t do the previous evening because I fell asleep. And sometimes, I open my computer on the weekends to do what I didn’t do during the week because I prioritised the things that had a shorter deadline. Living with chronic and debilitating conditions forces you to be good at prioritising and time management.

So when I said I wasn’t doing work after school or on the weekends, I didn’t mean “I will never do work outside of work hours”. While I wish this was a statement I could make, because work-life balance and all, it’s a luxury that I can’t have because of the things I struggle with. And it’s okay, because logically, resting when my migraines begin is the best choice I can make in that moment, even if that meant I was putting off “doing work” until later, until “outside of work hours”. If I don’t rest, the work I do isn’t going to be the quality it can be, because 80% of my brain is focused on the pain and only 20% on the work. So to me, the choices I make when I’m not well, prioritising my physical and mental health, and catching up on work at a different time when I’m better, makes sense.

And of course, sometimes I’ll be sitting on my couch on a Saturday at 7pm, and my brain will come up with (what I think is) the most EXCITING lesson plan EVER to exist on this earth. So sure, I’ll open my computer, jot down some notes, fire it off to myself and maybe a trusted colleague who knows there is absolutely zero obligation for them to check their emails or read or respond, because if I don’t do it in the moment, the plan is lost somewhere in my brain, never to be found again. So yeah, there are exceptions. Like this post - it’s 8:41pm on a Saturday and I suddenly had both the motivation and the inspiration to write this post that I’ve been meaning to write for months now…

But all of this doesn’t mean I will voluntarily put in time and effort to do work outside of work hours. If you ask me to do something at 3pm on a Thursday and expect me to have it done by 8am Friday, my answer is going to be a hard “no”. If you give me something to do at 2pm on a Friday to be done by 3pm Monday, when I teach ALL blocks on Monday, my answer is going to be “I need more time than that”. Because I shouldn’t have to give up my free time, my “non-contracted time” for people who don’t respect work - life balance. I shouldn’t have to, and I won’t, use my evening or weekend to accommodate the needs of people who didn’t plan ahead - because, let’s face it, usually when the turnaround time is less than 24 hours, it’s a document or a project or a plan that wasn’t well thought out, something that’s being made because we forgot to think about it or plan for it.

I think what I’m trying to say in all this rambling is that you shouldn’t expect people to be okay with giving up their time to work. Because working overtime and not getting paid for it only takes a toll on our mental health - work shouldn’t take over all aspects of your life. And keeping to work hours doesn’t make you any less of a teacher than those who spend all of their free time planning and prepping. It’s all about good time management, prioritising, and being efficient.

Work smarter, not harder. Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.