Work-Life Integration

Work-life "balance" as a phrase suggests that two separate things exist, work and life, which therefore must be non-work. But work is part of our lives, and for many of us, a very important part. How our professional identities and activities are blended and integrated within our lives as a whole is a much more meaningful and helpful idea. Significant professionals obligations must at times be met (e.g., the weeks before a grant proposal is due, when grading must be completed at the end of the semester, when research is being presented at a distant conference, etc.), and acknowledgement and acceptance over resentment and resistance goes a long way towards harmony. 

Each person's version of integrating their work and non-work activities is individual and personal but some features are commonly on the lists of those have emerged from those who consider themselves satisfied with the ways things are going. These include being honest and realistic about time management, being graciously able to lower expectations of yourself and others, and recognizing when stressful situations (deadlines, expectations, assumptions) are actually self-created and self-imposed.

Some related ideas worth knowing about, updated on a regular basis:

  • The Four Keys to Happiness at Work (Emiliana Simon-Thomas, August 2018). Worthwhile ideas about first defining exactly what you think happiness at work means for you, followed by an explanation of how purpose, engagement, resilience, and kindness combine to make the difference.
  • Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less (21-minute video) (Tiffany Dufu, November 2017, AppNexus Women's Leadership Forum). Dufu often shares the story of when her 2nd grade daughter was devastated because she hadn't been brought to an after-school birthday party that every other classmate was attending (she had been invited but the event never made it on to the family calendar, which basically means that it doesn't exist in time or space in theirs and many other households). Dufu's message is an empowering one for many women, as it has to do with changing your need to control processes as well as outcomes - especially ones that aren't in alignment with the key life goals that you set for yourself - and accepting that in the process, balls will probably end up getting dropped. Dufu's life-long goals, "advancing women and girls, raising conscious global citizens, and nurturing a healthy partnership," span her professional and personal experiences, and is convinced that her daughter will not only survive but will thrive because of the type of world her mother is trying to create, even while she experiences disappointment along the way. These are powerful ideas to consider in a gendered context as ball-dropping is a fact of life for ultra busy and professionally successful people, but women are more likely to carry the guilt for letting it happen. 
  • Find your sweet spot for work-life balance (David G. Jensen, February 2018, Science Magazine). Jensen points out that the patterns of how "balance" is pursued can be temporally modified on an as-need basis. Any given day may be divided up between work and non-work matters, or there may be several weeks of heavy work followed by a non-work respite. Communicating about these cycles with your family members helps to keep expectations in check. 
  • Work-Life Balance: Can You Actually Make That Happen? (Dahui You, 2015, Frontiers in Pediatrics). You highlights some of the best time-management practices: that multi-tasking is not always a good choice and that having a to-do list that you update each evening helps set priorities. She suggests that scheduling only two-thirds of the actual available work time will yield more realistic outcomes since the unexpected will always happen.