Everyone strives to achieve a work/life balance, yet very few people feel they achieve it. Vanessa Bennett explains that the idea of balance can be seen as a trend rather than an actual resolution to stress and burnout. We tend to glorify being busy so much that even our ‘balance’ time is filled with different relaxation activities that we end up exhausted.
We’re told to ‘separate’ our work and personal lives, to ‘be present’ with our loved ones, and ‘switch off’ from the office – but this strategy can end up causing more stress and scatter for some.
For just a moment, let’s consider that work/life balance isn’t for everyone, and maybe it’s time to consider the effectiveness of integration on our performance, happiness and health.
Do we actually want work/life balance?
Balance: a situation in which different elements are equal
In the traditional sense of the word, I am going to suggest a definitive no! Out of 168 hours in a week do we really want balance by working for half (84) of those? We typically work for only a quarter of the week (45 hours) yet it can take such a toll on the quality of our remaining 123 hours.
So, if we don’t really want a balance between work and life, the question becomes, how do we achieve integration that maximises our performance, happiness and health?
Does work/life integration make more sense?
Integrate: combine (one thing) with another to form a whole.
Integration is the perfect way for us to consider our lives in a healthy way. When we talk about work/life balance we are automatically suggesting that work is in the ‘non-life’ category. For many people their passion is their work. They may enjoy spending time immersed in work because they love what they do and are energised by it. So trying to split themselves into two categories and ‘switch-off’ can cause stress, and just be fundamentally unproductive. They don’t even see it as work in the traditional sense, they enjoy what they do and happen to get paid for it.
There are countless mantra’s telling us to ‘switch off at night’, ‘leave work at the office’ and separate our lives into work and non-work. But integration can often bring a higher level of happiness and productivity than balance.
So work/life balance can, and maybe should be seen as the pursuit of a schedule that incorporates all of the elements of life in a way that makes you happy and healthy. Not necessarily dividing your time in strict regimes of leisure and work in a balanced, divided way.
How do we achieve work/life integration?
1. Give yourself permission: Enhancing your happiness and health starts with giving yourself permission to feel better, be better and become better – this may sound simple, but this is an incredibly great challenge for some.
2. Take control of your schedule: We actually have more control over our daily schedules than we like to believe and after we give ourselves permission to be better we can take power over our schedule, and achieve a higher state of integration. Many people find that it’s too stressful to switch off from work entirely and enjoy accessing emails at night if it means they can leave work right on 5 and spend a few hours with the kids or get to their favourite fitness class. Often having a break between leaving the office and then accessing e-mails via your laptop or device will re-energise you, structure your day for tomorrow and enable you to get through the same amount of work in far less time.
3. Have a trial period: Start with small steps by requesting a trial period of one work from home day a week for a month, or a late morning start so you can hit a yoga class – if this energises you, it will enhance your productivity twofold. Talk to your supervisors about a schedule that works for you – more and more businesses are understanding the importance of integration by allowing employees to work from home, access emails via a laptop, take a fitness class in the morning and encourage healthy eating – Virgin have even established unlimited leave for their employees! Inside 80 Performance are in the business of going into corporations and teaching top management how to maximise their productivity through creating a better, more flexible environment for their employees (we’ve worked with GE, Credit Suisse, Shirlaws Group and stay-at-home mums alike) and can testify that corporations are changing – so have a conversation!
4. Maximise activities which give you “energy credits”: Wishing you had more time in the day? We don’t have a time machine but we can do things to create more energy that enables us to get more done. Feeling more energetic will help you to integrate your schedule more. In order to maximise your energy, self-care is necessary. Refer to #1 and note that self-care doesn’t mean selfish, in fact it will help you to help others. Doing activities that you enjoy, looking after your fitness, eating nutritious food, and engaging in social activities with contribute to your energy – and give you a greater capacity to give time to others.
5. Spend your “energy credits” wisely: Think of having a possible 100 maximum energy credits per day when you wake up (if you have gotten enough sleep). Once you have your energy credits, there is no overdraft facility. You need to spend these wisely. Spending time with people who zap your energy credits is a big one – time to spring clean those energy-zapping friends. Giving energy to things you can’t control will deplete your energy credits. Just focus on what you can control.
6. Work with your natural pace: Some people have shorter attention spans, some people have longer attention spans. Some people are morning people and others aren’t. Stop spending energy credits trying to operate in a way that’s against your natural pace, and stop trying to participate in the ‘trend’ of work/life balance if it doesn’t work for you. Once you embrace your natural pace you will use less energy credits to achieve stronger results – and automatically you’ll create more free time and strengthen your integration.
The popular concept of work/life balance truly isn’t for everyone. There are some who have a deep passion for their work and others who are spending an unhealthy amount of energy credits trying to be perfect in other areas we usually put in the ‘life’ bucket i.e. having sculpted abs, making the perfect lunches for your kids, standing at the front of the yoga class etc.
Overcomplicating our time of balance and trying to separate our work and life can lead to unhealthy stress and anxiety. So let’s start thinking about integrating our work and life and stop spending 45 hours a week participating in ‘non-life’.
Vanessa Bennett is CEO of Inside 80 Performance Australia and works with Executives, Entrepreneurs and stay-at-home mums alike to identify their natural pace and reach their peak performance. Calculate your Natural Pace by taking the Free Introductory Indicator test online.