Living Well

Forgetting about work-life balance

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History of work-life balance

Work–life balance is a concept including the proper prioritization between work (career and ambition) and lifestyle (healthpleasureleisurefamily).

Wikipedia claims the term work-life balance was first used in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s and in the US in the 1980s.
I started paying more attention to the term when I first became a project manager in the early 2000s. I suspect at that point, it became important to me as I realised how much time my job was eating into my personal life.
Work-life balance was a useful stick to challenge my managers with.

What’s wrong with it?

The term has inherent difficulties. This article on Forbes expresses it well but a key point is:

Berkeley Haas School Of Business notes the traditional image of a scale, an image often associated with work-life balance, “creates a sense of competition between the two elements.”

Does anyone else feel like this? That their work-life needs putting into check to ensure an equal distribution of time or effort between home and work? Over the last few years, that’s how I’ve felt and I’ve prided myself on keeping certain constraints on how much I’ve allowed my work life to intrude.
But perhaps that’s all wrong. Perhaps there shouldn’t be any competition between the different aspects of our lives.
With increasingly connected employees and more global teams, it becomes increasingly difficult to draw a line where work ends and life begins. In fact, even saying that assumes that your work-life isn’t something you would consider as ‘living’.
In The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results (Basic Skills), the authors explain their key problem with work-life balance,

It’s a destructive form of wishful thinking that stops us from being present and focused in each moment.
Gary Keller & Jay Papasan, The ONE Thing

And that:

Sometimes your work-life ramps up into overdrive and you have no choice but to focus exclusively on getting it done. Other times, your family will need you more than usual, or your health will start making its demands known, or you’ll face a spiritual crossroads.
Gary Keller & Jay Papasan, The ONE Thing

And this is something I’ve come to appreciate with a recent change in role.
It would be impossible for me to maintain the illusion of a balance at this moment in time. I’ve got a lot of new things to learn whilst spinning a few more plates than usual. I’m also having to be brutally realistic with myself about my publishing schedule.
It hurts. But, it won’t be forever.
Right now, my efforts are more skewed towards my work life. And I’m at peace with that because I know that in a few weeks time, my efforts might skew in the other direction.

What is the alternative?

The term work-life integration has become more prevalent over the last few years. I came across it on the Coaching for Leaders podcast. On that show, they used the term work-life integration and that resonated a little more with me.
You can argue that we’re talking semantics but for me, using the word integration actually helps.
I’m a Content Manager for a software company, a fiction author, and a father to two young children. My days are not so straight-forward that I can draw a line between them and switch from one role to the other.
So, for me to find some peace, I’m going to think about how all these aspects of me integrate.

  • My corporate job is supporting my family and allows me to pursue other adventures like self-publishing. That’s integration at its most basic right there.
  • The skills I’m learning through line-management and coaching are skills that are useful when guiding my children through their lives.
  • Creating and maintaining my author business is building my skills in marketing, SEO, and reader engagement. All of which is feeding back into my corporate job.

Life doesn’t stop when you are at work.
There is no balance.
There is only how you choose to make the most of the opportunities and challenges presented to you.


Content Strategy

Why now is the time to think about Content Strategy


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What is Content Strategy?

There are lots of definition for content strategy but I rather like this one:

Content Strategy helps organisations provide the right content, to the right people, at the right times, for the right reasons.
Meghan Casey – The Content Strategy Toolkit

It’s succinct and easily remembered and I know that I can pull this out in a conversation when needed.

Why hasn’t content strategy been on my agenda before now?

An excellent question and one that needs some context to understand.
There are obviously dozens of ways you could divide an organisation as large as ours. For the last 12 years, technical authoring has always been embedded within product delivery functions (essentially R&D departments). Some of that time, when we’ve had a reasonable ratio, we’ve been able to work directly within a product team.
And what happens when you work as a single specialist within a larger product team? Simple, you deliver according to the team’s expectations. For a technical author, that means producing user assistance, often following the same patterns that have been well laid down. You want user assistance for your product? I’ll get you your updated PDF guides, and F1 help system.
So, technical authors hear rumours of other technical authors working elsewhere in the business, it’s rare to touch base with them, let alone work together to agree the direction for user assistance.
The very structure of the department and the isolation most technical authors felt, certainly influenced the lack of developing a cohesive strategy.

What’s changed?

For many areas, as we’ve developed new products online, we’ve been forced into collaboration patterns. When you have one product that’s sold and localised across multiple regions, you can no longer work in isolation:

  • Language issues necessitates collaboration.
  • Workload due to localisation means authors—typically in different regions—means that single authors in product teams don’t have the capacity to do all that needs to be done.

There are two other big drivers of change:

  • Technical writers are evolving into creators of content. We are no longer being considered as suppliers of just user assistance, but are becoming responsible for content across websites and user interfaces.
  • Content creators are being considered an integral part of the user experience teams.

It’s this last point that has caused me to reflect on content strategy especially. If we’re part of user experience, we have to take a seriously hard look at every aspect of what we do to ensure the customer is centred at the heart of everything we do.

Moving forward

This is going to be challenging but massively rewarding. I’m at the start of my own learning journey into what content strategy means and for this to be effective I’ve got to come to the table ready to lead others.
So, it’s a case of:

  1. Learning a reasonable amount of content strategy theory.
  2. Working with the teams in developing ideas.
  3. Implementing those content strategy ideas.

My go-to reference right now is Meghan Casey’s The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right (Voices That Matter). I’ll be writing plenty more about this in the future.