How to achieve work life balance – especially in the digital age

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Work-life balance can be a balancing act. I used to think of it as work-life integration. But that can be tiring to always be involved in everything at once. That’s when couples sit on their couch and work separately on their phones. Carlos Hidalgo calls it work-life boundaries instead.

Finding the right boundaries can help us be happier. Who doesn’t want to be happy? I know I do. I assume nobody gets up on Mondays and says they are looking forward to being as unhappy as possible today. I want to be as happy as I can – every day.

Certainly, I do have to make some money to buy food, pay the mortgage and buy American Girl Dolls for the girls (ha #dadlife). But working for the weekend or the next vacation or the evening seems like a missed opportunity of the rest of my life.

There’s only so much time

But as Neil Pasricha reminds us in “The Happiness Equation”, there are 168 hours in a week. CEOs don’t get more hours than frontline staff. Everyone starts and finishes with the same number of hours. Neil reminds us of three buckets – each with 56 hours:

  • Sleep
  • Whatever pays the bills (aka job)
  • Other things (gym, playing with the kids, writing a book, blogging, etc.)

Neil counts driving to work and checking email at night in that 56-hour work bucket. I suppose that bucket can be much closer to 40 hours even – depending on your commute and those related tasks. For example, I work in my basement office.  In theory, my work bucket  can be right around 40 hours since my commute is like 10 seconds.

Of course, sometimes it’s hard to walk away. Carlos in his book talked about setting boundaries. He gets up at the time he wants to finish, turns his computer off and even verbally declares “I’m done.”

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Simple math: When one bucket takes more than its share of 56 hours the others get less. For example, somebody who works 80 hours per week, that means they have 24 fewer hours in those other buckets. They either sleep less or spend less time with their family. The extra work time comes from somewhere.

How do you have a fully integrated life?

Figure out what you want to do with your life. No worries – it’s okay to change course later, too, if you want. It is good, however, to have a guiding star and principle. My guiding principle is to help organizations be authentic and share their stories for great connections and better, more relevant and longer-term outcomes.

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Figure out what you enjoy doing. I enjoy learning about people and organizations as well as our community stories. Journalism and later content marketing journalism and authentic storytelling were good matches.

Figure out what you are good at. I believe on focusing on my strengths and less on working on my weaknesses. I am aware of my weaknesses though.

Find the right partners and people to work with. That could mean a forward-thinking, collaborative and flexible company. It also might mean that certain clients are better fits than others.
Once all these align we can have full integration. And full integration does not mean that we work 80-hour weeks. Sometimes we might work 40, 38, and sometimes it could be 50.

Charles Duhigg in his productivity book says that once you hit 55 hours of working per week productive no longer increases anyway.

Living an authentic and meaningful life is really only doable when we chase and live our passion. That’s in all parts of our lives. Not just outside of work.
That’s why I’m looking for full life integration and not work-life balance. I only have one life.

Set boundaries

On a livestream recording of the Business Storytelling Podcast Carlos Hidalgo joined me to discuss not work life balance but work life boundaries.

He mentioned that boundaries matter and can help us enjoy life more.

One trick for me has been to not allow routine work communications in nonstop. For example, don’t have work email on your cell phone, turn the work computer off when done and related strategies.

Not having work email on my personal phone has been a big one actually. If you can’t go that far, consider turning notifications off.

Not having the right work-life balance can be damaging to our well-boing. That’s why it’s important to do a job you are good at and enjoy and is at a company with your values and the right culture.

Then find the right boundaries of when work gets done and how communication happens. That doesn’t mean we work less! But we work smarter and more deliberately.