The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.

Have you heard anyone say this?  Finding a work/life balance is getting harder and harder, and the paradox for me is that the tools which are intended to convenience me, are the reason why I am losing my ability to carve out personal time for myself and my family.

Outside my back door is the raised vegetable garden I built by hand.  It is beautifully constructed, if I do say so myself, and this summer it has produced a dizzying array of produce. In these waning post-season days I can look out my second floor office window and see that there are cucumbers still on the vine, eggplant galore, and lettuce that is overgrown, and if I had the time I would go there to pick them, clean up the garden, ready it for winter.  Did I say that the garden is only steps from my back door?  Are you asking yourself why I haven’t tended the garden lately, or have you figured it out already?  Stuck in my office, I have many reasons why I do not visit my garden and enjoy its abundance, and all of them are electronic.

Are you tethered to your gadgets?

My day begins with several activities, in this order:  Turn on the computer, pour a cup of coffee, return to the computer and read my email – from all five email addresses.  I have two email addresses for the online school I attend, and from which I will soon have earned my M.B.A. in Internet Marketing; I have two personal email addresses, one that I have owned for 20 years and a newer one to which I am beginning to direct traffic – if for no reason other than every spam artist in the world has found the first; and finally, I have an email address for work.  Sometimes, between the time I go to bed and the time I begin reading the emails, 100 or more communiques have landed in their respective boxes. Once I am finished reading, deleting, or responding, I move on to the cell phone to check for text messages, and from there I check my two calendars, one for work and one for school, so I can begin to map out the day. At this point I am into the second or third cup of coffee.  I take a short break, maybe play a field or two on Angry Birds, and I begin the next phase of the morning. The rest of the day is spent at the computer, moving from program to program, to fulfill work and school commitments.

Online education is not easy, mostly because of the heavy reading and writing loads.  It is not unusual to be assigned a couple of hundred textbook pages to read each week plus case study research, and a heavy writing schedule to boot.  Then there is the blog project, for which this post is designed; it also takes time and thought. Research on the computer to verify the accuracy of information we share on the blog is necessary to maintain the integrity of the project.

My job carries its own burden of responsibility and thankfully I have a very understanding boss, who happens to teach online classes and therefore understands how tough it can be to manage one’s time effectively while maintaining good grades.  My job is with an online marketing firm which provides pro-bono services to non-profit groups in need of sustainable, capacity-building systems to manage their organizations.  I work in a virtual environment, with internet-connected teams of people, and often have direct contact with clients, too.  This means that we meet frequently online, in a virtual office environment, we share documents, and apart from these activities we are each responsible for blogging about social change initiatives, and we monitor and generate social media campaigns through the use of online digital dashboards.

Throughout the day I continue to monitor and respond to emails, intra-office messages, contribute to discussions on client projects, and answer telephone calls.

My day typically ends when my husband arrives from work around 9PM, and for the hour or so we spend catching up or watching a TV program, I am returning text messages and monitoring emails from my cell phone.  The last thing I do before turning in for the night, is check the computer one last time.

I joke about the day when I am finally free of school and working at a full time marketing job; I say it will feel like I am on vacation.  Secretly though, I fear that the time vacuum created by graduation will be filled with some other online, smartphone, blog, or tablet-based activity, and the cycle will continue, the electronic noose will grow tighter, and the concept I currently hold about what personal time is will no longer be a reality,  only a fond memory.