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Real-life examples of how to find a healthy work-life balance that fits you. And how to communicate it to your team.
One afternoon in Barcelona’s Poblenou neighborhood, I found myself torn between work obligations and family time. While strolling with my partner and toddler by the beach, my phone and watch buzzed incessantly with email notifications.
Although I knew from the titles of those emails that they could wait until I returned to work the week after, I struggled to resist the urge to respond immediately. This internal struggle left me feeling distracted and unable to be present with my loved ones.
As a UX research professional who has worked both as a consultant and in-house, I’ve come to realize that work-life balance is not a one-size-fits-all concept. The same practice may make you feel grounded while leaving someone else unbalanced. With that in mind, I’ll do two things in this post:
1️⃣ Discuss the value that UX Research brings to tech companies compared to other disciplines such as engineering, and explore how that has implications for work-life balance.
2️⃣ Admit that I’ve made some mistakes that had consequences for my work-life balance and the partnerships I’ve built at work. I’ll offer tips to help overcome these mistakes.
An engineer vs a UX Researcher
My partner is an engineer who specializes in release management, and we both work mostly from home. This provides me with a comparative approach to work-life balance in UX Research and engineering.
While engineering teams are frequently pulled into war rooms to tackle P0 situations that have both serious and immediate consequences for the product’s revenue and reputation, UX Research rarely needs to be available outside of regular working hours.
For example, engineers in product teams might do rotations of people “on duty” to handle hotfixes. UX Researchers, on the other hand, may need to attend to pressing needs such as running user sessions outside of regular working hours. Once I interviewed someone based in Kabul, Afghanistan on a Saturday morning due to local time differences and workdays (e.g., Friday is a holiday in Afghanistan, and Saturday is a regular workday). But even then, I felt that I had control over my calendar because I chose when to leave an open spot for the research participant to book me.
To be clear: UX Research is no less valuable than engineering. I’m a firm believer that UX Research is essential to ensuring that the product is capable to meet the needs of its users and has a comparative advantage over its competitors. At the same time, it’s worth recognizing that the nature of UX Research work is different from engineering and other technical fields. And this affects how work-life balance can be defined differently for our role.
As UX Researchers, our work involves making ongoing efforts towards generating actionable insights, making relevant recommendations, disseminating them, and actively getting involved in how those insights take form within the product. This requires sustained effort and collaboration with stakeholders, but it can be done during regular working hours if the researcher is organized, however they may choose to set their working hours.
Overall, work-life balance in UX Research is about finding sustainable and predictable ways to work with others toward a shared goal. While engineering may require more immediate attention to urgent tasks, UX Research can deliver value by making incremental progress and working with more predictable routines.
In the end, I feel like practicing UX Research is like rowing: you need to have the right technique, and the right pace, and you need to make a consistent effort to move (things) in the right direction. This is quite unlike playing football where the results might boil down to one single goal scored in a single moment. You know what I mean? It’s worth keeping the image of a rower in mind when rethinking our work-life balance as UX Research professionals.
Some mistakes I’ve made and the lessons I’ve learned
❌ Not being explicit about my routines and work schedule
As a full-time worker and mother of two, I face a lot of competing demands every day. From getting a dentist appointment for one kid to ordering the vaccines for the other; from preparing for a 1–1 meeting to running a workshop or giving feedback for a UX Research report. All the while, I’m cooking and cleaning and breastfeeding, and changing diapers. This means that I might not always be able to concentrate on work, even during my “normal” working hours.
To balance everything, I often do async work after dinner for an hour or so to catch up. There are things you can schedule-send (e.g., emails, slack messages). But scheduling comments on documents is still not an option. As a consequence, before I knew it, I appeared to work 24/7 (e.g., especially in Covid times during which we all worked mostly remotely and couldn’t easily get a sense of each others’ routines or constraints). I’ve realized that this can create the impression that I’m all the time, which is not the case.
I’m grateful for the flexible working arrangements that allow me to balance my family responsibilities with my job, but I recognize that I need to be more explicit about my routines and work schedule to avoid setting unrealistic expectations for others.
In hindsight, I should have been more open about my situation and communicated more clearly with my colleagues about how my work days looked like. I now realize that my earlier mistakes could have put pressure on more junior team members or new hires to work long hours, which is not healthy or sustainable.
✅ Tip: It pays off to be open and transparent with your team about your ways of working, and how it fits into your life. Encourage your colleagues to do the same, so that you can better understand each other’s needs and work together more comfortably and efficiently.
With your team, don’t just talk about work. Spend some time to discuss how you work, and where work fits into your life at large. Encourage your teammates to do the same, so you can also better understand where they’re coming from. This would help you folks work together more efficiently.
❌ Not being upfront about my expectations in a collaboration
This bit complements the earlier mistake. Not only I hadn’t talked openly about my ways of working, outside-of-work needs, and routines, but also I hadn’t clarified in my collaborations my expectations.
Not having a clear idea on that front, and on top of that seeing my comments and other contributions on late nights, my team assumed that I was seeking an urgent answer. Even if I hadn’t had such expectations, because I hadn’t explicitly stated it, others might have felt like that.
This has two major consequences both for the business and for the trust and happiness that gets built in collaboration. Firstly, if everything is urgent, then nothing is urgent. It would reduce the quality of the outcomes of the team if we’re all rushing and defining our success based only on speed but not much on quality. Secondly, the relationships built at work could be drained by stress and anxiety. This sort of thing can trigger a burnout culture that can rather be avoided.
✅ Tip: Put a clear ideal timeline for the communication. If you need an answer by Wed EOD, say so. If you need it in 2 weeks, clarify it so that people can reshuffle their priorities to accommodate that comfortably. In a nutshell, explicitly stating the degree of urgency and importance of the subject could help others to orient themselves accordingly. They might disagree, which is no problem, but at least you start off removing ambiguity.
❌ Not disconnecting from work to refresh
If I’m honest, this is the hardest one for me still. I’ve shared earlier that it’s hard to make caregiving duties work out together with the professional duties within UX Research in a fast-moving tech company. I don’t think there’s a fixed answer or one-size-fits-for-all solution.
One way to make it work, at least for me, can be summarized as follows: anticipation. Since I know that kids will come up with a bunch of surprises (e.g., too sick to go to daycare), I create a “savings” account for work so that I can have more flexibility later on in such situations.
Unlike someone else with not many caregiving duties, I cannot stick to my pre-established work calendar because I don’t know how the next day will look like (e.g., I can only hope 😅). So I do a little bit of work whenever I get the chance.
Then of course, the challenge becomes this: I might not disconnect from work as much as I need to so that I can refresh myself, rest, and prepare myself to come up with the best ideas later on.
✅ Tip: I don’t think there’s an easy answer for this challenge. But essentially, I believe it boils down to practicing the muscle of knowing that there are more things to do — anticipated or otherwise — but having the courage to stay with them for a while. For example, when you receive so many emails, and you’re tempted to reply to them all because you’re afraid to forget about them, you can add them to your drafts folder. That way, you know you won’t skip them by mistake. Similarly, it would help to build stop signs, focus on breathing, and try out some meditation if that’s your cup of tea (e.g., could also be exercising). For instance, you can block a 15 mins break and practice not doing any work, and sit down with your thoughts without any knee-jerk reaction.
To wrap up
In this post, I draw from my personal experiences of working within the UX Research field to explore what work-life balance might mean for us. Upon comparing our work with those of engineers, I discuss the unique value that UX Research brings to tech, and how UX Researchers can approach work-life balance in a way that brings value to their product, and in essence, to the end users.
I also discuss some of my earlier mistakes that had consequences for my work-life balance and that of my close team of collaborators. In the tips sections, I am sharing my learnings with the faith that it can be helpful to you.
What are your thoughts? Thanks for reading!
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