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Work & Life Out of Balance? Integrate!

SelectOne
Thu, Aug 20, 2015

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Nearly 64% of Americans have a smartphone, a figure that has doubled in the past four years alone.  Even more telling, 96% of American workers are connected to work via smartphone, laptop, or tablet as of 2014.

 Dying are the days of the traditional “9-5” workday; professionals are putting in longer hours, but are increasingly spreading their work between the office, home and in between, seeking a flexible environment whereby they can drive variations to their schedules based upon their professional and personal lives.  

I began my career at a Big Four Public Accounting firm, and the notion of Work-Life Balance was all the rage back then.  This concept never really made any sense to me, especially during my half-year-long busy season when I would find myself working upwards of 75 hours per week, neglecting the basics of regular meals, laundry, and (gasp) sleep.  

Work-Life Balance implies life is on some sliding scale where there's clear delineation between work life and personal life.  Maybe this was the case ten years ago, but not anymore. 

Crazy time stamps routinely find themselves onto emails I send and receive.  Sometimes my most productive times are a random Saturday afternoon, or late Friday night after the kids go to bed.  Yet, it’s rare for me to physically be in the office longer than 40 or 45 hours each week.  

Sometimes I leave early to get to the gym one extra day per week.  I go in late if the opportunity to cook breakfast with my family presents itself.  All of these things have helped me to embrace Work-Life Integration.  

No, this doesn’t mean work creeps into all facets and days of my life.  And it certainly doesn’t mean I blow off professional deadlines or miss important opportunities. We’re in an ever-increasingly real time business environment, so figuring out how to properly integrate professional and personal spheres goes a long way toward achieving success and happiness.

Find what is important to you…  And do it!  Have young kids?  Spend time with them. Passionate about exercising?  Carve out time to do it.  Have a hobby?  Commit to finding the time to maintain it.  Excuses for not doing the things you really want to do will only render you less productive and satisfied at work, feeling like work has become the reason you sacrifice the things you truly want out of life.

Shake the smartphone addiction once and for all!  Last year, I attended TedxBuffalo, and one of the talks was on smartphone addiction.  Since then, I've started paying attention to how much I pull my iPhone out of my pocket, and it’s been alarming!  No email is so important you need to read and respond to it in less than five minutes.  

Leaving your phone in another room, or even turning it off for periods of time won’t render you utterly disconnected – on the contrary, it will help you stay more mindful and in the moment in whatever you are doing, work or personal. 

Be mindful in an age of complexity.  One of my favorite HBR articles of all-time, based on research by Ellen Langer, has morphed into a training exercise of sorts, for our teams. How many times have you been working on one thing but completely preoccupied and stressed about something else entirely?  Or been spending time with your family, meanwhile experiencing heartburn about a big deadline looming at work?  

We’ve all been there. A key to effectively integrating work and personal lives lies in being mindful and in the moment. Any time spent thinking of something else while doing any activity renders the thing you’re actually doing at that moment less productive, efficient, and enjoyable! 

Find an employer that embraces flexibility.  Given our business, we run into all types of company cultures, some flexible and embracing of professional responsibility, and some still holding on to traditional workplace tenets.  My wife and I have two young girls, and days are filled with trips to and from daycare, school, doctors’ offices, supermarkets, parks, etc.  

Our routine is simply that we have no routine.  

So trying to make “work time” fit into some nice, neat, clean, uniform 9-5 time box is nearly impossible.  But I know when things need to get done, and I do them.  We’ve built a high performance team and culture where people understand the same and are given the flexibility and latitude to achieve great results on their own schedule.  

Find time to unplug… and do it!  Unplugging for an evening can be refreshing.  But unplugging for a few days or even weeks can be utterly liberating.  To the extent possible, if taking a vacation, try to situate things so an actual vacation from work is possible.  Do this by providing adequate notice and warning to coworkers, vendors, and customers, and transitioning workflow to others when/if possible.  If ongoing responsibilities, projects, and deadlines render going completely off the grid out of the question, set daily designated times where you’ll check emails, respond to voicemails, and follow up as necessary.

Finding periods of time to disconnect will reduce the odds of becoming resentful at the necessary connected times to toggle between work and personal activities.

Integration in this context is appropriately defined as behavior of an individual that is in harmony with the environment. Balancing professional and personal lives as a point in time works in the moment, but achieving proper integration requires a focus on figuring out how to mindfully toggle at appropriate intervals between these two worlds; this is an ever-changing exercise.  I get these things wrong far too often!  I’ll catch myself pulling my phone out of my pocket during a family dinner, thinking about a deadline at work while reading my kids a book, or checking emails multiple times per day while supposedly on vacation… But being more conscious of pursuing integration by heeding the advice aggregated above has helped me become incrementally more tuned in to living in the moment, being happier, and driving better outcomes at work.

 

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