Mastering a 'work-life balance'
Finding a work-life balance can be tricky for most, but if you are neurodivergent there are extra things to consider.
LIFE tends to be more complicated as relational challenges and mental health issues run rampant.
WORK can also be a bit more complicated, because we may need accommodations to be effective, productive and motivated in our jobs.
So, what IS “work-life balance” anyway?
According to dictionary.com, work-life balance is how you divide your time and focus between work and your family or leisure time.
We like to think of this less like having everything divided equally, but rather that a person has an integrative approach to balance and seeks ‘harmony’ between all facets in their life.
And what does a work-life balance look like for an autistic person?
For every autistic, this can vary. Although we may all share the same condition, each of us has a unique experience in the world.
Work Balance is about harmony in your career
Mode of Mind
Some of us can handle career lives with full-time work that builds to a peak of seniority. Others may prefer a ‘portfolio’ type experience, where we have four or five part-time jobs at any given time.
Your preference to one mode of work or the other may depend greatly on your working environment, clarity of tasks, what life stage you’re in, mental or physical health, and/ or how passionate you are about the field of work you’re engaged in.
There’s nothing wrong with bouncing around between these two extremes until you find what works for you.
For many autistics, spending a lot of time around others can be tiring. At work this can be troubling as a lot of environments involve being in a room with other humans - whether in an office, in sales, or in a factory - you are surrounded by people!
The act of ‘peopleing’ is defined as “dealing with people”. People-ing may involve associating with colleagues, attending therapeutic or medical appointments, walking in the city during peak-hour, incidentally spending time with strangers while shopping, or even spending time with close friends and family.
A good way to remedy peopleing pains is to take plenty of time to rest and recuperate after work.
Sometimes we autistics ignore the messages our body is trying to send us, and if we do that in a professional capacity it can lead to further problems.
If you work a physical job and do not get sufficient time to rest, your body may start to break down - you may become fatigued or even more likely to injure yourself. In a similar way, when we overwork our brains and minds, our mental health can suffer.
Manage this challenge by pacing yourself at work, taking plenty of breaks, celebrating on successful completion of tasks, and listening to your body. If you’re feeling rundown, don’t push hard at work that day.
Life Balance is about harmony in your personal life
Finding a balance in “life” involves managing our time at home, too. One factor many people forget to consider when they think about how many hours they have available in a week is how much of their “free” time is actually spent with or working for their family.
Chores at home make up a large part of family time. While these aren’t aspects of “work”, they are an important consideration in the work-life balance, as they are generally not tasks that help us feel rested.
Seeking harmony with family may involve saying NO to extra tasks, or limiting time spent with others by taking at least 1 day a week for “me time”.
Socialising - what’s that?
For many autistics, socialising is prioritized as low. This is not from lack of wanting to connect. But rather, when our days fill up with work, chores, cooking, eating and sleep, we’re quickly accruing 116 “busy” hours during the week.
Where are you supposed to fit in socializing when the week only has 168 hours? Are many of us actually going to feel up to socialising in our remaining 52 hours? Or are we going to be too tired from all the work and ‘life chores’ that we do?
A way we can find some level of socializing that might bring back balance is to plan ahead, perhaps meeting once every 3-4 weeks with friends, as you might run a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, or have a monthly potluck dinner, or board games night. Then it becomes something to look forward to.
Hobbies are a great part of the work-life balance, so long as they don’t become something that we feel expected or required to do. Hobbies can be labour intensive and time consuming, like cooking or preserving or baking, so we must be mindful of that.
Some hobbies could involve other people so you get to combine relaxation and fun time with socialising (which has good and bad points).
Or they could be something you have monetised and are really using as another form of work.
It is important to revisit why you participate in your hobbies. Allow yourself time to enjoy yourself and reflect that -- similar to socializing, you might need to plan time to enjoy your hobbies so that you can support balance in life.
REMEMBER TO FIND A BALANCE, WELCOME CHANGE:
Work does not look the same for everyone, just like how the optimal work week does not look the same, and maybe the work you find most fulfilling is completely different to what you thought or were told growing up.
For example, I have always wanted to be a writer, I wrote a play in grade one! However, my parents always told me I needed a more stable job, so I chose a path that I thought was more academic and socially acceptable. I went to university. I worked 40 hour weeks and I felt ‘balanced’. Now I see I was a bit lost.
Be unafraid to change your mind. What seemed ‘balanced’ for you in the past may not work for you now. You change! So your work-life balance needs can change too.
For example, I just said I felt lost. Well, it was early on that I realised that working full-time was not for me. So, after some deep thought, I finally left my office job and became a nanny. Working with children gave me life again. I found my place in the world.
And that’s the best advice I can give you - find what gives you 'life', because then your work time will also be life time, and your work-life balance will be so much easier to maintain.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
Have you heard about filling your cup, and how you can’t fill someone else’s cup if your own is not full? It’s probably something you should look more into, but it boils down to this - how can you help other people, if you are not fulfilled or happy yourself?
If you find that at the end of a work week you are too stressed and run down to relax and “fill your cup” before the next work week commences, it might be a good idea to consider whether the work you are doing, or the way you are doing it, is best for you.