Work-life balance is a myth

Let’s ditch work-life balance in exchange for work-life integration

Think of work-life balance as a stand up paddleboard. To achieve any form of balance in life you cannot stand still. You must move with the ebbs and flows of the water, balance your feet and hope you don’t fall down. This activity requires constant re-adjusting and re-framing just to stay upright!

What does balance mean?
Contrast that analogy with the following definition of balance I found, thanks to my friend Google: ‘A situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions’.

Looking at this definition, can we really say it is possible to allocate our personal priorities in strict equal portions? Eight hours’ sleep a day, eight hours’ leisure and eight hours’ work? What about that urgent work matter, or the sick child, or the friend’s wedding? It is so easy to throw balance out of whack; in fact, it is much harder to achieve true balance without a lot of pivoting and re-framing.

Recently, I appeared on Today to discuss this topic with social researcher, Mark McCrindle, and Georgie Gardner. Mark commented that this way of thinking, that work-life balance is something to be achieved, is old fashioned and no longer the day to day reality for most Australian families.

You don’t find balance. You consciously create balance. A while back I heard the term ‘work-life integration’ which, in our technology-mad lives, seems more realistic to achieve. I would describe my own situation, working as a partner equivalent for Australia’s fastest growing law firm, LegalVision, as an exercise in work-life integration. My home office is downstairs, I blend my day with my son’s school schedule, and some weeks this sees me ‘banking time’ and working after hours so I can adjust my week flexibly. I also take small, 15 minute blocks of time during the day to pre-prepare dinner and organise the following day by setting out outfits and making school lunches.

But that is me. Every one of us is unique. Our family situation and work schedules are unique, as are our needs for sleep and leisure time. The concept of integration acknowledges this and allows each of us to integrate work within our home and family lives. Within this integration, personal values and priorities dictate what we spend our time on.

More than ever, technology invades our leisure time. Work emails and smart phones demand attention during our leisure time. Isn’t it only fair that there is some blurring of the lines that allows personal tasks to be completed during work time?

Working from home in harmony
Working from home helps me integrate work and life more seamlessly than I otherwise could if I worked in an external office. My book, The Tracksuit Economy – How to work productively AND effectively from home, lets you in on the secrets as to how I, and the 14 inspiring trailblazers I interviewed, do this.

It means that when life throws crazy curve balls at me like illness or emergency, I can better cope. I do this by re-setting and re-framing my day.

Other types of flexibility
I am at the extreme end of work-life integration. I have brought my work into my home (with well-defined boundaries) and moved my home away from the city (I live on the far north coast of New South Wales but work for a Sydney firm). However, there are other numerous options for flexible work such as:

  • Compressed hours;
  • Extra (unpaid) school holiday leave;
  • Extended hours (working shorter days spread over the week);
  • Flexible start and finish times; and
  • Job sharing or flexible consulting roles.

Written by Emma Heuston, author of The Tracksuit Economy – How to work productively AND effectively from home and believer that there is an easier way. A commercial lawyer and busy parent, Emma is passionate about re-framing the way we work. Her hope is that professionals of the future will not only wear tracksuits, but will embrace work-life integration. For more great tips on achieving work-life integration, grab a copy of Emma’s ebook, available from iBook (search Tracksuit Economy) and on Amazon).

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