Forget all the talk about work-life balance. Work is a part of life, in the same ways as the rest of your life will influence your work. A good work-life integration is key to be able to switch between the two.
For two items to balance, the two items need to be of equal size and weight. The part of your life that revolves around work is not a constant. Just as your private life newer will be a static element.
Why work-life balance is a failing concept
Work and life will at most times be mixed. Sometimes work will be consuming the most of your life. Other times, things happen in your life that makes work, and most other things, seem unimportant. This can be positive events like falling deeply in love or negative events like having to deal with illness or the loss of a close relative or friend.
Most people do not have a job where they never think a work-related thought outside of working hours. For this reason, I would argue that it is both difficult, unpractical, and maybe even unhealthy to try to fully separate between work and the rest.
For us to function as human beings, there needs to be room for flexibility, both in work and in the rest of our lives. The challenge is to find a way for these two forces to co-exist.
Why you should go for work-life integration
When I first started doing GTD, I tried keeping two separate systems. That would mean that if I got an idea in the shower, I would have to email myself or write it on a note, in order to remember it when I arrived at work. Similarly, I would have to email or note down on a piece of paper if I remembered something I had to do at home when I was sitting at work.
This forced me to have to handle an idea or task twice if I conceived it when I was in the wrong place. This was not only counterproductive, it was stressful and irritating.
As soon as I realized this, I put all my projects and tasks into one system. After some tuning, this changed my attitude towards my todo list and made me more productive. What surprised me was that it also helped me to relax.
One trusted system
I’m an avid practitioner of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. One of the core elements of a good GTD system is what David calls “one trusted system.” The idea is that you should only need to look in one place in order to get an overview of your commitments.
If you have only one todo list for the day, you can truly relax when all of the items are complete, knowing for sure that there is no other place some forgotten task is lurking.
With one system, covering both my work and the rest of my life, I could easily capture my idea or next action in a place that I knew that it would be dealt with at the appropriate time. This simple form of work-life integration ensured that I would not have to handle the same item twice.
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Not familiar with GTD? Read Getting Things Done (GTD) – What is it?
The importance of contexts
To send an email, you need an internet connection. In order to finish your PowerPoint presentation, you need your computer. In order to get milk, you have to be at the store. Grouping your actions by contexts makes it easy to look at work-related actions when at work, and avoid looking at these when you are not supposed to work.
Work-life integration require discipline
A successful work-life integration requires discipline. For a while, I had my todo list for work and my private todo list in two different home screens on my phone. I found that this helped me focus only on my work-related stuff when at work, and only on my personal stuff once work was over.
Work-life integration is not about being always-on, or always available. Successful work-life integration means having systems in place that lets you switch from work-mode to private-mode or opposite when needed. One way of easing the transition from work to vacation and back is what I describe in my blog post How to prepare yourself to get back to work after vacation.
My best advice for getting a healthy relationship between work and play is to have a good system for keeping track of all that you have to do. For me, the solution was GTD.