American adults report working an average of 47 hours per week, so it’s no surprise that finding time to separate life’s demands is so difficult. However, integrating your work and life can be better than trying to force boundaries that are impossible to keep. Here’s how to do it.
Work-life balance—unplugging from work at the end of the day and focusing solely on other aspects of your life—is an ideal many people still strive for. However, many of us have such a passion for what we do that we resist leaving work at work. When your workload is so demanding that you can’t (or won’t) leave work at the office, work-life integration might be a better fit for your lifestyle. Then you find ways to fulfill and enjoy both your work and life demands at the same time. We’ve talked about this before, but now we’re going to discuss how to make it work. Here are some tricks we’ve learned through trial, error, and research to mastering work-life integration.
Before You Begin: Understand that You’re Not Just Integrating Work with Life, You’re Integrating All the Different Areas of Your Life
Work-life integration isn’t just about finding time at home to handle work tasks and handle home tasks at work, even though that’s a popular perception. Instead of thinking “what work can I easily integrate into my home life”, focus on the bigger picture: Integrate all areas of your life the best way you can. The ultimate goal to optimize how you use your time so you can fulfill all of your daily needs, both in your work and in your personal life. Stew Friedman explains on Harvard Business Review:
Start by considering three principles: be real, be whole, and be innovative. To be real is to act with authenticity by clarifying what’s important to you. To be whole is to act with integrity by recognizing how the different parts of your life (work, home, community, self) affect one another. All this examination allows you to be innovative.You act with creativity by experimenting with how things get done in ways that are good for you and for the people around you.
You can integrate different areas of your life with one another, and often have a lot more flexibility and room for creativity to do so. So keep an open mind going forward.
Write Down Which Areas of Your Life You’re Integrating
Everyone has responsibilities with work and their personal life. It’s easy to think one must give way to the other, but it’s possible to make them work together in a way that satisfies the demands of both. Before you can do that you’ll need to think about your priorities and write them down. With a clear set of general priorities you can plan tasks to fulfill more than one priority at once. So think about yours and write them down. Here are some to start:
- Social life
Some of these will work for you while others won’t, and you might have plenty to add. Either way, it’s important to know what your priorities are. Having a list of what’s important to you will give you a starting point for planning for everything.
Plan Your Day with Work and Life In the Same Agenda
Once you have your priorities set, plan out your day. Include everything you may want to accomplish, even activities you normally wouldn’t: a phone call to Mom, time to decompress, a dinner out with friends, and so on. Start thinking of all these things the same way you would a scheduled lunch break. Make time for all of them. They are your priorities after all, and many of us make the mistake of not planning for those needs too.
When you plan your week, make it a point to schedule time with your family and friends, and activities that help you recharge.
If a date night with your spouse or a softball game with friends is on your calendar, you’ll have something to look forward to and an extra incentive to manage your time well so you don’t have to cancel.
In addition, when it’s time to plan your day, don’t use categories like “work, personal, home” that separate your tasks. Instead, force yourself to think in terms of time by making one to-do list for your day that combines each task from each area of your life in one place. You want to focus on how you can accomplish more than one goal at once, so don’t limit yourself to thinking work, home, and personal goals are all separate. Instead figure out how to bring them together and accomplish them simultaneously to save time.
Find Time in Your Schedule at Work that You Can Make Personally Productive
Most of our work schedules are pretty stringent, but there are always holes that you can find to be more productive in your personal life. If you have the luxury of snacking on the job, for example, then you can probably find time for a full meal while you work and then use your lunch hour to work out, see a doctor or therapist, or talk to an old friend or a family member.
That alone gives you an extra hour for something else you can do once you leave the office, or at least helps you find time for something you previously felt too busy to handle. It also gives you the opportunity to do something that makes you happy while at work, which makes work feel like less of an interruption and more fulfilling. Sit down and examine your normal workday, and see if there are life tasks that you can integrate into it.
Plan Tasks that Kill Two Birds With One Stone
One of the best things you can do to manage your time is find tasks that fulfill multiple needs at once. You already do this without realizing it: going to dinner with a friend fulfills a health and social need simultaneously, and walking your dog fulfills a health and pet need simultaneously. Actively looking for more ways to kill two birds with one stone is far more powerful than passively accepting the benefits as a product of circumstance. For example, the next time you walk your dog, think of something else you can do along the way, like brainstorming a big pitch for work.
When you plan the day ahead, look at your tasks and goals for the day and focus on integrating as many of them as possible so you get the most benefit from the time you spend on them. The point of work-life integration isn’t to let work infiltrate your life, but rather to find an even balance across the board so you can stop feeling like one area of your life is getting in the way of another. It requires a lot of life examination to get started, but it gets easier. In the end, you’ll feel happy that you’re able to handle so many different areas of your life, and on the best days you’ll look back and be impressed at how much you accomplished for work, yourself, and your home or family.