Managing it all is difficult: work, friends, family, self-care. Yet we think of “work-life balance” as the gold standard for a good life and we wonder, strive, and even frustrate ourselves in an effort to “achieve it”. That doesn’t sound like the good life to me.
That’s why I prefer to think of work-life “harmony” or “integration” which I see as ways we can flow in and out of the different parts of our lives with ease and grace. This reframe has been helpful in my own life as well as for the clients I work with.
Jordana Cole, a colleague of mine says, “I think the word balance is a tough one. We are more connected than ever due to technology, that it’s tough to just turn off or be in one place or another. Instead of using the word balance, I’ve started using the word blend because these parts of ourselves do blend together.”
If you want to find more work-life harmony or a beneficial blend, here are three powerful questions for you to consider.
First Question: Do you think you are a different person at home than you are at work?
When I ask this question of the groups I train, people overwhelmingly say, “Yes.” I answer “Wrong!” While my response is not that blunt my sentiment is still the same: wherever you go, there you are. I believe that you’ll experience greater harmony as well as happiness and wellbeing, if you take your whole self to work and your whole self home.
Dr. Karen Reivich, one of my graduate school professors, once said that she went from being a good professor to a great professor the day she stopped leaving part of herself in the minivan when she got to campus. This resonated with me. It’s a call-to-action for authenticity. Be all of you, perfectly imperfect, wherever you go. Now that’s harmony!
Next Question: Which do you dread more – Friday or Monday?
Now this question gives you an indication of where to focus your attention to experience greater harmony. If you dread Friday, then maybe you should focus attention on enhancing your home life. Could you put more attention on connecting with friends and family? Are there hobbies you might enjoy? Is there a class, not related to work, that you might like? Could you devote more time to self care?
For those of you who dread Friday, I especially recommend taking a long, hard look at your self-care. It’s been said that the future of healthcare is self-care. When we neglect what’s vital to our wellbeing, it is as if we are going into battle without ammunition and we all know how that turns out. Could you spend more time exercising, socializing, preparing nutritious meals, relaxing or sleeping? It’s impossible to have work-life harmony without self care.
If you dread Monday, however, then you may consider thought-exercises to increase appreciation for your job. This may sound silly—to appreciate something you are not linking–but research confirms positive emotion as crucial for success. So find things-anythings-that you can be grateful for. This positive emotion will provide the kind of forward movement that will get you more of what you want.
Our social comparison bias has us fixate on those who we perceive to have it better than us, not those who have less. Even if you choose to leave your current work (which, spoiler alert, you will eventually do; nothing lasts forever) you will be better poised to discern “what’s next” if you start with an avid appreciation of “what is.” Simultaneously, you can access the executive function to create a useful vision and deep desire for what’s to come.
Final Question: Does your work balance life or does your life balance work?
I suggest we work to be whole – and take all of ourselves out of the hypothetical minivan when we get to “campus.” Let’s not pretend that we can automatically shut off what happened in our work day when we cross the threshold at home. Similarly, when you get to the office, you may think you can shut off what just happened at home, but that’s often challenging. Instead, let’s be mindful of intentionally putting “it” aside, whatever it is, so we can “be here now” wherever here happens to be. Where you focus your attention has consequences. It helps to know your values and that everything has a tradeoff.
As my blogger friend Jeremy McCarthy says, “Life is happening at work, and we shouldn’t relegate those hours to a second class experience.” We don’t have to wait until the weekend to have peace or fun or downtime and vice versa: for those who fear the downtime of the weekend, know that it does not have to be that way. We are changing every second of every day and expect good things even in hard times.
My Personal Strategies for Work-Life Harmony
I’ve embraced work-life harmony in my own life. This doesn’t mean I always achieve it, but I’ve developed some strategies that tend to work for me:
· Shutting the tabs on my browsers regularly which creates less overwhelm in my life. If it’s really important I’ll bookmark the page – or – I’ll trust that it will be something I locate again (if I’m meant to).
- Practicing mindfulness. I know it sounds
paradoxical, but slowing down helps me speed up. I like to meditate
regularly and on occasion, take an art class or run a race to challenge myself
to find joy, grace, ease and flow.
- Adding a “to be” list next to my “to
do’s.” After all, we are human beings, not human doings. Often, I’ll intend on being open,
curious, playful and grateful or focused, fierce, effective, and fun.
- Reviewing my values. These are the
cornerstones of my life that help me stay grounded to my true north and
making decisions on where to focus my attention. For example, knowing that
I value rest helps me keep the boundary between work and home that is
rejuvenating to my spirit.
- Remembering that “everything always
depends.” While rules to live by are important, so too is keeping those
rules as guidelines and not strict adherences. Staying flexible and agile
helps me manage my energy and my time.
- Unplugging consistently. I try to abide
by Dr. Greg Well’s 1-3-2 suggestion for unplugging from all technology:
one hour a day, three days a month and two weeks a year continuously. It’s
amazing what I notice when I put the device down or better yet – turn it
These strategies help me remain committed to working to live as opposed to living to work. This means that while work is an important part of my life – a very important part as my work is my calling—I also remain faithful to turning it off at certain hours and turning my attention to the people and world around me. What can I experience? With whom can I connect? What can I learn?