‘Work-life balance’ has been a buzz phrase for many years and now ‘work-life integration’ is threatening to make it even tougher to sort out your life.
Here’s an approach that uses emotional intelligence to help you cope with numerous and conflicting demands.
‘Work-life integration’, it is suggested, implies a flexible approach to work, enabling us to, for example, trade time off during the working day for work done in ‘our own time’.
Whatever template you apply, the implication is that ‘work’ and ‘life’ are separate, contradictory concepts which need to be reconciled in some way, in the interests of a harmonious, well adjusted existence.
The metaphor of balance focuses on measurements, calculations and assessments. We draw pie charts of our lives and mark in degrees of satisfaction. We count the hours and minutes spent on each area of our life. We gaze gloomily at the representation of our miserable-looking social activity, or our shameful lack of community engagement. We become dispirited or falsely optimistic about what the percentages and graphs reflect, and don’t realise we are trying to measure the immeasurable.
How an ‘integrated’ approach can exploit you
The integrated approach presents an amorphous shape in which there are no boundaries between what we do to earn a living and our actual living. Hey, it’s all fun! Well, it might be if you inhabit that brilliant, shiny, digital world of start-ups and entrepreneurial activity, where you can take a conference call in the coffee shop while your kid has their piano lesson, or negotiate for an hour in the exercise studio in the afternoon.
But actually, you are as open to exploitation as the thousands of workers, teachers and medical practitioners among them, who aren’t given the so-called gift of flexibility. The freedom to work anywhere, any time, is not a freedom if it compels you to do so.
You could try a gentler approach to the question of maintaining personal equilibrium, one which is based on knowing yourself and your needs.
Balance isn’t always desirable. We expend our time and energy in different directions according to circumstances and our stage in life.
Sometimes work dominates, sometimes personal considerations dominate. Just make sure that these periods don’t go on for too long.
But if you’re on a roll, completely absorbed in, say, a work project, or a personal project, or a family situation, or a relationship, or training for a marathon, don’t interrupt the rhythm because you feel you have to. Acknowledge that the rhythm should and will change, when the time is right.
Keep in touch with your emotional and mental well-being
Be aware of your feelings. Check in with yourself on a regular basis and recognise your general mood. Get to understand the circumstances which make you feel good about things, and those which bring you down.
If you rarely feel satisfied, stimulated, contented, try to identify what changes you could make in order to feel better. It could be a short-term solution, or it might need long-term planning.
Keep in touch with your physical well-being
No, this isn’t the bit about yoga or diet or the gym. But if you feel hyped-up. or sluggish, or physically out of condition, engage in some activity which will put things right. You don’t have to commit to it forever.
Be aware of the patterns that emerge
Get an overall view of the way you are spending your time. Are the choices you make taking you where you want to go? What impact do they have on the people who share your life?
You might be stuck in a way of life which you follow automatically. Keep an eye on the big picture and make adjustments if you need to.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
It’s not a good idea to have one particular area of your life as your sole source of well-being.
If your sense of identity and your self-esteem depends exclusively on, say, your success at work, or earning a lot of money, or your role in your family, or being in good physical shape, or on one relationship, you are making yourself very vulnerable. If that situation changes, you may find yourself without other resources.
Aim for a balanced spread of areas of satisfaction.
Be consistent to your values
Ask yourself if you are taking care of the things that matter to you. You might feel you can’t give the time you want to your friends, or your children, or personal activities and projects that matter to you.
However, you can honour these aspects of your life without spending hours doing so. But you need to let your actions reflect your values.
Any action, no matter how small, will shift the balance.
Don’t let things drift
Create some space to enable things to happen. Don’t schedule quality time, because quality is something that can’t be guaranteed, but schedule time to enable communication, time to take stock.
Life guru Dolly Parton tells us in her song 9 to 5 that we’ve got dreams that the boss-man can never take away. Listen to Dolly. Make the dreams happen.
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