Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Finding Balance

My name is Beth Still and I was asked to guest blog while Wes is on vacation.

I have had a post brewing in my head for a very long time and I think this is the perfect forum in which to bring this issue to light. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss a problem that so many of us have, but are unwilling to acknowledge. The issue I am referring to is finding a balance between the various aspects of our lives. More specifically, I am an going to discuss the amount of time we spend online versus time we spend with our families.

I have two great loves in my life: my family and my career. I am passionate about both of them, but lately it seems like work has overshadowed my family. If I am being honest I would have to say that for the better part of the last year my family has taken a backseat to my career. I teach and develop online classes. Most of this is done at home on my own time due to the constant interruptions at school which occur even during my prep time.

I also have developed an amazing PLN that I love interacting with, but each minute I spend with them is a minute that I could (and should) be spending with my family. My family does not quite fully comprehend that I learn so much on Twitter. The other thing that they do not understand is that some of the friendships I have made on Twitter are very meaningful.

My husband made the awful mistake of giving in to my request and bought me a BlackBerry for Valentine’s Day this last year. I am now connected to all of my email accounts, Google chat, and Twitter around the clock. While I think this is great my family is not as thrilled. You see, I have not yet mastered the art of unplugging and taking a tech break. I enjoy the ability to connect to my network at any time from any place. My family is not impressed that I make myself so easily accessible to the world.

Last week I walked away for a few hours. I actually powered down my laptop and cell phone and I snuggled up with my husband in our favorite over-sized to watch a movie. When I had trouble remember the last time we did that I realized that I have been plugged in for way too long! It finally occurred to me that I need to find some balance. While I love working and I am not in danger of burning out; I am missing out on some very important things in my life. I am just not sure how an online teacher spend less time online, but I will figure it out.

Twitter, blogs and emails can wait, but my family can’t. I still have a lot of work to do online this summer, but I am going to turn off Twitter and I am going to purposefully neglect my reader. While I am online I need to focus on the task at hand. I need to learn to become more efficient when I work. I get tend to get sidetracked very easily! I am not quite sure how I will do this, but I need to find a balance.

I know other people have faced the same issues. How have you managed to strike a balance between work and family time? What are some of the suggestions you have for finding an adequate amount of time for each?






22 responses to “Finding Balance”

  1. JenW Avatar

    Hello Beth —
    I am very very glad you posted about this.

    I did a walk away from twitter again last week — so necessary for me to do at times — and made it a point to spend F2F time with those around me.

    I wonder at times just how many marriages in our PLN, friendships in our PLN, have been affected by the walkaway from “snuggle time” because they are spending too much time at the “monitor time”.

    I almost posted a twitter poll last week: “If your significant other thought you spent too much time on twitter would that be a red flag for you?” but decided not too.

    Grins — perhaps I might rethink that.

    Smiles — I am glad you had the snuggle time!! I am glad you shared that. I hope others read your thoughts and turn off twitter (blackberries, facebook, etc) tonight and go over to the couch and cuddle.


  2. magnethart Avatar


    I am glad that you posted this blog. I am new to developing my PLN and have thought about this as a concern with my own family. Although I am making some great connections with other educators outside of my normal realm, i have to remind myself that this is a work PLN and takes place only during my regular work hours (although it doesn’t sound like I have as many interuptions as you do). It is a boundary that I am trying hard to keep in place for the sake of my own marriage. I am glad you were able to have “cuddle time” and hope you are able to do that more often.

    Best of luck in your endevour to unplug a little while.


  3. Joan Young Avatar

    Thanks for being brave and talking about an issue that many of us probably need to talk about and think about but “haven’t gotten around to it”! I often find myself with the feeling that I might “miss something” on Twitter, facebook etc when I take time away, but I find myself getting overloaded by the constant stream of information. I love connecting to other teachers, learning new ways to improve my teaching, but more and more I am inclined to be sure to take some “away time” each day to commit myself to the face to face time with friends and loved ones. I like the idea of keeping “work time” to work hours but that is challenging as you do so much of your work online. Best to you in striking the balance; I think you are definitely on your way by making the time with your husband and enjoying the wonderful rewards.

  4. Kristofor Still Avatar

    As your husband,I am very glad that you wrote this post. As you and some of the people in your PLN probably know by now, I have voiced myself to you about the time spent on Twitter. I for one do understand why you are connected with your PLN and your passion for learning. I think I can speak for many spouses/significant others out there when I say that there does need to be balance. I would hate to see anyone look back and realize that their children grew up and precious time was missed. I would also hate to see that relationships fade because many important conversations and personal time have gone to wayside. I urge others to read this post by my wife and comment on it, then shut off the computer for awhile and spend time with your spouse, significant other,and family. They need that part of you that they may have been missing for awhile.

  5. Elissa Avatar

    I guess I am kind of lucky in this aspect. I am not married and I still live at home with my parents and sisters. Now that it’s summer I have been spending hours and hours on the Internet learning, reading, blogging, shopping, planning, etc. But, I have to share the computer with the other people in my family. For me, it’s easy to spend all day on the computer because the rest of my family is in and out all day. But once everyone gets home I make it a point to get away from the computer, help my mom cook dinner, make a dessert, help clean up, etc. A lot of times we have a movie night or we all lay around and read. It is important to find balance and the two things that help me balance anything are lists and a timer. If I were you Beth, I would make a list of the most important things that needed to be done and set a timer for how long it should take. When the timer goes off, go do something else for a while and then come back if you need too. Decide a certain time for your phone to shut off for the night. The thing with tweets and blogs is, they will be here again tomorrow for you to read. At least you are aware that this could be an issue and you are trying to cut it off before it starts. Good luck!

  6. Anne V Avatar
    Anne V

    I have walked away from the computer several times over the past few months – but each time with a feeling of guilt. What might I be learning? What might I miss? What webtools will I never see? What information will I not be able to pass on to folks who (might) need it?

    This summer I am taking two graduate courses – one of which is a NetCourse Instructional Methods, or learning to teach online. For the other course, I have 90+ minutes of video I have to turn into a movie. I’m on my laptop from 9pm to 1am. My swim club has wireless so 90 minute swim team practices are my morning computer time (thank goodness). During the school year, my preps are like Beth’s- not necessarily my own. I go in extra early, but I need to be home in the afternoon, so I’m on the computer after dinner.

    Otoh, I’ve always found that springtime pulls me to the garden. The end-of-year frustrations at school require a physical (and grungy) outlet. This year, I planted my own seedlings (with varying rates of success), I tripled the size of my garden (uh-oh!), I built a huge triple-bin composter (okay, I found the pattern online). All of these were done with the help of my children and with the eye-rolls of my husband – who will happily eat anything that comes out of the garden! So the weeding and picking get me off the computer.

    Have I found that balance? Not yet. My attention always feels divided. I never feel like I give 100% to anything. I forget appointments and items at the grocery store. I was crying just out of frustration. When I was in college, I remember thinking,”some day it will get easier.” It never has and I guess never will. So, I tend to be rather philosophical about it. I’m human. I try my best. I always wish it could be better. There will never be enough time in a day. But, my family is fed. My house is not (exactly) a mess. My kids and husband do their part.

    And now I need to go back to my schoolwork…

  7. Suzanne Avatar

    Well said and now off goes my computer. My husband will probably wonder what’s wrong.

  8. Betsy Avatar

    I was just thinking about this. I live alone & have my summers off as a teacher. It is hard to pull myself away from my tech world, but I find time to take the dog for a walk, enjoy some crafty time, read a book, take a nap, go out to eat with friends … and it always makes me feel better!

    I’m off to curl up in bed with a book. Thanks for the “push” to unplug tonight! 🙂

  9. Mary Beth Avatar

    Wow, Beth!

    I just blogged about this topic, too! (In response to Vicki Davis’ recent post “Learning at NECC and Beyond.”) I wonder if there’s something in the stars about it. It also seemed like you tapped a nerve with people. After posting my blog entry, I decided to set a timer (on my iPhone, no less!) to keep track of how long I have been on the computer, trying to limit my time so that I spend more time in ‘reality.’

    Keep us updated as to how it goes. I like the idea that Vicki had of ‘Going Off the Grid.” Maybe we could purposely Tweet “I’m OTG today guys!” to let people know we’re taking a day off. Kind of like an ‘out of the office’ automated email reply for our PLN.

  10. Courtney R Avatar
    Courtney R

    Great post Beth. My boyfriend said something to the effect of “on the computer, like you always are” last night. I think I will take your husband’s advice and read this then log off for the night. Thanks for the reminder of keeping our priorities straight!

  11. Tim Avatar

    Great post and a timely reminder that there are more important things than being connected to the world via the web. Rethinking and reaffirming priorities is a good idea and your reminder is much appreciated. I like the OTG idea from Mary Beth.


  12. Kim Avatar

    Beth, I have the same thoughts as I’ve found myself “twittering” away my summer off as a teacher. Although I’ve dreamed of Twitter and URLs (a clear sign I spent too much time on it that day), I have had such valuable insights and references to great information that I can’t give it up!

    Being able to connect to people who care about the same things that I do, and people who love to SHARE, has opened a new world for me.

    I turned down a Blackberry knowing that it would consume me. I’m really glad I did.

    My chiropractor is making lots of money off my tech addiction, BTW! Funny thing is that books never gave me back and shoulder problems.


  13. Kelly Avatar

    Looks like a lot of us share this problem. LOVE my iPhone but you are right, always connected and online. It is hard to find the balance. Maybe we need to start a support group (of course that might require additional online time). We Tweeters maybe need to decide to take a few blackout hours each day so we can enjoy our families and F2F friends.

  14. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    I started to read this post today at lunch and then had to stop since it seemed inappropriate, with F2F family time right in front of me. Mobile access on our vacation has been nice but boudaries are oh so important. Thoughts along these lines continue to inspire me to write a book titled, “Digital Discipline!” it is something we all need to work at, and our kids do too!

  15. magnethart Avatar

    I think this is a great discussion and something that we all think about. Wesley’s post reminded me, my children will learn from my example. If I am to expect them to abide by time limits online, then I need to be able abide by those time limits as well. I know to show them that family is first in my life.


  16. Suzanne Avatar

    Thanks, Beth, for the post. I second what has been written above. For the record, a took a screen-free week this summer at a family reunion and they were all pleasantly surprised that I didn’t bring the laptop or hang on the smart phone. That was telling, given that none of them live with me yet they know how much time I spend connected. I saw in that moment how dishonored they feel when I interact more with the gadgets than with the people I love.

    I often wonder how people have time to teach, run a family, nurture their PLN, blog, run trainings, teach online, etc. etc. I am single with kids grown and still have trouble finding time to keep up with my paltry plate full: a full-time teaching job, an occasional online course, and an occasional training to plan and/or run. How do the amazing educational technology leaders of our time build these amazing CV’s while they are also prolific in blogging, coaching, ustreaming, speaking, and training? And how to they continue to do so while they are spending so much time on Twitter? You know the folks to whom I refer. I admire all they accomplish yet I think they must be connected MORE than 24/7. I wish someone would explain that to me.

    I’m trying hard to grow in my skills and contribute to my PLN but it’s difficult to do that, put in the 55-60 hours per week my teaching job requires, and still have a healthy portion of friends, family, exercise, etc. I feel I must be doing something wrong that I can’t do all that — but your post and the comments remind me that others struggle with the same thing.

    In any event, the reminder about getting, having, and keeping a life off-screen is well-timed and incredibly important! Thanks again.

  17. nebraskavirtualteacher Avatar

    I was a little hesitant to write this post because it is such a personal topic, yet all of us who spend any time at all online are affected by it. I guess I would rather put my thoughts out there and start a discussion then just pretend like this is not an issue.

    One of the things that a few of you mention was that you try to keep your PLN time confined to school time. While that is a great idea for some it will not work for everyone. I am lucky enough to work for a forward thinking district that actually encourages me to use Twitter and other networking sites during the day when I am not in the classroom. Other teachers work in districts where all of these sites are blocked. I don’t know about the rest of you, but some of my colleagues that I work very closely with are not even in the same time zone!

    I can tell that many of you feel strongly about the incredible power your PLN has. It is an amazing and very empowering feeling to know that you can control your own learning.

    Thanks for the thoughtful responses on this topic. I would love for you to follow my lead and pull up this post for someone in your family to read and comment on. It is always useful to get the perspective from someone who is NOT the addict!

  18. Cheryl Oakes Avatar

    Beth, I love that there have been so many people in this conversation and than no one has admitted that they have a solution! It is the balance we all try to find with our exercising, food intake, community service, supporting our PLN, sharing our experiences, writing, reading, learning. I am going to learn to geocache this summer and something will have to wiggle out of my way as I do that. I am going on a vacation with my 80 year old mother to PEI in two weeks. Again, something, well lots of somethings, will wiggle out of my way as we travel, talk and listen. I think we all have to remember that we have passion about our learning, our PLN’s, our recreation and when we listen to ourselves and others we will constantly be seeking balance. Balance is not static, balance is living, breathing, changing and making choices. Good luck as we travel this winding road.

  19. Jason Neiffer Avatar

    This issue is close to me too. I don’t have kids but I know my wife feels neglected when I am embroiled in my technology world: Google Talk, Twitter, Gmail and a Google Reader constantly throwing information at me. I am not sure if I have an answer for myself other than learning to walk away as well. I am not that good at it, but I have been working hard to log off all of the services at a certain time at night. I always ask myself whether or not I am doing something productive and if I am not… walk away. Good topic, Beth…

  20. Kelly Avatar

    hi beth. this is a topic that hits too close to home for me. i was constantly on the net at work and at home, and my husband got pretty involved too. about 2 years ago we realised that we spent a lot of time together…but apart on two different laptops (we had 3 at home). we knew we had to pull the plug or things were going to get ugly. and while this is hugely personal, i think it affects too many people to be quiet about it. so i’ll admit it wasn’t just my relationship that was being sidelined, it was my whole “real” life – my relationships with all the people i see f2f every day.

    it took about 6 months to get through the withdrawal, and i still crave it and relapse periodically, but i feel we have managed a much better balance with our online lives. i am fortunate enough to have a school that purposely unblocks social networking sites so the staff can use them during the day, thank goodness, or i don’t know if i would have made it, as i feel my online life is what brings me the energy and innovation to teach all day every day.

    so what do we do? this: when i am at school, i have free access to my online life. i get in early, check all my networks, and plan out my day (and free time). but when 4 o’clock rolls around, it’s time for home, so i go home and spend time with my family, with none of us plugged in to anything, and really *listen*. i don’t bring my laptop home with me except for weekends. my husband doesn’t need a computer for work so doesn’t have one anymore. we now only have 1 very old laptop at home for sporadic internet use – when our dd needs something for school, or my husband wants to upload photos or check email. and we took out the wireless card, so if someone wants to use the computer they have to go to the cold office and actually *sit there* while they are doing whatever it is. yuck! but it encourages whomever to get back to the heart of the house where the people are pretty quickly.

    the upside? i remembered that i have these fantastic people that i chose to build a life with, and am actively continuing to build it with them, together. my relationships have flourished in ways i didn’t even imagine, say, 3 years ago, and we are all much closer as a family. as much as i like my online relationships and value their input and sharing, my family must and should come first and foremost, because they are the ones i would be heartbroken to lose. i also now have time to go the gym 3 days a week, though i’m not sure that’s an upside!

    on the downside, the cat likes my lap much less now that it’s not constantly being kept warm by a laptop. that’s really the only downside. honest.

    i encourage you to figure out how much time you really need to spend online, then find a way to be offline when you are at home. you really won’t miss anything; after all, anything posted you can go back and read later! (that’s what i spend the first hour of my day doing!)

    i totally agree with suzanne about the, erm, “digiteachers” was the word i heard at a conference last week, though i don’t prefer it. while i really admire everything wes and people like him do, i often wonder when he sleeps!

  21. Carolyn Stanley Avatar

    Dear Beth,
    I was so touched and challenged by your post and by reading all of the comments that follow. I, too, find it very difficult to find balance. I just love following all of you wonderful educators, learning from you, and hopefully contributing something of worth myself. It’s just that it sometimes becomes addictive. One post leads to another. In Twitter, it is not reading the posts that takes the time but following all the wonderful links to valuable resources. I have just started developing a PLN this past January, and it’s exciting to have made connections with other educators who almost seem like personal friends. I also purchased an iPhone as a gift to myself for finishing my 11th year of teaching the second-time around. (I taught English for 10 years before my children were born, took off nearly 20, and returned as a computer technology integration teacher in 1998.) It was exciting to be connected to my email while I was visiting with relatives in Maine where getting an internet connection for my laptop is very inconvenient. I DID NOT overdo the time I was on the iPhone, I will admit, and I did a lot of face to face visiting plus a lot of walking around the lovely town of Camden, Maine.
    But now I am home, and I’ve been sitting at this computer for nearly three hours straight. I did take time to make lunch for my husband and my son. My husband is nearly as bad as I am. He does genealogy and spends hours on the computer connecting bits and pieces of information, much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
    I think over the next two weeks I will be spending a lot of time on the computer, catching up on NINGs I belong to, and trying to focus on what I need to learn to bring back to my school come fall. However, I will also make sure to schedule time to enjoy my family, my friends, and my backyard. In fact, I’m shutting down the lid of my laptop right after I finish this comment. (I might take my iPhone into the backyard – never know when a good picture op will present itself:)