I remember asking a group of managers about work life balance at their company and was answered by a humorous, but sad response, “Here it’s 90% work-life and 10% no-life!”
I understand why the manager should say that, particularly as I find myself answering emails in the evenings and often working on weekends. For most part, work life balance is a myth and the term has been replaced with work life integration.
Work Life Balance versus Work Life Integration
With smartphones and tablets we are now fully wired and the tempation to connect is ever present. We no longer divide a day into three discreet chunks; work time, me time, family time, and if we are not careful life can become a blur. Connectivity can be a blessing or a curse, but you must develop some Self-leadership strategies.
Let me share a metaphor; when I was a child I had a tin of water color paints and the idea was to dip a brush in a jam jar of water and then get some blue on the brush to paint some sky. When you want to change color, for instance to get some green to paint some grass, you were supposed to wash the brush in the jam jar of water and then pick another color. I was often impatient and would not clean the brush properly and I would find myself contaminating all the colors until I ended up only with brown.
As an entrepreneur and father of three, I have experienced the danger of blurring the line between work and family time, and as an executive coach I have seen many of my clients struggle with the stress of working accross multiple time zones. So what is the answer?
Self Leadership Strategies
Self Leadership is about intentionally influencing yourself to achieve your objectives (Bryant & Kazan 2012), and contains strategies to help us with work-life integration. The first strategy is self-awareness or mindfulness, which simply put is asking the question, “Am I fully present to what I want to be doing?” Like my metaphor of the paint tin, if you are painting the sky, then use blue paint and wash the brush before moving to another topic. So if you are working, work; if you are playing with your kids, play; and if you are doing something for yourself, enjoy.
“Easier said than done”, I hear you cry. Well it does take practice and the equivalent of washing your brush in clean water.
The self-leadership technique it to cue ourselves to step out of one state of mind and then step into another. The simplest way to do this is to breath, but you can also click your fingers or pretend to brush lint from your shoulder – let me explain.
Let’s say you are answering an email, whilst at home and your child wants you to read to them. You can leave what you are doing and be frustrated, or you can brush of your child with “Daddy/Mummy’s busy” which leads to guilt, instead the cueing technique allows us to elegantly disengage from one activity and fully engage in the next. Try this, when the interuption comes take a deep breath, and allow your mind to take a snap shot of what you are doing with the confidence that you can fully return at will. Then let the breath out and shift your attention to the knew task letting yourself know you will be full present to this.
Yes this will take some practice to perfect, but it’s easier if you schedule specific times to be in certain roles and practice elegantly shifting at a pre-determined point. I will often work for 30 minutes when I first wake up and then stop and become a Dad whilst my kids get ready for school. I then get about 45 minutes of guilt free me time with a swim before shifting back into work mode.
Work life integration is possible because we often no longer physically need to be in the office to do work, but we must make sure we do an audit of how we are spending our time to be true to our values.
Feel free to share your work life integration tips.