You’re at work and you get a call from the school nurse saying your child is sick. You’re having dinner with friends and get a text from your boss asking you to ‘take a quick look’ at something he emailed you. Both of these scenarios are fraught with tension, because in each case, the realms of work and home are colliding.
The term “work/life balance” was coined in 1986, when women began entering the workforce in larger numbers, and has been widely used in the American lexicon ever since. The term is somewhat flawed, because it assumes there exists a perfect balance between one’s work life and non-work life. As demonstrated in the examples above, that perfect balance is elusive because real life is messy. The demands of both work and home constantly compete for our attention, and it’s a juggling act to figure out how to make it all work.
There are things we can do, however, to maximize our time in both spaces and still allow for some flexibility in merging the two. For this topic, I turned to true “experts,” friends and colleagues who are living the struggle of work/life integration every day. Many of them point to one key to success in this area: boundaries.
“I try to draw not rigid, but meaningful boundaries between [work and home],” says wellness coach Amelia Haluska. “I think it’s unrealistic to hope one might not spill into the other; however, I aim to be very mindful and present when they do. If I’m replying to a client when with my family, I carefully choose when to do so, I let my family know that I am, and then I step aside so as not to split my attention. Honoring the importance of both parts of my life allows me greater peace and comfort.”
Part of establishing boundaries is to commit fully to each part of your life while in that space. “Allow yourself to be fully present in both places guilt-free,” says Alisa Carlson, a teacher. “Focusing on work during work hours is appropriate to build your confidence and skills as a great employee. Then do the exact same process at home. The result is feeling your own worth multiply while the people at work and at home know they have your full attention and care.”
It’s important as well to acknowledge that sometimes the balancing scales do tip further in one direction, depending on the season. “There will be times you choose to focus on your life more and there will be times you choose to focus on your work more,” says Laura Didonna, a human resources executive.
Tricia Brouwers, a life and business coach, agrees. “It’s like a pendulum swing… sometimes it swings toward family and other times work, or between whatever we deem as what matters most. The beauty in it is it’s our choice.”
In addition to philosophical framing, here are some practical tools my friends and colleagues suggested:
– When you’re done with work for the day, silence all work email notifications. (It’s recommended to discuss this with your employer ahead of time.)
– When working from home, have a dedicated work space that you can walk away from when it’s time.
– Stay organized with your schedule. Keep both your work and home schedules on one calendar so you can prioritize and plan accordingly.
– Part of the “life” aspect of work/life balance is your own health and well-being. Take time to practice self care daily: exercise, take a walk, read a book, meditate, do activities you love.
Ultimately, in navigating this challenge, it’s important to give yourself grace. As art teacher Jessica Corral says, “Remember your limitations and that you are not meant to be perfect. This is where gentle love of self shines through and overflows for others.”
April 1, 2022