Between December 2016 and January 2017, about 20 knowledge workers from inside and outside academia came along to our hands-on workshops on how to take control of work-life balance. Five identical workshops, funded by the EPSRC’s Balance Network, were held at UCL and led by Marta E. Cecchinato.

The first session covered some brainstorming activities to explore and identify key elements in participants’ use of technology that affected their work-life balance. The two activities were geared towards identifying both positive aspects and main issues to be changed.

Reflection cards. A set of 14 cards was created, each displaying an image which represented various digital devices (e.g. smartphone, laptops, calendars), activities (e.g. working from home, doing physical activity), concepts (e.g. digital detox), and communication channels (e.g. WhatsApp , email notifications). Each participant received a set of cards and were asked to choose which images fell into one of three categories, using coloured dots: 1. something I could not live without, 2. something I want to get rid of, and 3. something I want to improve.

Images were left without descriptions to allow participants to interpret them as they wish. When sharing their choices with the group, interesting conversations sparked when cards differed. In some cases, other participants added coloured stickers to their choice, while in other cases participants became aware of features in apps or behaviours they had never considered.

Further discussions were prompted using key questions that made participants reflect on and share their own experience on the practical issues that come with the use of digital technology and negatively impact work-life balance. A common theme was that related to time management, as well as information overload, tied together by the idea that participants didn’t know where to start from to tackle the issues.

Scenario of future self. Participants were given a storyboard template with short prompts to help them identify the main character of their story, their goals, the roadblock that prevented them from achieving their goal, some form of solution, and a final positive ending. This activity encouraged them to prioritise their issues and envisage what their world would look like. Just like in the reflection card activity, participants were left free to decide how to complete the storyboard and what timeframe they wanted to use.

The second half of the workshop was targeted towards presenting research-informed strategies that could help participants tackle at least some of the issues they had discussed in the first half of the day. The strategies were presented in a booklet which participants could keep, and were divided into 5 sections: email management, other communication channels managements, time management, notification management, expectation management.

Participants were then left some time to read through the booklet and decide which strategy would best help them. They were asked to pick at least one to implement there and then on their devices, write it down, and share it with the rest of the group. Most participants selected not just one, but multiple strategies to implement for the following two weeks.

Follow-up interviews were scheduled after two weeks to find out how participants got on with their new strategies, what they kept, what they changed, what worked, and what didn’t.