Work-life balance is a myth, and striving for this fictitious balance creates unnecessary stress. There’s always a nagging feeling that no matter what you’re doing, you should be doing something else. The truth is, when people say they want work-life balance what they really mean is they just want to work less. Work-life balance has never been practical, and it certainly isn’t now that we’re tethered to our devices, ensuring work never leaves our side.
The reality is that work isn’t separate from life – it’s simply a part of your life, and it’s an important part. It’s what allows all of us to support ourselves, our families, and achieve our goals. If you truly want to achieve balance, then you have to recognize that work and life are one in the same and find ways to integrate the two such that nothing is neglected as a result of the other. As the co-founder of a software company and mom of three, here are some tips that have helped me integrate my work and personal life (and almost not feel like I’m losing my mind):
Work around your schedule, not an 8-5.
Working a 40-50 hour work week has always been standard, but what’s different now is that there are a growing number of scenarios where you don’t have to fit all those working hours into the traditional 8-5 workday. Having fewer time constraints creates more flexibility around when and where you can work from. If you’re lucky enough to own your own schedule, or have flexibility built into your workplace (see below!), it’s no longer the case that you have to leave work to go do life. Now, many of us have the option of bringing our work with us when we need to take care of personal matters. That might mean sending a few emails while you’re waiting for a friend to meet you for dinner or working a little later into the night to make up for that hour you took off at lunch to fit in a workout.
Seek out flexible employers.
On that note, if you’re trying to integrate work and life, sometimes that means taking time off in the middle of the day to take your kids to the doctor or see your trainer. Communicating with your employer about your personal needs—and how to best address those in addition to your workload—is crucial for respecting work-life integration. A workplace that doesn’t support the needs of its employees to have flexibility may not be a good fit, so my advice is to get a better understanding of a company’s corporate culture before considering a potential job opportunity. A great question to ask is how often people bring their kids into the office. If they look at you like you’re crazy, you may want to look elsewhere for work.
Set expectations with family.
Sometimes you have to work during dinner—and that’s okay if it’s not the norm every night. Explain your work to your family and how giving up a little time with you now means you can volunteer at their school this week. Bringing your kids into the workplace also helps gives them a little more context. Rope them into helping you somehow so they don’t feel excluded. It’s difficult to find ways a kindergartener can edit a sales proposal, but your spouse would probably be great at it. Managing expectations upfront is key to building this kind of flexibility on the home front.
Add a vacation onto a business trip.
Vacation isn’t a sacred place like it used to be—your work and vacation can all blend in a little more organically. For example, if you have a work conference, view it as a great opportunity to take a quick vacation afterwards. Where I work, we sometimes hold company offsites with employees during our vacations when we’re traveling nearby. It’s a good opportunity to get everyone together since our schedules are already open, and some of our best work has come out of these offsites. Without the distraction of meetings, we can be more creative, productive, and thoughtful.
One major exception: if you’re facing burnout and truly need a work-free mental health break, take one and don’t feel guilty about it.
Make It a Family Affair.
We do a lot of work together with colleagues and their families. If we’re having a work dinner with other staff, we’ll often invite their entire family and get a sitter to entertain the little ones while the grownups review exciting spreadsheets. Or just cave and give the kids iPads so that we can talk about work in peace. It might be a little boring for your spouse to come to a work dinner, but the upside is they get to be included in what you do. Similarly, if you have to do work on the weekends, it’s a lot easier if you invite employees over with their families. It’s a win-win—families don’t feel like they always take a backseat to work, workers don’t feel guilty for leaving them behind, and work gets done!
Make time for quality time.
If you’re integrating work and life, the balance you need to get right is not integrating them so much that the people you care about never feel like they have your undivided attention. When it’s time to engage, put your device down and engage fully. Five minutes of quality time is a hundred times better than 25 minutes of “mom’s always on her phone” time.