The age of the dining room office has increased pressure to be available for work all the time. This pressure can be self-inflicted as well — after all, for many, our office is never more than a few steps away.
Many people think of this tension in terms of work/life “balance.” And it’s true, there are plenty of studies demonstrating the importance of unplugging and getting completely away from work occasionally. However, the days of big compartmentalized blocks of “work time” and “personal time” are gone. In fact, for executives and leaders, those times may have never actually existed. We’ve always had to juggle work and personal priorities. There have long-been expectations about being available for work, and certainly those expectations increase with organizational responsibility and authority.
“I prefer to think of it as integration rather than balance because ‘balance’ treats work-time and personal-time like a seesaw,” said Maren Perry, president and founder of Arden Coaching. “They oppose each other, and when one side wins the other loses. Integration incorporates all the pieces of your life into a hybrid flow. It will be different for everyone. It’s your own recipe for how your roles are best combined.”
Integration looks at how adept you are at moving in and out of your professional and personal roles. How quickly and comfortably can you change hats? Rather than seek perfect balance between work and your other lives, think instead of integrating the choices that you make and aligning them with your values and priorities.
Integration is the Key
Not only does integration better reflect reality for most people, it offers a more powerful result. Integration weaves your various “lives” together so there’s less stress between your roles as an executive or organizational leader, and parent, spouse, partner, community volunteer, private citizen, etc. — whether you are responding to an important email at 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night or taking a break Wednesday afternoon to play with the kids.
“To do this, you need to experiment with yourself. You need to figure out how YOU work,” says Perry. Monitor your own energy and focus levels. Is 6:00 a.m. a great time for you to concentrate on work tasks, or is that a great time for you to be doing yoga? Are you at your best replying to work emails after the kids are in bed? Do you like to organize your coming week on Sunday afternoons?
For more about how to bring more integration into your life read Arden Coaching’s blog, “The Four Steps to SOLVING Work-Life Balance!”
Some people work better with high-flow, moving quickly from one role to another and dealing with things as they occur. Others function better with more structure or routine. If you are working on a project that requires strategic thinking, you may need to block out big chunks of time or add some structure. The corporate office set boundaries, so many of us have never had an option before. This is a terrific opportunity to explore, experiment, and do what works best for your situation, personality, and energy levels.
Lead a More Authentic Life
In an integrated life, the different parts of our lives augment and amplify each other. We have no role that exists at the expense of another. That means it’s very hard to “fake it.”
If you hate your job it’s likely that you keep it compartmentalized — for your own well-being, you probably need to keep it as compartmentalized as possible! For integration to work well, your life needs to be genuine. The more your professional life resonates with who you are; the more your core values and life priorities are aligned with your work and activities; then, the more natural, happy, and productive work/life integration will be for you.