I had intended this post for the last Scientiae Carnival (topic: balance), but got tied up in work for a computer science curriculum workshop I ran at the end of July and never finished the post. That delay is, however, related to what I had planned to write about balance.
I began blogging this spring in response to perceived lack of balance in my professional career. Lack-of-balance is easier to recognize than balance, because it manifests as something concrete that captures our attention. I noticed I wasn't devoting enough energy to observing my surroundings for how computing really fits into society (something I wanted to do more of as a result of sabbatical). Blogging was meant to force me into finding observations to write about, on the oft-proposed strategy of announcing intentions to motivate action. That strategy hasn't worked nearly as well for the blog as it has in other areas of my life. Do I not actually want balance, or is something else afoot?
The term "balance" raises a visual metaphor of a scale with equal weights on all sides. Taken too far, "balance" in the context of my original desire to generate more observations misses the nature of research: it can take years to develop the results underlying a single idea. Several weeks is a minimum (once you include evaluation, which may include implementation). Aiming to post once or twice a week means that I'll be generating far more observations than I'll ever act on. Which in itself is fine, given the percentage of ideas that end up being worth pursuing.
Even given that, though, the question remains of where you want your attention to go. Yes, I want to be better at making observations that lead to interesting projects. But as someone who prefers to only juggle 2-3 big efforts at a time, I also need long stretches of downtime to work through observations. Observations in spurts followed by a weed-out phase is better-suited to my style of thinking.
The visual metaphor of balance still feels broken, though. Balance requires a reference weight. When I say "life-work balance", I don't (personally) mean that my life and work should take equal portions of my time. I simply mean that I should feel satisfied with the proportions. The "reference weight", such as it is, contains my available time or energy. The pieces of my life must balance out to that reference, but the devil is in the proportions. The scale metaphor is misleading. Far better is the one I heard on a mailing list some years ago about life being a large jar into which you must place your biggest items first, letting the little things fit in as they may.
For me, blogging is a small-to-medium item to fit into the jar. I still like how it forces me to articulate ideas, how it encourages me to make observations that I'd be willing to put my name on without having carried them through to research results. I'll continue to blog occasionally, when mood and ideas strike. But I don't expect to try to keep this up on a twice-weekly basis as I initially thought. Other items are just more important, especially with classes starting again in 10 days. I do want to make sure that "observing" stays sufficiently visible in my jar that I don't lose sight of it completely. But on balance, balance need not be balanced for my life or career to feel in proportion.