Today, is it possible to completely separate your work and personal life? David Solomon, global co-head of Goldman Sachs, believes that technology has made us all “available 24/7. And, because everyone demands instant gratification and instant connectivity, there are no boundaries, no breaks”.
Forget balance, the new buzzword in workplaces these days is work-life integration, an approach that creates more synergies between all the areas that define life such as work, family/home, personal well being, health and community. Work-life integration focuses on incorporating different areas of one’s life into a composite whole unlike work-life balance where one compartmentalizes facets so these parts don’t intermingle.
Stewart Friedman, director of the Work/Life Integration Project at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life, writes, “The idea that ‘work’ competes with ‘life’ ignores the more nuanced reality of our humanity.” Friedman believes the need is to better integrate all the different parts of our lives, “which will ultimately make us feel happier and more fulfilled”.
The concept is already catching on in India. Microsoft’s Asia Workplace 2020 Study has revealed that a large number of the Gen X and Millennial workforce in India values work-life integration more than work-life separation, is open to digital workspaces, and is embracing flexi workstyles that “enable them to be mobile professionals with a personalized way of how they work and live”.
Here’s how you can strive for work-life integration, not balance.
- Recognize your needs
A work-life strategy can never be a one-size-fits-all approach. Every employee will have different life needs at different stages in their life and career. Friedman has developed a simple writing exercise called the “Four Circles”, which is designed to help identify what matters most to you. For this, think of your life in terms of four domains – work, home, community and self – and create a “four-way attention chart”. The goal is for every day to be a “four-way win,” or fulfilling on all four levels. Here’s how you do it:
- Step 1: Work on your personal Four Circles picture. Together, the circles must equal 100% so you can add or decrease the value of each circle depending on importance to you. Move each circle in relation to how compatible they are; closer and overlapping circles are more compatible than circles that don’t touch.
- Step 2: Look at your completed Four Circles picture and analyze. Are there areas where you need to add or subtract? Will making certain areas more compatible with each other help integrate work and life?
- Step 3: Once you know where you need to change, set goals that will help you achieve your ideal Four Circles. Aim to resize different areas of your life and make them more compatible.
- Ask for work flexibility
First, check if your company has any existing flexi-time policies in place. If they don’t, set aside time to meet with your manager and make your case. Do your research – check if other companies in your industry offer flexibility as a standard option. If your manager still appears reluctant, suggest starting out with a trial run.
- Take your time off
You may think not using up your vacation days will take you far but that’s far from the truth. A research in 2012 at University of Tampere in Finland shows that taking a trip, especially if you head to a different environment, has solid brain benefits but that these benefits scatter quickly and need to be replenished often.
- Build small breaks into your day
The human body isn’t designed to sit and stare at a screen for eight straight hours so a little downtime is a must. Breaks banish monotony, and make you happier, more focused and productive in the long term.
- Force yourself to switch off
You come back home and reply to emails till past midnight and are working on presentations with breakfast. It’s no wonder that work takes over your life. Unplugging will help you recharge and start afresh. Try staying away from work-related things from dinner till breakfast time.
- Pay attention to your body’s natural rhythms
Most people tend to be either early birds or night owls, so paying attention to your body’s natural rhythms and patterns will help you make the most of your time. Aim to get your most important work done during the hours when you’re at your most focused.
- Focus on productivity, not hours
It’s not uncommon to focus on hours at work instead of results. But punching a time clock isn’t your contribution at work; focus instead on the value you create during the workday. Prioritizing your assignments and setting self-imposed deadlines will help. Try entrepreneur Steve Olenski’s “two-minute rule” – if you see a task or action that you know can be done in two minutes or less, do it immediately. This helps avert pile-ups at work.