How to balance your life: N-1

The concept of n-1 came up in a conversation with some friends over a video call (because this is how we hang out in 2021). “N-1” was the response my friend, Kyle gave to me when I asked him how does he know what his limits are in terms of juggling his time. Kyle’s answer was simple, and went something along the lines of this:  

“If I say okay, what is a realistic number of hours I can work in a day? Hypothetically, say that is 8 hours. Then acknowledge the fact that you might struggle to get into working or procrastinate for a while.”

 So you need to bank in that extra hour (or in my case hours). You also need to factor in rest time for yourself. And this is something I have struggled with. Between juggling my studies, living through a global pandemic, losing my job and starting my own company – rest time sounded like a nice-to-have but was non-essential.  

Except it was. Like many young people today, I too promote toxic work habits like working until 3 am only to wake up early to go to work and survive purely off caffeine, adrenaline and anxiety for the rest of the day until I can crawl into bed.  

This has been my life since I started working and studying and has led to several bouts of burnout and poor mental health. So how do we reach balance or n – 1? In my case, I knew I had to make a choice. If I did not stop working less/found time to rest, my body was not going to carry me and my mental health would only deteriorate more.  

And so, with my start-up only being roughly 5 months old, I started only coming into the office two days a week and started working from home the rest of the time. This allows me to focus on finishing my Masters in Public Health and my own well-being. The separation has not been the smoothest journey. I am concerned about GrabAGrad and how the burden of running the company is being pushed onto my business partners. The only reason I am able to slowly break away from these toxic work habits I have developed is due to the support of my community.

Without the support of my business partners, family, friends, and various support structures – I would not have been able to take this step back. My community, and especially my business partners, have created a conducive work environment to allow me to pursue my studies without guilt or criticism which has allowed me to take the time I need. They have allowed me to prioritise my Masters studies and my own well-being. And that has enabled me to establish a better N-1 sort of model.

These are some of the helpful tips and tricks I have learned along the way:  

  1. Every day, I am one step closer to having my Master’s degree – as I am constantly affirmed by my business partner, Thando.  
  1. Working from home can be isolating and it is okay to have a day when you are not particularly productive. If your anxiety is not letting you take a break like mine, write out the list of things you have to do and leave it aside. The act of writing down your list will help put your mind at ease.  
  1. Find the best time to work for you, and stick to those times. Mine are still in the middle of the night or the wee hours of the morning.

Working yourself to the point of burn out is not worth it so remember to listen to your body – it will tell you when you are overexerting yourself.

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