Work-life integration: it’s in each moment.
Work-life integration is a rather Zen thing.
Any given day consists of an incessant flow of decisions.
What to eat for breakfast…?
…does my son have enough lunch money…?
…can we finish the campaign copy on time…?
…who else should review this decision…?
…when is the best time to take the cat to the vet…?
…can I stomach another salad for lunch…?
…do I have time to finish this one email before leaving to pick up the kids…?
…should I work on arms or legs at the gym…?
…can I burn any calories if I just take a nap…?
…what can I throw together for dinner…?
…how much homework help is too much…?
…and so the list goes on and on. Our lives are a series of decisions.
We used to call it work-life balance. But then we realized something: balance doesn’t exist.
Balance is a condition in which elements are of equal proportion. Equal parts work time and equal parts personal time. To achieve balance, we must juggle the two halves so that work gets done and friends and family don’t feel neglected. That’s a neat way to manage it. If only it were possible.
But the convenience of technology brings about a blending of our lives that makes it all one. Technology means I never have to miss an email, an IM or a phone call – whether it’s from my coworkers or my kids. I can read documents where ever I am – the latest memo from IT about security updates or the college application form for daughter. I can look up product details for BASE24-eps 2.0 or search for gold “Wonder Woman” style sandals to go with this ridiculously fabulous red jumpsuit. And I can do it sitting in shorts on my back patio, in a pencil skirt and slingbacks at the office or standing in line at Target.
So as I tackle all of this, tell me… what time is it?
In the days pre-smart phones and tablets and laptops, you could argue that when you were out of the office, work would not and could not get done. You were cut off from your work tools and now your focus could be on attending a football game or grilling a steak. There was a clear delineation of work time and personal time.
Today, however, I know if I take Oberyn to the vet at 9:30am on Tuesday, I can still be online and working at 9:30pm that night to finish editing that blog. In fact, while petting Oberyn as he gets his rabies booster, I responded to a coworker’s quick question via IM.
Working for a global company makes time even more irrelevant. For two years, every Tuesday night at 7pm, I was on the phone with my team in Australia. And 6:30am on Thursdays I called into a standing meeting with the group based in Frankfurt.
So, when, exactly, should I be “balancing” my personal and professional lives? How do I determine when I’ve achieved balance?
I don’t know. And I’m really not about setting myself up for impossible goals.
What technology has brought about is the realization that it’s every moment and every decision that counts. We make the most of our life and our time in every waking moment. Some of those decisions will be about quarterly earnings calls and strategic planning meetings and writing ad copy. Some of those decisions will be about the most convenient place to pick up dinner on my way home so that instead of cooking, I have time for a conversation with my offspring and a night run. But these decisions are not split into distinct and separate times of day. Sometimes, brochures get edited at 11pm and catch up with my kids happens at 6am. Sometimes, I spend all my waking hours working, working, working… looking for another day when I can pull the kids out of school and head to the beach for paddle boarding. And sometimes, the best I can do is offer “Backwards Dinner”, where we eat dessert first to ensure we don’t miss the best part.
Work-life integration is simply about making the best decision we can in the moment we are in. And if we are feeling overwhelmed by too many work moment and work decisions, we must use that moment to make a different decision. But these choices are not about balance and they are not about time.
These choices are about how we live our lives, in each moment.