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I asked digital media creatives whether they live to work or work to live

IMAGE VIA WILDFLOWER CASES
WORDS BY MAGENTA PORTER

Is it actually possible to have a healthy work-life balance in digital media?

Staying in the office way past 5pm, answering emails on Sundays, your phone lighting up in the corner of your room all night long – sound familiar? We’ve heard it all before, and we all know that a lack of work-life balance can lead to burnout, breakdowns and breakups.

But in any creative field, especially in digital media or journalism, it can be extremely difficult to unplug and step away from your desk, or your inbox. Working in any content-heavy industry is not easy – blink and you could completely miss a very important story in the news cycle.


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There are hundreds of articles, self-help books and podcasts that discuss tips and tricks for creating a healthy work/life balance, like creating boundaries or investing in your life outside of work. But in practice, the competitive, fast-paced nature of working life in 2021 can be a very tough thing to separate yourself from.

The pressure to be passionate about what you do and ‘love’ your job is perhaps more intense now than ever before. This external pressure can easily lead you down the wrong garden path – where you find yourself living to work more than working to live, without even noticing. This transition not only affects your personal life but can also drastically diminish the passion you once had for your career, turning it into a festering resentment.

Striking a fine balance between the two, a space that allows you to enjoy your job, but not so much that you let it take over your out-of-hours life, is a challenge, to say the least. In need of some real-life, practical inspiration, I asked three creatives and digital media natives how they manage to strike the balance, if at all.

Ash Austen, Head of Content at The Beauty Chef, co-host of Jeans & A Nice Top podcast

 

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A post shared by Ash Austen (@ashausten_)

Working in digital media, your work-day doesn’t ever really ‘end’. Do you find it difficult to step away from work and unplug?

Absolutely. When you work in the digital space you soon realise that the internet is an insatiable beast. There is no limit to the sheer volume of content you can write, edit, shoot, share or create – and that in itself makes it hard to step away.

I am acutely aware that I cannot do it all, and after a tumultuous ride suffering from burnout a few years ago, I no longer try. I now have a good handle on what I can get done in a day in terms of output and prioritise one thing at a time instead of having a bunch of different projects started and none finished.

Creating a work-life balance is a challenge. What are some practices or rules that you have in place that force you to step away from work? And do you stick to these rules?

I wish I could say that my phone wasn’t the first thing that I looked at in the morning and the last thing at night, but unfortunately, it is. When it comes to work, I am pretty strict with my hours though and ensure I log off at 5pm and put my laptop in the cupboard if I’m working from home, or leave it at the office. Out of sight, out of mind.

An old editor once told me that if you can’t complete your work during the hours you are paid to do so, something is wrong. Either your workload is unmanageable and it needs to be raised with your boss, or you’re procrastinating with non-essential tasks during the day.

Do you think you live to work or work to live?

That’s a tough one. To some extent, we all work to live, but I learnt (admittedly later) in my career that you are not your work. It’s just something that you do. Sure, employment can be incredibly satisfying and meaningful, but at the end of the day, your self-esteem can’t be solely tied to it.

I wore my previous title of beauty editor with immense pride to the point that I all but embodied the role, but little did I realise at the time it was the least interesting thing about me. It took redundancy to show me that it can be taken away at any time. Let work be your income and your passion, but not your personality.

Any parting words of advice to up-and-coming people in the digital media space?

Set firm boundaries from the start. There are very few gold stars given out in this space, and traffic constraints often mean quantity is favoured over quality, especially in digital media. You can’t do it all. The same goes for being logged on or in the office when you’ve finished for the day. Don’t stick around for optics. If your shift is done, go home. Your time and attention is your greatest commodity – spend it wisely.

@ashausten_

Eliza Sholly, Deputy Digital Editor of Australian Traveller

 

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A post shared by shollywood (@elizasholly)

Working in digital media, your work-day doesn’t ever really ‘end’. Do you find it difficult to step away from work and unplug?

I am, without a doubt, the laziest person I know. I am a Taurus, a sloth; my natural state is doing nothing. Watching TV in bed all day makes me feel like myself, and that brings me joy. I don’t find it hard to unplug at all. What I do find hard is switching off that oppressive voice in my head (of which we are all a victim) that tells me my self-worth is equated to my productivity.

I used to feel shame because my personality traits didn’t manifest in traditionally productive ways, and being stagnant is not sexy nor celebrated. I have since learnt to forgive myself and work hard in the moments that demand it, taking the time to create work that I am proud of – as opposed to just smashing out quantity for quantity’s sake.

Creating a work-life balance is a challenge. What are some practices or rules that you have in place that force you to step away from work? And do you stick to these rules?

I set timers and work steadily for that time, then take intermittent breaks. I also have very heightened senses that make it hard to concentrate with minor audible distractions in my periphery. Investing in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones has been a game-changer for me – as is creating a lengthy playlist of music without words, or something in another language. I’d be a ratchet liar if I said that I always stick to my rules but I do my best.

Do you think you live to work or work to live?

I think about this a lot. When I was young, I was so obsessed with being impressive for my age. I laugh now at how productive I ‘thought’ I was because I have since learned how rigged the system is to favour people like me. I used to think ‘what I did’ and ‘who I was’ were intrinsically intertwined.

Getting older, I have found so many passions outside of work that I never think of my job as a chore. Seeing and supporting my friends, checking in with my family, writing for pleasure, DJing, engaging with my wine club, hosting body-positive life drawing events (and life modelling), playing dodgeball, working a hospo shift from time to time, seeing music, camping – these parts of my life are all as important as my work because they equally contribute to my identity.

Any parting words of advice to up-and-coming people in the digital media space?

Being able to have discussions about productivity is a capitalistic privilege. Some people aren’t given the ability to question the idea of ‘switching off’ because they are bound by economic systems that don’t give them the option. Excuse my nihilism, but when I make professional choices I try to remember that all work is transactional, rather than troupes like workplaces trying to sell the idea of ‘family’.

It makes it easier to switch off. I’d suggest making a schmick website that showcases yourself and your work. Don’t be afraid to ‘look’ like a failure – no one cares as much as you think they do. Being vulnerable is cool, and fuck anyone who says otherwise.

@elizasholly

Cait Emma Burke, Digital Editor of Fashion Journal 

 

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A post shared by Cait Burke (@caitemmaburke)

Working in digital media, your work-day doesn’t ever really ‘end’. Do you find it difficult to step away from work and unplug?

Forgive the terrible simile, but working in digital media can sometimes feel like you’re a hamster running on a wheel – it’s exhilarating and fast-paced but you’ll burn out and cark it if you don’t get off every now and then. A big part of my role is coming up with content ideas and working in tandem with our managing editor Giulia on our editorial strategy and growth.

I’m always thinking of ideas for the site and emailing them to myself, even on weekends and at weird hours of the night. I’m a perfectionist and have high standards for our content, so I’m prone to working too much and do sometimes struggle to switch off.

Creating a work-life balance is a challenge. What are some practices or rules that you have in place that force you to step away from work? And do you stick to these rules?

I definitely struggle with this – I’m prone to anxiety and can be very avoidant (a truly chaotic blend that makes me particularly bad at email management). I often end up choosing to ease into my workday with simple tasks and pack the latter half of my day with harder ones, something I’m currently trying to change (note to self: do the hard stuff first and the fun stuff later). I put my phone in a drawer while working and try to leave the house/office at least once a day for a walk.

Managing our social media makes achieving a work-life balance more challenging, and it can be really difficult to separate work from my free time if I’m not intentional about it. I take pride in all our content and have high standards for it – the whole team does – and when you’re passionate about what you do, it’s honestly a lot harder to ‘end’ your day than if you feel a bit more ambivalent about it. I didn’t struggle with this before I worked in editorial, because I didn’t feel as attached to my work.

Do you think you live to work or work to live?

This is a tough one. I’ve wanted to work in editorial since I was very young – maybe eight or nine – and feel very lucky to have the job I do. I get to write about and edit content that I genuinely believe is important and interesting, and I’m so proud of FJ’s position in the Australian media landscape.

As a writer and editor, a lot of ‘me’ bleeds into what I do for work and this means that my identity is quite wrapped up in my career in some ways, something that I sometimes feel a little bit strange and uncomfortable about. I love what I do, but it’s this love that means that, unless I’m careful and intentional with my time, I can easily let work take over my life. It’s something I’m working on (ha, get it?)

Any parting words of advice to up-and-coming people in the digital media space?

It’s an intense industry but it’s also exciting and fascinating – I feel like I learn so much through the pieces I edit for our site, and there are a lot of incredibly exciting opportunities a job like this can give you access to. Make the most of these opportunities and the people you meet through them, as this industry is, whether you like it or not, all about connections and networking. Burnout is a very real thing in media, and it’s something I’ve experienced before – it’s really awful.

Make sure you create an honest dialogue with your managers about how you work best and what you need. I’m lucky to have a really supportive manager who understands that my mental health can get shaky at times, and is open to adapting our workflow when this happens. Making sure you do some activities post work that allow you to really unplug is key, whether that’s cooking, exercising, reading – just something that gets you away from the screen and the relentlessness of the digital space.

@caitemmaburke

To find out more about the importance of maintaining a work-life balance, head here

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