Re-Think Your Approach to Work-Life Balance

How many times have you heard advice to draw boundaries between work and home, to set up a separate study space away from where you relax, or keep meticulous track of your time? And how many times have you said, “That sounds great, but it doesn’t work for me”?

When it comes to work-life balance, there are as many pieces of advice for the magic solution as there are people. As more coaches and thought leaders have been sharing in recent years there’s a reason for that: work-life balance is something that will look unique to each person, since “work” and “life” mean something different to every individual.

In his Huffington Post article, “Work vs. Life: Balance, Integration and Alignment,” organizational culture consultant Eryc Eyl examines these different meanings:

When we say, “work,” what do we mean? We typically mean the thing we do for money. We sometimes mean, as Mark Twain put it, the thing we are obliged to do. At other times, we mean the thing we’re called to do. And occasionally, we mean the thing we do that makes us who we are. Whether it’s a job, a career, or a calling, “work” is the thing that constitutes our professional life.

Then what do we mean by “life?” Typically, we mean everything outside of our professional life. Life is our family, our friends, our community, and the worlds that exist within our bodies and minds. It’s parenting, hobbies, passions, clubs, churches, volunteer work, dating, hanging out, […] whatever floats your boat. Life is the thing we do when we’re not working.

Depending on the priorities and values you hold related to work and what you do outside of work, the balance you’re looking for could be wildly different from the balance your best friend or a coworker is looking for. Do you see your work as “just a job” or do you see it as a passion, something you would do regardless of compensation?

Work-life balance often calls for a rigid, perhaps even equal, split between work and the rest of life. With each of these two spheres kept separate, a sense can emerge that extra time spent in one “takes” time from the other. But how realistic is this not just in our tech-heavy, interconnected society, but also with increasing attention paid to meaningful work that fulfills our priorities and values? What if you don’t want to keep them separate?

Two newer approaches to this question of managing work and life are called “integration” and “alignment.” In work-life integration, the idea of boundaries, of separation, is replaced with blending the two concepts. In a TEDxMileHigh talk, former executive Teresa Taylor describes merging her work and family calendars together, and making intentional choices about where to spend her time and to be completely engaged and focused in her choice, whether that’s dinner with a client or a night in with the kids. Work-life integration sees life as one whole with many parts that can all fit together seamlessly.

Work-life alignment goes a step further than integration, focusing on the big picture: what are your goals for your life? What is your personal vision, mission, or sense of purpose for your one life? Doing the introspective work to understand or decide the answers to these questions can lead you to a personalized approach to work-life balance or integration that ensures that your work, your relationships, your education, and all other facets of your life are in alignment with this overarching theme or goal. If you are a values-driven person or especially attuned to your personal or spiritual growth, work-life alignment could be an ideal approach for you to create a personalized sense of balance or what speaker Dan Thurmon describes as off-balance.

Are you curious to try one of these new approaches for yourself? A method we recommend to get started is by evaluating the different parts of your life and your current satisfaction with them. The “Wheel of Life” is one version of a tool you can use to do this. Once you fill in the wheel, ask yourself:

  • Is there an area of my life in which I would like to be more satisfied?
  • Is there an area in my life in which I wouldn’t mind cutting back?
  • How do the different areas of my life interact with each other in ways that may affect my sense of satisfaction or balance?

Perhaps creating boundaries between work and the other areas of your life will help you achieve your goals and to move forward and make change. But if boundaries are less your style, drawing connections between different parts of the wheel might help you map a plan for integration or alignment.

By Kyle Inselman
Kyle Inselman Director, Alumni Career & Professional Development