With work from home, a lot of us have been wondering, what’s the best way to balance work and life?
Work-life balance could however set an unrealistic, and sometimes challenging expectation of keeping roles in steady equilibrium. Work-life integration on the other hand aims to unify work with the different aspects of life that we care about… these aspects could vary in frequency, duration and intensity! Most of us are unconsciously doing this, especially given this virtual world of emails, video calls and mobile technology. Here are some ‘dos’ to make work-life integration work for you!
Reflect on what success means to YOU - Shaking up our mind-set about what success means to us - i.e. is success only about achievement at work, or is it the ability integrate various parts of your life whilst continuing to work with intensity? Of course, this is a personal choice for each one of us. Now is a good time to reflect on these questions - WHAT DOES SUCCESS MEAN TO ME? When I work towards this definition of success, what will change for me?
Once you have this picture of success, design your life around it - This would mean that certain days are longer 12 hour work days, and maybe certain others have a couple of working hours, with a chunk of time spent on pursuing a passion or with family etc. Research highlights the benefits of both a set routine as well as variety in our everyday lives. However, what’s particularly interesting is Francesca Gino, behaviour scientist at the Harvard business school highlights that variety / diversity in our everyday schedule enhances both creativity and productivity. This also resonates with my everyday experience, especially during the lockdown.
Work-life integration is about productivity, and not number of hours spent on tasks - Along with what’s our definition of success, perhaps, it is time for each of us to reflect on what productivity means to us? Is productivity only about efficiency or managing time? As I’ve tried to unify different areas of my life into each day, I’ve realised that productivity is about attention management. How effectively am I able to switch context between a work project and a call with a friend? And am I then able to transition into another task or back to work smoothly? As Adam Grant puts it, “Attention management is the art of focusing on getting things done for the right reasons, in the right places, and at the right moment.” His research on productivity has also found that Productive people don’t agonise about which goal or desire to pursue. They go after their goals simultaneously, gravitating towards projects that are personally interesting and socially meaningful.
If productivity is about attention management, then we got to MANAGE OUR ENERGY (not our time!) - I’ve written about this a lot… Picture this - you have your day planned. There is a time slot for everything, and it seems doable. Fast forward to the end of the day, and you’re left feeling that you have more than half the to-do list yet to finish. If you reflect on why this happened, often, it is related to our ability to manage our mood and energy, and not so much our time. In fact, I’ve begun to wonder, is our obsessive need to manage time now becoming part of the problem… rather than the solution? Also, the ability to be ‘mindful’ (in the moment) despite having multiple priorities is only possible when our energy levels are high and the mind is relaxed. This is where our lifestyle choices can make a huge difference.
Internal fulfilment > external validation - When pursuing work-life integration, we are likely to make choices. Choices about how we’d like to spend our day, whom we would want to interact with and perhaps even make trade-offs or decisions that could be different from the norm. This means people around us will have multiple opinions - some will appreciate it, yet others will be critical. It’s important to take constructive feedback, however, anchoring our decisions about work and life on external opinions may not help us in the long-term. This brings me back to the importance of the very first bullet - reflect on what success means to you!
Finally, ACT - A lot of people dream of pursuing their career, whilst also keeping up with their physical fitness, spiritual practices, and social life – but only a few really manage to do this. The only thing that differentiates the successful few is – Intrinsic motivation and Action. Too much reflection, self-assessment, and planning sometimes makes for analysis-paralysis. According to Herminia Ibarra, Organizational Behaviour professor at London Business School, taking action makes people find their way quicker, than the usual paper and pencil self-assessment. Of course, this doesn’t mean planning doesn’t matter.