Let's start with the basics. Why do I call it work-life integration and not work-life balance? The term work-life balance first appeared in the 1970s to describe the balance between an individual's work and personal life. The '70s were a time of important societal changes. To name a few: women were leaving the home to enter the workforce in larger numbers and computer technologies were just beginning to peek into our lives.
Today, things have changed dramatically compared to how they were 40 years ago. We now have many variations on the family environment, electronic devices have invaded our homes, and our workplaces are no longer confined to a fixed space. Thus, the old lines have been blurred and we have to create new, modern ways of developing healthy boundaries while allowing ourselves to be successful in all of the areas of our lives that are important to us. Worklifebalance.com defines today's balance as "meaningful daily achievement and enjoyment in each of my four life quadrants: Work, Family, Friends and Self."
This definition works well, but I still think the word "balance" is not enough. Balance implies that there is some state of homeostasis in which all aspects of our lives are in perfect harmony. This rarely happens! In his book Fire of Love, world-renowned yoga teacher Aadil Palkhivala writes, "The moment our attention ceases and we congratulate ourselves for being balanced upright, we have already begun to fall over…Achieving and maintaining balance are the path, not the destination." Consider instead that the destination is integration, a state where there is dynamic flow between our core values and our daily commitments, and our time spent on each of these.
Take a moment now, and think about your core values. For each of us, they are different in their order of priority, but for many of us they include family, friends, health, spirituality, and work. For more on reviewing your core values, you can check out the Home Practice section of my Drexel Global Night of Networking Work-Life Integration presentation on the Alumni Association's YouTube channel.
For many of us, integrity at work is not only one of our core values but also a high priority right along with family and friends. To prevent work from eating away too much of our time, we must take a holistic view, with work and family and friends and our other values together. At first, this can be overwhelming, but it gets easier over time with practice. We can begin with an exercise to kick off the journey that I call "Sunday Night Homework." Here's how it started for me:
I spent many of my school years doing homework and long-term assignments on Sunday nights (a moment of thanks to my parents who instilled this habit in me early on in life). I always found that my Mondays, which I often hated, turned out a lot better when I did this. Later on, as an adult attending Drexel's MBA program part-time after work, I revisited this habit and found similar results. My week was always better when I planned ahead.
A few years later, after nearly burning out in my job, I realized that I wasn't allocating enough time to anything else besides work and my reserves were almost empty. I took a step back and reflected. I asked myself, "How did I get here?" The answer was not pretty. Even though I had seen great success at work, my health wasn't good, many of my friends were forgotten and I felt like more of a visitor than a member of my family. Thankfully, I got the chance to start anew and my passion for the topic of work-life integration was born. Your story may not be as dramatic, but let's face it, we can all do better.
So what is "Sunday Night Homework"? It's a planning exercise to help keep us in check each week.
Set aside 1 hour to plan for the week on Sunday night. The first time you do this it may take longer than 1 hour, but I promise with practice, the time it takes will shorten. If you work odd hours or days, set time aside for your Sunday night planning exercise on whatever day will work for you.
Look at your calendar for the week ahead. If you keep separate calendars for work and personal commitments, set these side by side. In the future, you may want to integrate these as well, so you can see the big picture more readily.
As you review the week of activities, ask yourself:
- Which are your MUST DOs? Mark these with an M.
- Which can you put off? Add these to next Sunday night's homework so they won't be forgotten.
Review your MUST DOs against your core values. Which ones are linked to which of your core values? Which of your core values don't have any MUST DOs? What can you set in motion now to free up time to focus on a higher priority value?
Delegating is a great and often underutilized tool. Send a few emails, texts, or better yet, call or leave a voicemail to ask for help. You may have to be a little creative here. For example: Can you ask a friend to drive the kids one way to a sporting event so you can take care of a few errands before attending? You can volunteer to drive the next time.
Outsourcing is relatively easy to find, though sometimes costs money. However, if you think of your time as an opportunity cost, a few extra dollars here or there can make a big difference in freeing up time. For example: Can you hire a local teenager to mow your lawn?
Preparing in advance takes some additional time for sure, but you may end up with better quality time later. For example: Can you throw a few things in the oven to be reheated later in the week so instead of cooking dinner you can share some family time?
Review your work. Act like you're a teacher grading an assignment, did you touch on all of the objectives (focus on your core values)? If not, go back and move a few more things to the delegate or put-off list. The seeds of this step were born out of an experience I had toward the end of my Drexel MBA. There was a group project in my Organizational Behavior class. I was tired of being a leader, so I decided to coast along and just do what others in the group assigned to me. We ended up with a pretty decent work output and presentation. Imagine my surprise when I got a poor grade! As it turned out, the actual grade was based not on the content, but on the process of how our group worked. The professor was looking for us to assume our natural roles in the group and I hadn't. In that spirit, think about the process, not the outcome. Go back and reevaluate your delegating and crossing off. What else can you change to better reflect what is important to you and your goals?
On a side note, rarely will everything go perfectly as planned and even if it does, it might not match with your priorities. Build in time for the unexpected and try to block an hour or two on your calendar for that. Finally, reward yourself after you complete your planning exercise. It doesn't have to be anything big. Some ideas: have a cup of coffee or tea with a loved one, take a short walk, turn off your devices and breathe!
Andrea Alfonsi, MBA '04
Managing Director, Invenio Consulting LLC
Moderator, Invenio Research: After serving as president of a niche marketing research company, Andrea Alfonsi began consulting to share her expertise for the specialized strategic marketing and business planning needs of her clients. Andrea has nearly 20 years of custom marketing research and consulting experience. She has held senior roles at several of the top healthcare primary marketing research agencies. She has moderated thousands of in-depth interviews and focus groups with physicians, consumers and other allied health professionals.
Andrea is a member of the Pharmaceutical Marketing Research Group and the Marketing Research Association, currently serving on the Board of Directors for the SoCal MRA chapter. She has been a guest speaker for both organizations. Andrea holds an MBA in Marketing from Drexel LeBow College of Business and has served on its Alumni Council. She has been a presenter at graduate-level and alumni events.
Work-Life Integration Presenter and Yoga teacher, Invenio Wellness: As part of her commitment to Work-Life Integration, Andrea has presented workshops on the topic on numerous occasions. She teaches yoga and mind-body fitness in the San Diego area. She recently spent a week in Santa Fe, New Mexico working on additional teacher training in Prajna yoga.