Striving for Balance–Enforcing Work Boundaries

I’m sitting on my front porch in a refinished Adirondack chair, enjoying a warm afternoon breeze and a glass of ice water.  I’d rather post to Mindful Stew than grade papers or check my work e-mail.  Or call parents.  Or attempt to get ahead on my lesson plans.  Or log on to Edmodo to respond to some student posts.

Grading these essays will have to wait.
Image from

Teaching never ends during the school year, but I’ve found that I’m most effective and energized during the school day by limiting the time I work, despite the fact that the “To-Do” list will never end.  I want to and have to turn off my job.

I thoroughly enjoy teaching, but not so much that it will drastically interfere with other endeavors that keep me sane, fulfilled, and content.  During the fall, I bow-hunt.  This is a demanding hobby, requiring hours practicing shooting the bow, scouting deer in fields and forests, and spending hours sitting idly but alert in a tree.  Combine hunting with spending quality time with my fiance, cooking, blogging, brewing beer, and watching football, and there’s not many hours left in the day.  But I’m fortunate to have enough time to do all of these things, only because I choose to stop working.

In this Ted Talk, Nigel Mark provides a pointed take on work/life balance. 

He states, “There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet screaming desperation where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate, to enable them to buy things that they need to impress people they don’t like.”  A bleak assessment, and I feel fortunate that I don’t fall into that boat.  Unlike many people, I’m able to make decisions about how much I work outside of school hours without worrying about providing food, shelter, and care for any dependents.  That said, I wonder how much our society’s expectations relating to work, child rearing, and lifestyle affect how much time we feel we need to work, in addition to how much money we must accumulate to pursue satisfying lives.

Marks also contends that “we have to be responsible for setting and enforcing the boundaries we want in our lives.”  Last year, a coworker had the audacity to tell me that I needed to have less work/life balance in order to do more curriculum work.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was teaching my ass off.  At that moment I realized I needed to set more boundaries, not be afraid to say no to coaching or other committees, and to guard my own time in an attempt to create my own vision of work/life balance.

Mark continues, “…commercial companies are inherently designed to get as much out of you as they can get away with.”  I think about–and feel sorry for–those who are attached to their cell phones due to the need to compose and respond to work e-mail.  I will never sign up for a job with this requirement.  How can one reasonably expect a work/life balance in that situation?

The problem for many people seem to believe that career success must solely be measured monetarily.  And in an economic recession, the topic of this post may be irrelevant and even off-putting to some.  Nonetheless, it’s worth discussing.

Do you have a job that’s tough to turn off?   How do you accomplish, or struggle with, a work/life balance?  What’s your idea of a perfect day in the context of work/life balance?  Did you watch Nigel’s Ted Talk?  What do you think?


  1. Eyeteach,
    It’s one the best thing us teachers can do–putting on the brakes–or the demands become ridiculous. I think the key is figuring out how to be most effective in a given amount of time. I’m always tweaking the time spent grading/lesson planning etc, to find a balance that results in a strong classroom culture and student outcomes.

  2. The pressure on us to continuously improve, improve, do more, do more is quite relentless, and who but ourselves can put the breaks on before we, quite literally, break down? I am a teacher, and my work has much meaning, but I don’t owe MORE and MORE and MORE until I am burnt to a crisp. Although it’s a continuous process, I am learning to take time off.

  3. I am paying the price right now for not finding a Balance in my work and health! I am off for 2 weeks per doctors orders due to health issues and the pressure I get from the school and parents is tremendous. I have to put up boundaries, my health and life depends on it.

  4. Jolyn,
    I have the same mindset you so about leaving work behind when possible. Fortunately, I do enjoy teaching and accept that it’s impossible to leave everything at school!
    I don’t have much time to read blogs during the school day:)
    Look forward to checking out your blog–thanks for stopping by.

  5. Fortunately, my job is not overwhelmingly time consuming. When I leave work, I leave it behind–the good, the bad and the ugly (for the most part…I do have my stressful moments when it lingers onto my free time but not as much as before) However, I actually do not mind what I am doing. It’s more so the negative environment that causes me to dream about leaving to another place. However, I try to make the best of it and enjoy what I do at work while sneakily do other things I enjoy doing like reading blogs. 😉 I am grateful that I have the space to enjoy these simple pleasures while also maintaining my work schedule.

  6. Sorry. I wondered how you could take a break this early in the school year! No I have no pert-time jobs. Just blogging (as you can probably tell!) There were things about the job I disliked, but on the whole I would do it over again. Hang in there. The schools desperately need people like you!

  7. Hi Hugh,
    I suppose some of the questions and opinions could be rendered moot if one truly loves his or her job, and doesn’t feel as if anything is missed…
    Do you have any part-time job in retirement?
    I’m not on break!

  8. I’m retired. But I loved my job — or jobs. I wore many hats as “they” say/ I kept busy and that was a good thing. But I also love retirement — time to read the books I put aside for years or read through too quickly. Have a good break. And keep blogging!

  9. Thanks David. It’s worth watching!
    With so many distractions and opportunities to do more, especially in the digital age, saying no or tuning out is certainly a skill and mindset worth developing…

  10. Good point regarding productivity and the tradeoffs required by adhering to this mindset. One of the goals of this blog is to explore what the “good life” could be for myself and others, and while I understand economic realities and obligations, it is mind-blowing to see so many people simply working and striving for bigger houses and more stuff, versus taking the time to enjoy other aspects of life.
    Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Amen. Amen. Amen!

    I work for myself and one of the reasons I continue to make that choice (earning probably 50% of what a staff job might pay me) is the freedom to TURN OFF. I stopped work today at 4:00 to run errands, go for a bike ride, sit in the sun and read a book. Next week, I am taking off on the 18th until the 30th. I need a break and am going to take one, income be damned.

    Americans are socialized from birth to be productive, not creative, to make $$$$$$$$$ but not to question the tradeoffs required to do so, whether a loss of spiritual, emotional, physical or intellectual freedom to develop ourselves in privacy. I admire everyone who pushes back against the industrial/corporate mindset that will always and unceasingly demand more of us, not less.

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