I distinctly remember sitting on a panel of IT executives, and someone asked, “How do you balance work and life?” My answer was simple; you don’t. There is no work-life and personal-life; there is just life. Sometimes the scale tips more one way than the other.
Don’t get me wrong, I am as ambitious as anyone and have struggled mightily at this thing called life. I have worked late, procrastinated on a project to the last minute, missed a deadline, missed family dinner, or ran into my daughter’s activity at the last minute. Over the years, however, I have integrated my work and personal lives with the technology available to us, ultimately reducing stress and increasing my engagement.
The starkest example of balancing life I can give is many years ago, a critical conference call was scheduled at the same time my weekly bicycle club ride started. Instead of rolling over and staying at work, I kitted up, plugged a wired headset into my cell phone, put the phone on mute, and frantically pedaled to keep up with my cycling buddies. When I had to participate in the phone call, I pulled over to the side of the road, unmuted, and said my peace. While my ride was interrupted a few times, I was satisfied with my day when I walked into my house that evening. I didn’t harbor resentment at my job, making me moody when it was time to be with my family. Nor did I resent my family because I was squeezed for time and missed my bike ride. This was my ah-ha moment.
At first, I would be as discrete as possible about these behaviors. However, a funny thing happened, I learned that the more I shared about my personal life at work, the more accepting my actions became. I found that all my co-workers and leaders struggled with the same things. At the time, we all grew up in corporate environments that discouraged bringing your personal life to work. Yet, at the same time, there was this push for authentic leadership. To inspire your team, you had to be vulnerable, show empathy, be inquisitive into your teams’ lives, know your employees’ names, and so on. This dichotomy was hypocritical at best.
So I started to experiment. I shared more about my activities: my love of cycling, my daughters’ theatre obsessions, and my wife’s career. I found the more I let others into my life, the more understanding they were when my life bled into my work. I started to put my personal commitments on my calendar. My team soon realized that Tuesday’s are my race days and that I needed to leave at 5 P.M. sharp to make it. It became easier to reschedule a meeting if a conflict arose.
I have yet to perfect this blend of life’s work, but I learn and get better every day. Frankly, the best thing that could have happened to accelerate how to blend one’s personal and professional life was COVID-19. It forced us all to introduce our personal lives at work, starting with our messy kitchens, family photos on the wall, dogs barking in the background, or kids barging into work meetings. While our lives have invaded our workspace, I have seen bonds grow tighter, empathy increase, and understanding across all levels of management change for the better.
Not everyone wants this blended life and that is OK. If you do, however, here are things to think about:
Start sharing your personal-life at work and your work-life at home.
If your community at work and at home does not know about each other, they can’t understand each other. Sharing your critical projects at work around the dinner table or retelling a story about your Saturday morning bike ride at work gives context about who you are and what is important. It sets the foundation for why you may have to schedule time on a Saturday to pull together a presentation so on Tuesday, you can take your kid to their soccer practice.
For the most important things to get to in a week, put them on your calendar.
My wife and I put meetings on each other’s calendars so we are both aware of our obligations. Most of the time, it alerts us to each other’s business travel or a personal appointment one of us is handling. Others who have access to our calendars now know about what we are juggling. It shows my team that I am OK with personal commitments during regular work hours, and they too, can integrate their personal and work lives.
Don’t be ashamed of your passions or hobbies.
The next time you sit in a team meeting at work, see if you can name a personal passion or hobby of each of your co-workers. If you are like me, you are hard-pressed to do so. As I started sharing more and more about my passions and hobbies at work, not only did I build stronger relationships, but when I scooted out of work to head to a bike race, no one questioned why. Let’s not forget that I met my obligations at work, even if that meant working a bit later in the evening to do so. The point is, if you don’t share about your passions, how could you expect those at work to build an understanding of why you need to take time out of your day to invest in them.
Celebrate your accomplishments in life with all your friends, family, and co-workers.
We don’t do enough celebrating if you ask me. You should be proud of your work and home accomplishments and want to share them with everyone you know. When something goes well at work, I first want to pick up the phone and tell my family. Often, when something goes well at home, at a bike race, or my kid did something cool, I would share at work the following week. This wasn’t always the case for me as I didn’t want to come across as bragging or oversharing. I used to try and draw a line between personal and professional, but this sanitized work-life isn’t reality, and the more I let my lives blend, the happier I was and the easier it became to juggle both aspects of my life.
Learn how to compromise and negotiate.
Blending your lives brings the art of compromise and negotiating to the forefront. You must be willing to give on one aspect or another when necessary. Big meetings with executives at my company or an external customer, take precedence over a personal activity. However, the same applies to your personal events, like your kid’s game or play. Making all constituents in your life aware of your obligations is essential to plan accordingly and gain support as you negotiate or compromise. When I have to miss out on a family event due to a work obligation, my family understands when they have a better context. The same goes for my boss. I am satisfied if I can get to a 75% win ratio in either work or personal life.
Life is seven days a week.
For me, blending my life means no day is sacred from work or my personal life. I tend to do a bit of work every day to live my life the way I want to. I often check emails Saturday mornings or prep a presentation on a Sunday evening. I try to isolate the work I do on the weekends to specific times, such that the majority of my day is available for my family. My family knows when I leave work early for a personal commitment, so they understand if I am checking email at night or doing some work on the weekend.
Know when to unplug.
No matter what, we all need a recharge. Knowing when to unplug completely is very important to your mental health and performance. I try never to work on a planned vacation. If I know I need a break, I will take a day off from work and checkout. I will often turn off all email and messaging app notifications on my phone. I will close my home office door, so I don’t stumble in there to do work. There are times when I need to unplug from both my work and personal life too. During these times, I make sure my family knows I am taking a “Me” day. While I have blended my life, we all still need that time to recharge fully.
Just remember, integrating your life doesn’t mean you are working 60+ hour weeks. What it does mean is it may feel like you are working across a day longer vs. just 8 A.M. to 5 P.M., but for me, the trade-off is worth it.