When relaxing at home, Confucius was comfortable and leisurely and cheerful and agreeable.
How to balance our working and personal lives? This is becoming an increasingly difficult challenge thanks to the ubiquity of the smart phone and the globalized on-demand economy.
The simple answer to this question is to unplug the moment you leave the office. Except of course this is next-to-impossible for most us because we also need the device for personal usage and keeping in touch with friends and family — not to mention allaying the lurking fear in the back of our heads that something urgent might happen at work that will require our attention. No wonder many of us feel so stressed by the constant need to be connected 24/7.
Some countries in Europe have attempted to address this issue with laws and policies governing email usage outside of working hours. This is a useful step towards restoring a healthier life-work balance, but it could also risk reducing the global competitiveness of companies affected against their rivals in other less-regulated countries.
I say “could” rather than “does” because being constantly connected doesn’t necessarily mean being productive. Indeed, the constant pressure of having to be always available probably leads to a greatly reduced capacity for rationality, creativity, and effective decision-making.
Unfortunately, even the most well-intentioned legislation won’t provide a complete solution for life-work balance. Achieving that has to be up to each and every one of us.
Confucius points to a possible direction to follow with the “comfortable and leisurely and cheerful and agreeable” demeanor he adopts while relaxing at home and the serious attitude he adopts when he is engaged in affairs outside it. In both cases, he is respecting the purpose of each particular environment by adopting the appropriate behavior and mood it has been created for. Rather than allowing himself to be distracted by other concerns, he thus succeeds in making the most of every single moment he is in.
As much as we like to think that we can multi-task, the truth is that we are at our best when we focus on one single task. In other words, when relaxing at home switch off from all your other concerns. You’ll be all the more ready to deal with them when it’s time to get back to work.
This article features a translation of Chapter 4 of Book 7 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 7 here.
I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Changhua, Taiwan.