Work/Life Integration: A New Way to Understand a Balance

June 09, 2022 by Amanda Reill

What if our work could be an expression of our lives, rather than just a compartment in it?

What if we felt built to work — even longed to work? This may or may not be possible. It may not even be desirable for all people. But for those who long to make a living doing a job they’re passionate about, or even some of those who work to earn and complete a job well done, a work/life integration may be the best approach to striking an ideal balance.

Balance vs integration

Seeking work/life balance has been a recognized cultural goal for decades. Experts remind us to do it, friends remind us to keep it, and our spouses and co-parents may desperately need us to. The concept is a healthy one: don’t get so ‘lost’ in your career that you neglect your family, community, and other important aspects of life. Balance implies harmony, equilibrium, and health. Balance and symmetry in nature are beautiful.

Work/Life Integration: A New Way to Understand a Balance

These days, work/life balance often implies the practice of ‘unplugging’ — leaving our devices in another room, not opening work emails on the weekends, and using the lifesaving ‘do not disturb’ feature on our smartphones. Remote workers can find striking a balance particularly difficult. But what if there was another way to slice the pie?

Managing balance can be less about when can I squeeze in some PTO days? And more about when can I squeeze in a nap? You’re managing your health and your energy on more of a micro-level. The countdown to your vacation or the weekend doesn’t have to be something that’s trudged through — when it’s possible, you could set your work aside and tend to other, more pressing needs, like the headache that’s currently giving you double vision.

Work/life integration calls for people to be more flexible with their concept of “work.” For example, it may mean getting some dusting done while on a conference call or being able to squeeze in a brief yoga session at your office desk. This may also require flexibility with your time throughout the work day, requiring you to work an extra half hour after typical work hours to accommodate life-oriented tasks. 

How to achieve work life integration

For many people, ‘unplugging,’ or drawing clear lines between their personal and professional lives’ may not be the best way to conceptualize a balance. For some, a constant pivot or integration of the two make more sense.

This can especially apply to:

  • Entrepreneurs/self-employed
  • Parents of young children
  • Creatives
  • Other big life responsibilities such as caring for aging parents
  • Certain personality types

Work/life integration is a life of constant pivot. Life itself is a bit that way anyway, but when you see your work as one of many aspects of your life rather than through a work/life binary, you may be better able to keep it in its rightful place. If you’re working from home and your child has a need, you’re more likely to be able to tend to it right away. If those needs become greater on a certain day, you may need to devote a late night or early morning catching up on emails. Some needs — in parenting, work, life, and caring for others — come on a schedule. Doctor’s appointments; meetings; piano recitals. Others don’t. The beauty of a work/life integration means that you can determine what’s pressing outside of those specifically scheduled hours.

When you’re building a business, there are always things you can be doing to set yourself in forward motion. Just as we must balance being alert and asleep (and those schedules vary based on the individual and their tendencies toward early mornings, late nights, and naps), we must also balance the things that push us forward. An athlete may enjoy a pickup game with teenage sons more than deep conditioning. Both activities press them forward in their craft. For some, working a little bit seven days a week can actually help them strike a greater balance — it simply requires a different approach!

Seeing life as a rotating list of needs you have the privilege to show up for rather than a litany of competing demands may also help you to move from one thing to the next with anticipation. It removes some of the friction or resentment that can come from having to be at work when you don’t feel you should have to be, like when you’ve successfully completed your job for the day. According to the Gartner Digital Worker survey in 2021, 43% of remote workers felt like a flexible schedule actually improved their productivity. If more work can get done in less time, how else could you spend your time today? 

Room for more

A work/life integration both simplifies your life and allows for more enriching complexity. There may not need to be categories of “work” and “life” that you clock in and out of. There’s just one life we live. But you may find yourself, suddenly, with more creative room. You may have time to care for ailing family members, respond to your children when they really need you, or fit in exercise in a way that actually makes your brain work better. 

If you’re a life coach, you may find that there are clients who also keep the same schedule as you, and may be grateful for the opportunity to meet you at 6am, 8pm, or noon on a Sunday if it’s what works for you.

Consider asking yourself what your dream schedule would look like, still maintaining your current work and financial responsibilities. If your job doesn’t currently extend the flexibility you feel you would need to achieve a healthier balance for you, design what that ideal schedule would look like and open up the conversation with your employer. Be prepared for negotiations, but also understand that they may be open to it! Regardless what your current work situation looks like, taking a chance to explore a greater balance through integration may just be worth it.

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