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Why Is Work-Life Integration So Difficult?

10 Secrets on How Chill Can Help You Deal

The new buzz phrase, “work-life integration,” has been batted around by major corporations—eschewing the term “work-life balance,” considered to be a dinosaur of the 1990s. But what does that mean? Is big business suggesting that you continue working 24/7 during your personal time so they can get a bigger bang for their buck? Has balance become a corporate dirty word? Or is it a matter of semantics?

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

The term “work-life integration” is a slippery slope because it implies a blurring of lines. If you duck out at family dinners when your phone pings, wear your Bluetooth headset while playing catch with your son, or answer e-mails during your daughter’s soccer game, you’re not integrating; you’re working at the expense of your personal life—possibly workaholically. In all these scenarios, you blur your boundaries and miss out on the true spirit of being with the ones you love. When you’re not fully present, chances are your loved ones notice you’re not present and are unhappy about it. And when you’re not fully engaged, you send the message that your job is more important to you than they are.

Work-life integration is tricky, especially for someone who has trouble setting boundaries or problems being psychologically present. The idea of integration can seduce people into losing themselves in the bottomless pit of work tasks and electronic devices. Stop fooling yourself. If you want to be present, be present. Don’t show up and immerse yourself in tasks to make it look like you’re there for someone when you’re really not. It adds insult to injury, and they usually know the truth.

If you’re seeking work-life integration, you must have boundaries and a certain degree of mindfulness. Let’s say, for example, you have e-mails to answer during your son’s dance recital. Your reason for being there is to watch his performance, not to return e-mails. So you don’t let work intrude with being in a moment that you can never get back or relive. You find time later to return e-mails, perhaps after the recital while you’re waiting for him in the lobby.

So feel free to bring balance into the 21st Century with the phrase, “work-life integration” as long as your goal is mindful presence and full engagement with whatever you’re doing in each moment—working on your laptop, going on a family picnic, or taking time for yourself to chill. It’s the present-moment awareness and full engagement in each activity that distinguishes work-life integration from work addiction.

Compute Your Work-Life Integration Score*

To discover your work-life integration score, rate yourself on the following habits using the scale of 1: Never True; 2: Sometimes True; 3: Often True; 4: Always True. Then tally the total.

___ 1. I seem to be in survival mode, racing against deadlines no matter where I am.

___ 2. I stay busy with many irons in the fire during family activities.

___ 3. I engage in two or three tasks at once such as eating lunch, answering e-mails, on my laptop and talking on the phone.

___ 4. I over-commit to work requests by biting off more than I can chew.

___ 5. I feel guilty when I’m not working—even when hanging out with loved ones.

___ 6. I continue to work after coworkers have called it quits regardless of where I am.

___ 7. It’s hard for me to relax and unplug when I’m not working—even on vacation.

___ 8. I find myself working instead of socializing with friends or enjoying hobbies and family activities.

Your Score

8–16: Green light. Congrats: You’re a chill master of work-life integration.

17–24: Yellow light. Caution: Work is starting to take over. Consider my tips below to find more balance and ward off job burnout.

25–32: Red Alert. Whoa! You’re steamrolling toward job burnout with a double-barrel stress level. Others get a busy signal when they try to connect with you. Definitely use my tips below to unplug and consider a support group such as Workaholics Anonymous.

*Copyright 2018 by Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D. Reprinted from #Chill: Turn Off Your Job and Turn On Your Life. New York: HarperCollins/William Morrow. Used with permission of the author.

Work-Life Integration Tips

If you didn’t do as well as expected, here are some work-life integration tips to help raise your score:

1. Slow Down. Even the fast lane has a speed limit. Think of yourself as a human being instead of a human doer and make a conscious effort to unplug and recharge. It’s counterintuitive, but true; plodding puts you at the finish line in time, plus you get to enjoy life instead of rushing through it. Remember: the tortoise won the race. Eat, talk, walk and drive more slowly, and give yourself extra time to get to appointments so you’re not always rushing.

2. Practice Self-Care. The trifecta of health is good nutrition, ample rest, and regular exercise. This Holy Grail of physical and mental health also includes how you talk to yourself inside. In the face of obstacles, instead of kicking yourself when you’re already down, be on your own side with pep talks, and self-compassion.

3. Manage Your Schedule Instead of Letting It Manage You. Be master, instead of slave, to your work and prioritize job and personal tasks. Focus first on work projects or family responsibilities that require immediate attention. Don’t let your schedule call the shots and don’t impose unrealistic deadlines on yourself. Integrate personal time into your workday (such as taking your child for a doctor’s appointment) as often as you integrate work into your personal time.

4. Learn to Say No. Draw the line when someone asks you to do something you don’t have time for. When you say yes but mean no, you’re not taking good care of your mental and physical health.

5. Share the Load. Don’t require yourself to do everything. Learn to ask for help when you need it. Delegating tasks is a sign of a confident, integrated worker. If possible, hire outside help for household chores or job assistance. Not only will you have more energy at work, but you’ll also have more personal time.

6. Simplify Your Life. Tell yourself there’s a limit to what you can do and put the rest out of the picture. Start to see this attitude not as weakness but as strength. Setting aside just fifteen or twenty minutes a day for yourself can make a difference in lowering stress and raising your energy level. Indulge yourself with a nap, massage, or manicure. Practice staying in the present moment with yoga, solitary walks, or meditation to take your mind off red alert.

7. Avoid Multitasking. Studies show that multitasking isn’t what it’s cracked up to be and in fact that it takes longer to go from one task to the next because of the added time to refresh your memory of each task. Workers who focus on one task at a time are more efficient, productive, and effective at work/life integration.

8. Come Up for Air. Put time cushions between writing tasks and appointments. Your body isn’t designed to be desk bound for long periods of time. Take time to breathe, eat a snack, go to the bathroom, or just look out the window.

9. Tune Out Your Inner Critic. Instead of attacking yourself, give yourself pep talks when defeat hits home. Keep a treasure trove of the supportive and affirming emails, notes, gifts, and comments colleagues and fans send you. Look at them often to remember how much others appreciate you then treat yourself with the same support and loving-kindness.

10. Set Boundaries. Scrub making yourself accessible to work 24 hours a day and avoid working during personal times with family and friends. Protect your personal domain from electronic leashes and know when to turn them off. Create clear boundaries between work and home by carrying a separate cellphone for the job if possible. Use a laptop for work and a desktop for home to keep lines clearly drawn. When you’re already overloaded and need personal time, let that be a sign that you’re in no condition to bite off more. After a reasonable day’s work, put away your electronic devices in the trunk of your car or in a drawer so they’re out of sight out of mind—just as you would put away carpentry tools after building shelves or baking ingredients after making a cake. Integrate more time into your schedule for face-to-face human interactions and heart-to-heart talks with important people in your life.

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