Recently, I was on a panel at a trade show discussing women in the industrial cleaning industry. One of my fellow panelists, Abby Zaffuto, who is the president of a company that owns and operates eight Rotor Rooter franchises in South Carolina, spoke about how to achieve work/life balance. She gave a brilliantly funny talk and what she said hit home. There is no such thing as work/life balance; throw that idea out the window. What’s key is integration.
There is so much buzz around work/life balance, especially these days where it’s getting harder and harder to disconnect. And there should be; it can be easy to forget that there is life outside of running around trying to cram a million things into the day; when we hardly have time to take a deep breath, how can we truly engage with the world around us? That being said, finding balance is hard, so hard that the thought of attaining it makes us more anxious. Perhaps balance isn’t what we should be in pursuit of; maybe it’s integration?
So what’s the difference between balance and integration?
Balance is defined as a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. Integration is the combining of two or more things so that they work together effectively. It’s the process of attaining close and seamless coordination between several departments, groups, organizations, systems, etc.
Integration is not the same as balance.
I don’t know about you, but my life is not filled with elements that are in equal or correct portions. Sometimes I am traveling for two weeks. Sometimes I have to work late. Sometimes I take a 10-day vacation and don’t answer emails. Sometimes I have to take the day off to care for my sick child. I get up early to work for a few hours so I have 20 extra minutes to take my son to school every day. Some nights I have the energy to cook and other nights it’s take-out. This is not balanced…this is making it work. That’s why the idea of integration appeals to me.
Perhaps it’s just semantics but for some reason, I feel like I can do integration; there’s a chance I can succeed at combining the complicated aspects of my life so that all the pieces work together….at least most of the time. Balance, on the other hand, is a much more difficult concept. Trying to find balance in my life is like doing backflips on a balance beam with your eyes closed; next to impossible unless you are a world-class athlete.
Good or bad, the line between work and the other parts of life is blurred. It’s hard to truly disconnect from the 24/7 aspect of global business. This is why successful integration is so important; you can easily get sucked into the vortex of endless work if you let yourself. So what can you do?
Here are three tips to help you successfully integrate work and life…
- Know and understand your priorities. Get clear on what’s most important to you and why. I love my job and I have great career aspirations but nothing is more important than being a good role model for my son and partnering with my husband to make a great life for our family. I also know that I can’t be my best if I am not taking care of myself. The pillars of my life are my family, my health, and my career and these are what I focus on integrating. I try to say no to anything else that falls outside of these pillars.
- Make the best use of your time at work. Don’t let yourself be distracted by small things that don’t matter in the office. It takes self-discipline to start your day off by getting the most important things done first. Put your phone on silent, don’t check emails, don’t get another cup of coffee until your most important tasks are complete. That way you can feel good about your day when you head home and hopefully unplug for some family or downtime.
- Create blocks of “me time” and “family time.” I have a standing weekly massage every Monday afternoon and I schedule workouts on my calendar so I have no excuse to skip the gym. When I come home at the end of my workday, I focus on my family until I put my son to bed which means little to no screen time. If I need to work, I try do it after his bedtime or I get up early. The thing that changed my life the most: getting a housekeeper so I don’t have to spend my weekends cleaning; I make sure I play with Jack, spend quality time with my husband, and get a good workout in both weekend days. Block out “non-work” time on your calendar to make sure you aren’t so busy working that you forget to live life.
I’ve faced the fact that, for me, work/life balance is unattainable. Truth be told, I don’t even know if it’s what I want…and I’ve made peace with this. My goal is to be and do my very best and sometimes that means I have to work more and sometimes it means I have to play more. And it always means being a good role model for my son. Blending your aspirations, responsibilities, duties, and some downtime is the key to living a successful, engaged, and fulfilling life. It’s the definition of work/life integration.
So here’s to integration, may you achieve seamless coordination in all aspects of your life; it may not be easy but it’s certainly a worthy goal.