Achieving so-called work-life balance is impossible for any corporate leader. The problem: Perfect balance never happens. “Balance is tricky because it implies a dynamic of either/or: Either you are working or you are with your family and you need to balance the two,” says University of Mary Washington psychology professor Miriam Liss, co-author of Balancing the Big Stuff: Finding Happiness in Work, Family, and Life.
As digital technology has blurred the lines between our personal and professional lives, however, a new approach emerged: Work-life blending. Many millennials have mastered this art, leveraging technology to integrate the various aspects of their lives rather than segregating the personal and the professional. You can follow their lead.
“The reality is that we are often doing both at the same time – dealing with family concerns while at work, working while at home. This need not be seen as a failure of work-family balance but as a natural part of how things often happen,” Liss says.
[ Is frequent travel causing too much turbulence in your life? Read How to be more productive while traveling. ]
Blending can actually enable individuals to be more productive than balancing, says Karen Brown, business psychology coach and CEO of Velocity Leadership Consulting. “It gives you more control, flexibility, and efficiency.” Leaders who want to improve both their work and home lives can do so by being better blenders. Here are some smart ways to start:
1. Plan "bleisure" travel
We’re not talking about taking your full workload on your next vacation, but rather incorporating some personal pleasure into your mandatory business trips. “Plan your schedule so you can have at least a few hours without meetings or other commitments,” advises former C-level executive Nancy A. Shenker, who publishes the BleisureLiving blog.
To get the most from that downtime, don’t wing it. Find some once-in-a-lifetime activities you’d enjoy. “Finding places and restaurants that only locals frequent is always fun. Consider activities like bicycle tours, [which] be a terrific, efficient way to see a city while getting exercise,” Shenker says. “Use LinkedIn to find professional “locals” who might act as tour guides. If they are in collaborative industries, you could learn a thing or two while you explore.” Also, consider taking a partner or a friend and extending your stay. Remember to pack wisely: Bring clothes that can transition from work to play.
2. Institute bring-your-work-to-kids events
Leaders can introduce their work-selves to their children in a number of ways. This can enable a deeper connection and help to alleviate work-life conflict. “For an IT executive, that might mean doing a presentation on one’s work at a school, helping a child with a computer project, showing a child what you are working on and explaining to them what you do, bringing a child into the office to meet colleagues and get a sense of your work environment to help them understand job choices and possibilities,” says Liss.
We saw a CIO bring their teenage son to a recent industry networking event: Based on the smiles of everyone shaking this young man’s hand, it was not only accepted but also appreciated.
3. Take the call
This may sound simple, but it’s powerful: When you see a critical personal text or phone call come in while you’re working, excuse yourself to take it. This can be beneficial to you: Even more importantly, it helps your team see that work-life blending is encouraged.
“Allowing family priorities to blend into work can create an environment that sends a message that it is okay to prioritize the family as long as work gets done,” says Liss. “If everyone was more transparent about how it is important to prioritize family while still achieving work tasks this would create a more egalitarian environment.”
[ Do you understand the signs of toxic leaders? Read Bad Blood: 4 lessons from Theranos for leaders. ]
4. Incorporate task switching
Working on a single task for hours on end is a recipe for burnout, poor performance, and bad decision-making. “Rather than thinking in a chunk of eight to ten hours, some people find it is easier to look for 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there,” says Kate Zabriskie, founder and CEO of HR consultancy Business Training Works.
Integrating personal tasks with work ones is doubly beneficial: It gives you a break from the task at hand and the opportunity to take care of something important in your non-work life. “Blending is therefore better because it allows you to alleviate fatigue by switching mental gears from work to personal, fostering fresh thinking,” says Brown.
Figure out how long you can work at your optimum level and work for only that long. Then switch to a personal task or break. “Many IT leaders are taking multiple mini-breaks throughout the day – 15 to 30 minutes or longer away from work to do something personal. When they come back, they are clear and refreshed and perform at a higher level,” Brown says.
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