Museolutions: Keeping a work/life/the-work-you-do-for-free-on-the-internet balance in 2018

As the first week of 2018 ends, I have been reflecting on how well I have kept up with my New Year’s Resolutions so far (or, as I am trying to think of it, have I made small steps this week towards my wider goals?).

I’ve been seeing the hashtag #Museolutions pop up on my timeline over the last couple of weeks, and scrolling through the tweets it seems plenty of people I follow are making museum-focused resolutions. These tended to fall into two camps: those which concerned goals around museum jobs, (eg. This year I will complete documentation for all new acquisitions asap to avoid adding to the backlog) and those concerned with extra-curricular activities (I will tweet/blog more, I will visit more exhibitions). It struck me that when I was considering what my goals were for 2018, anything museum-related was very much in the latter camp. Perhaps this is because I try not to take my actual job home with me, but I don’t mind mentally ‘taking home’ the additional labour of networking and engaging with debates in the sector.

I think museum workers can often suffer from a poor work/life balance, because we are often also museum lovers. When your work is concerned with a leisure activity you can find yourself on a lot of busman’s holidays. When something doesn’t feel like work you don’t mind doing it in your spare time. There are a few other factors at play here too. A certain amount of the extra-curricular #Museolutions are concerned with looking cool on the internet, whether it is Instagramming pics of gallery visits, getting more retweets, or blogging. These activities can be enriching and useful ways of meeting like-minded people, getting yourself known, or they can simply be fun, but if you feel compelled to do it and have to force yourself into a rigorous content schedule, is it fun anymore? I looked backed over my notes from this time last year, which included some ideas about using Instagram more in connection with this blog. I watched a few skill share classes and uploaded a few heavily edited posts, but ultimately it slipped down my list of priorities and fell by the wayside. I had to admit to myself that I didn’t really know who I wanted to engage with the posts, it wouldn’t do me or my career any good to get lots of likes on the ‘gram, and it was more about the appeal of being cool on the internet. This is not to say I disapprove of social media resolutions (why else would I be writing my first post in months on January 7th?). It’s just that one of my takeaways this year has been to pick your battles, and not waste time and energy getting involved in every platform and trend if it does not suit you or the audience you hope to engage with.

During 2017 I started a new part-time job and took on various freelance assignments to make up the shortfall. The adjustment was, in a word, stressful. So much so that at one point I found myself taking an NHS ‘Managing your Stress’ course. One of the key messages was about compartmentalising the different areas of your life, so that if one of them goes tits up, everything else can stay in balance. (The leader used the metaphor of an ocean liner, where if one compartment fills with water, the other separate compartments stay safe, so the whole ship doesn’t sink). This made me reflect on the added pressure we can put on ourselves to do extra-curricular museum activities, and the blurring of work, leisure and social life that results. Would it be better to completely compartmentalise museums away as ‘work’ and spend more of my leisure time focussing on other interests? Again, I think a balance can be struck. If you enjoy all the extra work and it enriches your experience, that’s great. But do not forget that it is work. Make time for it, but make time for real leisure and relaxation too.

With regards to having actual work-you-are-being-paid-for goals be part of your New Year’s Resolutions, this kind of blew my mind. From my experience in different roles, museums can struggle with having concrete goals to work towards. Often funders will have a set of outcomes for a project to report against, but for the day to day, bread and butter tasks of a role I have often not been given a specific set of targets. This can depend on the organisation and the individual manager (often there is a system in place for setting targets, but it does not get used meaningfully in practice, for many reasons). For me, having goals and targets helps me feel on top of things, and know that I am making progress. I have become much better at proactively setting goals in my life outside of work, and maybe I need to transfer this attitude into my work life. When you are in a position where you know your role well enough, you know what you want to achieve, what you consider success and what you need to get done to make sure you leave your desk at the end of day feeling like you’ve done a good job. Setting your own targets or resolutions is a great way to keep on top of your work in a way that doesn’t add to stress or lead to you taking work home with you. So in this first week at work I took some time to look at my priorities for the first quarter of the year, what I would like to achieve, and to work out what was realistically achievable. Of course, if you are really struggling with juggling work tasks its always best to discuss this with your manager, but it was an interesting exercise in being accountable to myself and what I consider a job well done.

Maybe the reason we put more #Museolution energy into the work we do outside of work is precisely because it is voluntary. If we don’t resolve to do it then it will not get done. At work, (hopefully) we will get our tasks done because we are being paid to, and because it is expected of us. We can end up putting more energy into the work we are not getting paid for, because it is more visible and social, and we want to share it with our peers. This year I want to channel some of that New Year enthusiasm into my day job, so that I am focusing my energy on doing my best work, and not just tweeting about it.