The great PBS NewsHour work-life balance experiment

Last month, we devised a company-wide social experiment. In pursuit of work-life balance, we would each choose one thing we love but can’t seem fit into our lives, and for one week, we would fit it into our lives. We’d just find a way to do it. How hard could it be?

It all came about after a flurry of late-night emails made our phones buzz on our nightstands. Our partners, pets and children woke up, cranky. We determined, it was time to address the “life” part of our work-life balance. So that became the subject of our newest theme week.

It wasn’t easy. We are journalists. To be tethered to the news is to be knocked around by it. We cancel plans. We check our Twitter feeds when we’re with our kids. And don’t even bother inviting us to happy hour. We always wish we could, but we always can’t make it. This isn’t unique to journalists, of course. The U.S. ranks abysmally low on work-life balance.

So about that experiment. We chose running, swimming and biking. We vowed to write letters to old friends. Dance for an hour every day. Do creative things with our kids. Play music. Read a book. Unplug. For a week, we tried it. There was a spreadsheet of activities. We held a meeting. And we reported back.

It was, at first, a sobering meeting. Many of us had failed. Our bike tires were flat. Our guitar strings were broken. Our kids didn’t care that we had embraced our inner preschool teacher, and rejected our crafty activities.

But we learned a few things too. We procrastinated by doing things that were slightly more productive than things we normally do. Instead of reading books, we did two hours of “sweaty rain-soaked yardwork.” Instead of riding our bike, we took our bike to the shop, and that was a step in the right direction. Instead of writing letters, we went to softball practice. Instead of doing Martha Stewart-quality crafts, we filmed our kids shooting hoops.

And we gave ourselves a break. We drank two glasses of wine. We played “LEGO Lord of the Rings” on Xbox. We slept.

Work-life balance isn’t static, we learned. The things we think we should do don’t always improve our days. Read: sometimes exercise isn’t the answer. Sometimes it upsets the balance. When we let go of judgment and paid closer attention to our families and ourselves, we were happier than when we tried to force another piece into an already overstuffed pie.

We learned that work-life balance isn’t defined by goals, expectations or Pinterest, but by needs. Our bodies needed rest. Our minds needed distraction. Our yards needed trimming. And you know what? The rest could wait until tomorrow. Achieving balance was about accepting that.

Every day this week, we’ll have stories on work-life balance. Among them, how to add an extra hour to your day, the importance of doing things alone and how the time manager manages his time. Find them all here. We hope you’ll find the time.