Balance vs. Boundaries at Bosque

Dr. Jessie Barrie
If you are anything like me, you may find yourself in a near-constant cycle of failed attempts at trying to find a sweet spot of creating “work-life balance.” Last year I read an article that dramatically changed my perspective regarding how I approach and manage my time.

Barrett Cordero, the article’s author, asks “What is work-life balance supposed to be, anyway? Some 24-hour day evenly segmented into eight hours for work, sleep and personal time? This balanced concept is unrealistic, and chasing some illusory sense of ‘balance’ only leads to increasing the stress you're supposed to be decreasing by being balanced.”

One thing I have always struggled with in my futile attempts to find “work-life balance” is that my “work” has always been a very vital, energizing, and satisfying element of my “life.” Feeling an obligation to separate my work from the rest of my life feels inauthentic and confusing to me given how much joy I gain from it.

Cordero suggests that instead of chasing balance, we focus on creating boundaries that allow us to be as fully present as possible in whatever realm of our life we currently find ourselves. As I prepared for what I knew would be very long hours in this new role, I was able to sit with my incredible assistant, Mrs. Schesser, and map out a structured schedule that allows me time with students; time to experience our staffulty in action; 1:1 meetings (I often try and do these as walking meetings in the bosque, getting some fresh air and rejuvenation at the same time); leadership team meetings that make space to move past the seemingly urgent to focus on the important strategic questions we need to be asking to guide the future of the school; and time to have a special breakfast with my four-year-old and drop him off at school at least one day a week. It is not a perfect schedule or solution, and I admit that I am writing this post from my office on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend—but I scheduled this for when my four-year-old was napping. My goal is to be fully present in all aspects of my life.

Cordero also suggests three different boundary-setting techniques: (1) being a “separator,” who employs strategies that allow one to be fully present or fully disconnected—in only one world at a time; (2) being an “integrator,” who flows between personal and professional tasks; or (3) being a “cycler,” who intensely works for some period of time and then intensely separates from work for another period of time (as I did when I was a full-time teacher and was able to entirely disconnect from work for two months in the summer).

As I engaged in my listening tour this summer with Bosque staffulty, I kept hearing, time and time again, about how overwhelmed and exhausted many people felt. Much of this is caused by the amount and pace of electronic communications; this is most likely the most challenging boundary to set. I have a tendency to check my email right before bed, which can often result in my diving right back into work mode and then struggling to fall asleep as my mind has been re-energized/focused. As a parent of two teenagers, trying to establish appropriate boundaries for their electronic device time has represented my most challenging parenting moments.

Email has become the dominant method of communication in many organizations, and I often struggle with the monumental pressure to manage and prioritize my inbox and to find ways to appropriately disconnect—something that is essential for rejuvenation and re-engagement. Our staffulty also expressed feeling overwhelmed by their inboxes, which was leading to our parents feeling frustrated by slow communications between themselves and their children’s teachers and advisors.

In light of all of this, and informed by this Harvard Business Review article that I have been internally chewing on for the past year, I requested that our staffulty all commit to piloting a new set of email guidelines for this fall. Three weeks into the pilot the anecdotal feedback is that staffulty are noting a positive shift in their inbox clutter, more clarity around prioritization, and less anxiety about disconnecting when they are at home. I hope that you will review these guidelines and do your best to give them a try (maybe also consider piloting them in your own workplace; I would love to know how it goes!). Parents, based on these guidelines, you should receive an email response within 24 hours of sending it. Please feel free to share any feedback on this from your perspective. At the end of the day, email has become our primary communication tool; it is essential that we find ways to manage it effectively and efficiently, in our communications with each other and with all of you.

I would love to hear tips from any of you on how you have created effective boundaries or a better feeling of balance. This is hard and ongoing work. I look forward to continuing to support each other in these efforts.

All the best,

Jessie Barrie, PhD
Head of School
Instagram: jess_bosqueheadofschool