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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Why I Choose to Integrate Work and Life, Not Balance It

There’s a lot of talk about work-life balance these days, most of which revolves around the fact that it’s not working.

“The idea is that you can compartmentalize everything into either ‘work’ activities … or ‘life’ activities … and by doing so ‘have it all.’ In practice, though, this theory falls apart,” writes Forbes contributor Kevin Harrington recently. “[T]he idea that there is a perfect balance is a red herring. For most people work and life are practically inseparable,” adds Lazlo Bock of Harvard Business Review®.

Perhaps HBR’s Stewart D. Friedman says it best: “[Balance] assumes we must always make trade-offs … among the four main aspects of our lives: work or school, home or family (however you define that), community (friends, neighbors, religious or social groups), and self (mind, body, spirit). A more realistic and more gratifying goal is better integration between work and the rest of life.”

As a startup founder—a role in which work never fits into the traditional 9-to-5 hours and can certainly take over all aspects of the rest of life if I let it—I’m a big proponent of work-life integration. I also encourage all of my employees at The Muse to live the same way. While we do have an unlimited vacation policy and flexible hours that let people enjoy their time out of work, we also find ways to help people integrate non-work activities into their jobs (think installing a bar in our office for Friday happy hours and letting team members take workcations). There are plenty of studies that show the benefits of work-life integration policies on engagement and employee morale, and we’ve seen firsthand that it makes us a happier, more productive team.

It also makes me a happier, more productive professional. And in the spirit of integrating work and life—versus just balancing them—here are a few other strategies I’ve implemented in my own schedule.

1. Find the Schedule That Lets You Work Best

Traditionally, work was for Monday through Friday, 9ish to 6ish (or, you know, 9ish), and life would fit in the rest of the time. And while closing the workday may work for some, I find that I’m more effective when I insert non-work activities into my day. For example, my brain shuts off temporarily around 7 PM, no matter what I’ve been doing (or how much work I have left). So, I often take the opportunity to grab dinner with friends before getting back online later that night to finish up any loose ends. Yes, I’m working late, but it’s from the comfort of my couch and in my pajamas—and after I’ve had some time to unwind and relax.

Ultimately, it’s all about finding what works for you. Would you love to have a long run in the morning? Or take a long, leisurely lunch? Try it out, and see how it impacts your productivity.

2. Rethink the Weekend

Along similar lines, balancing work and life might look like working hard all week, and playing hard on the weekends.

I find, though, if I sign off all weekend, I spend Sunday dreading Monday morning (and Monday through Wednesday running around like a crazy person). So, I like to set aside a couple of blocks of time during the weekend for focused work (and inbox clearing—no one else is online to fill it back up!)—and it makes for a much less stressful week all around.

(Note: To make sure this doesn’t, in fact, take over your weekend, set aside one block of time for focused work or one project to complete. Then, stop.)

3. Make Co-workers Your Friends

Here’s my favorite tip: Instead of relegating professional contacts and friends to two separate buckets in your life, find ways to combine them. I'm fortunate enough to have a number of people I would consider both professional contacts and personal friends, and being able to integrate those two parts of my life sometimes lets me feel like I'm having more of both. For example, I can catch up with a contact at a major national media property who syndicates Muse content to her audience of millions, and swap stories about our weekends or lives outside of work as well. I have a number of entrepreneur friends who I can call if I need advice on a tricky issue—or want to grab a drink after work and unwind. Finding co-workers, professional contacts, and others in my field who I genuinely like has made integrating work and play much easier when things get busy.

What works for me might not work for you, but that’s the beauty of the work-life integration conversation. It’s finding ways to work and live better, however you define it.

Tell us! How have you found ways to integrate work and life?

Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.

Photo of woman working courtesy of Shutterstock.