Blurry Lines: What’s work and what’s not?

Having crawled to the finish line in June with nothing left in the tank, I have been reading a lot of articles this summer about the need to take breaks from work and the diminishing returns involved in clocking too many hours. Many articles provide a numerical formula for work minutes and break time. My thought was that I could work less and get more done, if I was deliberate about my time, a very appealing idea and a simple one at its core.

In fact, it is too simple. I have been unable to decide what is work and what is not. There are obvious tasks at both ends of the spectrum – grading papers is work, watching an Orioles game is not. The problem is that much of my time is spent on things that defy easy categorization. Is reading a book about Benjamin Franklin’s sister Jane considered work? I am enjoying it but inevitably also thinking about teaching it. Is reading an article about the US role in the Middle East work since I teach about US foreign policy? Am I working right now, as I process my thoughts on this issue? On the other end, cleaning the house is not part of my job but it feels more like work than many aspects of my job. Where does house work and life maintenance fit into this whole equation? Teachers wrestle with this in the summer, especially, I think. I never quite know how to respond to someone who notes how nice it would be to have summers off. I cannot disagree, but at the same time, without sounding defensive, try to point out that I am not in school, but not entirely “off” either.

As I have been thinking about this, a related issue surfaced when a friend posted a general inquiry of her Facebook friends about kids and screen time. A variety of answers were posted, but one recurring theme is how hard it is getting to create set rules, as the lines between games and work blur for kids, too. They do much of their homework via electronic device now. In talking to my children, I can see that building in Minecraft is fostering many skills and mindsets I want them to have, but building in Minecraft takes time. In fact, it has done more to foster patience and delayed gratification than any of their other toys or games.

I am still working through this question of life balance for me and my children. I know that I should not be so exhausted in June, and I need to pay a little more attention to the early warning signs of overwork. I may need to watch a few more Oriole games in April and May, for example. I also know that my kids should turn the gadgets off and go play outdoors, which they thankfully do. But drawing the line implies that there is a clear line between work and play. I don’t think that it is that simple. For all of the productivity studies and warnings about screen time, I think I am just going to have to rely on my instincts and improvise.


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