Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The balancing act

This was written as a guest post for Steve Buttry and also appears here:

I have a saying honed during 37 years in the news business: "Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow."
That may sound like encouragement to procrastinate or an excuse for laziness, but it's not. Put it in context of our work: We  build a product from start to finish in a day's time -- every day -- and with so much emphasis on what we have daily, we have to also know what we can set aside until tomorrow.
Consider the emails, the requests, the columns to write, stories to edit, projects to manage ... it doesn't end, diminish or slow down. So my thinking is that if something's not needed today, leave it for tomorrow.

This blog in its early days was called The Daily Overload because I was writing about the digital transformation in the news business and the daunting number of tasks involved.
I changed the name at some point because I didn't want to dwell on the overload; that in itself makes me tired.
Today's news comes at us at such a rapid pace that no matter how fast we run we can't get ahead of it. The risk is that we become like hamsters on a wheel.
In that environment, we need to give ourselves a break now and then and strive for balance. Being good editors -- smart editors -- comes from enjoying other endeavors in life, too. 
The ability to put work aside is a chore in itself requiring discipline and a daily commitment to find balance.

A few thoughts on how to do that:
  • Pay yourself first. This is a truism of financial management that can be adopted to time management as well. Do something for yourself first thing in the day before you start working. Once you get into the newsroom, the beast takes over. For years, I went for a 3- to 5-mile run in my neighborhood after getting the kids off to school and before I came into the office. These days, I bike to work. On days I don't ride, I do yoga at home. I pay myself first with an exercise investment before I feed the hungry news beast. The day starts better.
  • Use deadlines to your advantage.  This advice from my friend Michelle Karas, editor of The Bennington Banner: Join a fitness class or a book group that meets a specific time. If you commit to being in class at 7, you have a deadline to leave work at 6:45. Gets better results than vowing to "go to the gym after work."
  • Keep everything in its place. When at home, put the laptop away and spend time with the people in your life, a good book, a movie, or cooking dinner -- something to be enjoyed. Show with your actions that life outside the newsroom matters. When in the newsroom, don't let demands from your personal life consume your time. Instead of promoting balance, the interruptions can add to the overload.
  • Make time for joy. "Joy" may be listening to music. Or brewing a batch of beer. Or a walk in the woods. Whatever it is, make it a point every day, or as near to that as possible. Find the balance between the awesome responsibility of being an editor and the lighter side of life.
  • When the adrenaline hits, run with it. On days when a big news story happens, the above words of wisdom go out the window. As editors, our job remains the director of the band when it comes to delivering news to our communities. Those days, everything else takes a backseat. Just run with it. Get back to balance the next day.
Balance isn't putting in the background the important work of being editors. It is, however, remembering that without health and emotional well-being, mental and physical energy suffers.
Achieving balance helps us become better, more productive editors.