People often refer to work-life balance; yet, I believe work-life integration is more realistic. In thinking about "balance", I see a scale or seesaw, forcing a perception of costs needed for success, but I do not believe my "work" competes with my "life", seeing how they regularly complement each other instead. Although balance would be static, life is certainly not and requires fluid solutions to address one's ever-changing priorities for work, home, community or society and the private realm of mind, body and spirit. I help my clients recognize how any element we choose to have in our lives adds value to each of the other elements and how harmony is possible. As the various elements of life are layers on top of each other, the emphasis needed for each element continually fluctuates, and each layer adds value to the others, making the total greater than any part.
Some people refer to it as "getting in the zone" while others call it "being on a roll". No matter what you call it, enabling all elements of life to better each other helps you benefit from greater effectiveness so you ultimately perform at your best. Research shows you can learn to get and stay on a roll by tweaking a few simple aspects of how you handle the various aspects of life.
Stew Friedman has been at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, since 1984 where he is the Practice Professor of Management and founded the Wharton Leadership Program. Known as the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, Friedman's research focuses a good deal on the interactions between all the elements encompassed in life: work, home, community or society as well as our own minds, bodies and spirits. Whether in my own life or working with my clients, I've seen great validity in Friedman's finding that "you don't have to sacrifice, tradeoff or balance to have a sane, productive and meaningful work life and home life". The mashup of many layers in life may fluctuate over time, but addressing the priorities of those various elements leads to more successful results, focusing on the three core principles of what the Wharton School refers to as the Total Leadership Approach: be real, be whole and be innovative. As Friedman explains, "To be real is to act with authenticity by clarifying what's important to you. To be whole is to act with integrity by recognizing how the different parts of your life affect one another. All this examination allows you to be innovative."
Over the past few weeks, we've done deep dives on the importance of time being limited, being clear on priorities, proactively planning to best invest time, limit distractions and utilize all available resources; it is work-life integration that pulls together each tenant of productivity for your greatest success.
Looking at your own life, would you like to utilize this integration, harmony and efficiency to fuel more powerful outcomes? Here are a few simple steps to get you started:
- Plan for all elements of life in the same daily, weekly and monthly game plans. You are one person, whether at home, at work, volunteering in the community or taking time to care for yourself. You can't be in more than one place at the same time, and multi-tasking prohibits achieving the best possible results. Still, there are only 1,4440 minutes in each day, and you must allocate your investment of time as powerfully as possible to address the ever-changing priorities from all elements of your life. With a clear awareness of your priorities, you can include actions that address goals for all of those most important priorities, rather than segmenting your life, and you'll be able to focus on activities that will address your needs in multiple elements at the same time. Instead of compartmentalizing activities by individual elements of your life, schedule your priorities, and bring your priorities together so multiple goals can be accomplished simultaneously.
- Be creative with simple changes that address multiple priorities at once. With a clarity of which priorities are most important and urgent at any moment in time, you can plan actions to address more than one priority at once; as Friedman explains, aim for "4-way wins, (where there's) improved performance at work, at home, in the community and for yourself." Enhanced productivity and satisfaction come with small changes that are under your control while greater efficiency comes from addressing the priorities from multiple elements at once, which means achieving more of your various different goals concurrently. For example, walking your dog meets your goals to live a healthier life as well as take care of your pet; however, if you brainstorm a big pitch for work or listen to a recording of a book you're reading at the same time, you can accomplish even more via this work-life integration tactic. Likewise, attending a business conference is another excellent example for addressing multiple elements at the same time: you're learning new information, networking with other professionals and visiting new locations.
- Do great work. When you are good at completing assigned tasks, whether at work, at home or in the community, you better position yourself to do something for yourself or another element of your life as a complement, having those from whom you need buy-in be more receptive to your "why" because you were present and focused during the time they needed you to be in achieving goals related to them. When you perform well as needed, those around you are more understanding about how addressing other priorities will empower you to do even better work and better help the team in the future. As explained by Jennifer Dulski, President & COO of Change.org, "If (others) know they can trust you to deliver high-quality results... they'll be less concerned with when and where you get that work done", but you must prove yourself. Turnover, absenteeism and disgruntled workers are costly; therefore, when your work-life integration leads to the business achieving its goals, more options become available to you.
- Offer flexibility as a "temporary experiment". When you frame how your solution benefits the entire team, explain how it will be regularly evaluated and can be discarded if it just doesn't work out as hoped. Then, when you succeed, achieving enhanced productivity with greater outputs, everyone will support the continuation of the tactics in your solution.
- Acknowledge how the resources around you can help. As we discussed last week, it is imperative to utilize all available resources, whether streamlining your workflow processes, creating an organized workspace, hiring consultants whose expertise enhances what you already know or do, outsourcing what needs to be done but not necessarily by you, implementing boundaries or taking advantage of existing tech tools. When you can pull in resources that help address priority goals for multiple elements of your life, it's all the more efficient, effective and, therefore, productive.
- Focus on outcomes over activities. Rather than doing things you think you are "supposed" to do, have specific goals mapped out for your week and incorporate actions that will drive those desired results. As I'm planning for all elements of life, I use my Weekly Strategy Session and Daily Wrap-Ups to create a game plan for what particular activities will fuel my desired outcomes and help me stay on track for successfully achieving the results I want or need. By focusing my actions on achieving my desired outcomes, I know whether I'm being successful.
- Control what you can control. Only you are the boss of you and can control the fate of your week. Life will throw you curve balls, but you choose how to react and with what attitude you face challenges. How much or how little guilt you experience in any element really is in your control, just as you control with what actions you respond to what occurs around you.
- Complete a regular audit of your time. Experiencing burnout is usually due to a misalignment between your goals, priorities or values and your actions. On a daily, weekly and monthly basis, make sure your actions are consistent with your values, supporting the fulfillment of your goals in whichever life elements are highest priorities currently. For example, are you attending meetings you don't really need to be in just so you can be seen there? If you have trouble staying on track alone, consider incorporating an accountability partner in your efforts, giving you someone to talk through situations where it is more challenging to align your actions with your priorities. Since our individual circumstances changes at different stages in our lives, the percent of each day that needs to be devoted to each element of life will vary, meaning we must keep our focus fluid, and regular reviews of how well you are aligning your actions with your priorities will aid your efforts.