When you are guided by what matters most, at work and at home, you can focus on putting realistic boundaries and habits in place, rather than pursuing an idealised version of “balance”.
I’m going to debunk a myth here. Whilst the concept of balance is an attractive one, and has long been positioned as the holy grail for navigating life and career, it doesn’t really work…
The word balance implies a neat and tidy world where equal amounts of time and focus can be given to your home life and to your work life. And where the 9-5 is an absolute boundary between your work and your home life. For so many of us, this just isn’t realistic these days.
So what can we do? Instead of chasing balance, try work-life integration. It sounds scary doesn’t it? Like I’m going to suggest you work all the time, and that work becomes your life. It’s not, I promise.
Work-life integration is about making intentional choices and working in a way that gives your focus to these choices – both personal and work-related. It means identifying which things are most important to you in any given day, week or month, both at work and at home, and then putting systems and habits in place to meet those priorities.
Flexibility is a key part of successful work-life integration. It may look like taking an hour or two in the morning to attend your child’s school assembly, then logging on at home again after the work day to finish a project. Or recognising that your mental and physical health is best served by scheduling your exercise time into your diary, with the same focus as an important meeting.
How can you make work-life integration work for you?
Here are 5 tips to get you started:
1. Use your personal values and motivations as your guide
Sit and reflect on what’s most important to you and why. Think about times you’ve said no to something, or yes straightaway. What was the driver for those decisions? Do you know where your boundaries are and why? Figuring out your values and what motivates you is a really powerful way to frame what you want most out of your career and your life.
2. Identify your priorities – at work and at home.
Make a list of your priorities across the entirety of your life and map them to what motivates you. Then think about how you can accommodate the most important tasks on that list in any given day, week or month. Remember – you can’t do everything, but you can typically do the things that are most important to you. You just have to know what those things are and be ready to delegate or discard the rest.
3. Use time blocking to make your diary work for you
I love time blocking and use it myself to manage my business and my home life and to create boundaries that protect my productivity and my energy. Plan your diary in advance and block out time for the most important tasks and events that you’ve identified in tip number 2. Give equal weighting to these if you can – for example, if exercise is non-negotiable, treat it with the same importance as that meeting you cannot miss and schedule it in. Schedule short bursts of time every day for checking emails, so you don’t check it all day. And make sure you have time for breaks – again block these out in your diary so your team knows it’s important.
4. Role model this approach to the people around you
You’ll be most effective when the people around you – your team, your manager, your peers and your family and friends – understand what you’re prioritising and why. Take some time to articulate your approach and the benefits, and make sure you are a visible role model for effective work-life integration and for setting respectful boundaries. This means you will empower others to work in the same way and get much more meaning out of their day and their week.
5. Don’t apologise for your choices
Finally, don’t feel as if you have to apologise for the choices you make. We are all doing our best and that is going to look different for everyone in different seasons of their life. For some, it might mean making an intentional choice to lean in to work whilst caring responsibilities aren’t as weighty. Or deciding to prioritise mental health above the next ego-boosting career progression. The point is your path has to be meaningful for you.
In letting go of the notion of balance, you are liberating yourself from an idealised version of yourself and showing that you can set boundaries and create habits that serve you.
Download this free worksheet to help you identify your values and give you clarity and purpose.
Louise is a leadership coach focused on supporting professional women navigate their careers with confidence and clarity. Her experience as a senior leader in the NHS and within industry lends her a valuable insight into the challenges that women face in leadership roles.
Book a free discovery call with Louise to find out more about her coaching approach and how it can benefit you.
May 1, 2023