Does work/life balance conjure up images of an evenly balanced scale? A perfect 50/50 division of labor obligations and domestic bliss: dedicated amount of time for work; dedicated amount of time for life.
Work/life balance is unrealistic for most. Often times, the work portion and the life one battle each other. Work issues bleed into family time. Personal obligations infiltrate work hours. They merge and bind throughout the week. This can cause stress or anxiety. Why? Because this idea exists that we should be balancing the two harmoniously instead of weaving them into daily life.
And that is where the theory of work/life integration comes in. It is a more holistic view of everyday life. Instead of crafting hard lines of demarcation as to when work ends and play begins, work/life integration focuses on finding ways to have both exist side by side. It is a gentler approach to that evenly balanced scale where professional and personal tasks are handled as needed.
By taking this more realistic approach, it can become easier to feel like you are not neglecting anything important. You may feel less stressed, and even more fulfilled. The thought of accomplishing tasks may not seem so overwhelming either because they will feel achievable.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some drawbacks to integrating the two. It can be easy for one area of your life to overcome the other. This can then lead to guilt, which is not the best thing either. Work/life intergration is not meant to solve all your problems.
Remember that life will not be same from week to week. There will be times when work will overtake most of your brain power and times when personal matters will take precedence. The key is to focus on trying to come up with a mix that still brings calm and happiness to your life. Integration is synergy at its finest. Trying to find the perfect mix that seamlessly weaves both your work life and your personal life can take some time and dedication to accomplish. And that’s fine; it’s a work in progress, not an end result.
Need some ways to make work/life integration work for you? Try the following:
Be Realistic: Don’t take on more than you can possibly do (and do well). If your personal life includes running errands for loved ones, shuttling children, and cooking meals day after day, consider taking it down a notch. See if any of these responsibilities can shift to someone else. The same thing at work. You do not have to be on every team you are asked on. The time it zaps from you may not be worth it. Learn to say no when needed so that you can have the availability to take on the things that you do feel passionate about.
Work from Home: If possible, depending on the job, working from home can have some benefits. You can work on laundry in between meetings, start prepping dinner, or take a mid-morning walk to the local café. The change of scenery can do you well. Working from home also boosts productivity. A study conducted by Stanford University found that a 13% increase in productivity occurs when employees work from home. So if you tend to be at your best at 5:00 a.m., you can dive into those emails while sipping some tea on the couch, rather than waiting until you arrive at work to do so.
Take Mental Health Days: This can sound like a luxury to some, but your mental health is important. If you are feeling overwhelmed, overworked, or off kilter, taking a mental health day may be the key. Most states that mandate employers to offer sick pay include mental health. Schedule one — guilt free. It is a wonderful way to recharge yourself and keep going. Focusing on your health instead of work tasks and meetings, can leave you refreshed, and better rested, which studies have shown lead to increased productivity when you do go back to tackling work tasks.
Create a Schedule: Work/life integration is not about having no structure to your day. It does not mean you simply let everything happen haphazardly. Creating a schedule can help add structure to the day; however, your schedule does not need to be delineated into two chunks of time: one for work and one for personal time. Keep distractions at bay by scheduling your day to include both work responsibilities (appointments, dedicated get-things-done-time, etc.) and personal obligations (dinner with friends, daily walks, hobbies). Scheduling also helps ensure special events are attended and mundane tasks do not overshadow the important things in life. It may also help you realize you have more free time than previously thought once you plug in the important to-do’s.
Use Tech: Yes use tech. Stay connected to your phone. Tech is not all bad. Sure, almost everyone has fallen into the social media trap at one point or another (hours of endless dog videos sound familiar?); but it links us in ways that seemed impossible even twenty years ago. Use electronics and apps to your advantage. If emailing is a necessary part of your work, don’t feel obligated to stay at work just so you can finish answering emails. You can answer emails while you wait in line at the grocery store or as you prepare a meal. Most correspondence or meetings can happen online if you work permits it. Step away from your workplace to enjoy some me time, while still engaging in work. You can make the kid’s soccer game or early morning dentist appointment while you are still “on the clock”. It may just take a little planning (and the right job environment), but it can be done.
Flexibility is key. There are days when personal relationships will take the back seat and those people will have to be okay with that. There will be days when you feel your life is consumed with a work deadline or a never-ending to-do list. Your day will not be perfect – far from it, but shifting to a more realistic approach can help you find a manageable method to work and personal obligations that work for you.