Balance Is Bunk: Realistic Work/Life Integration Strategies


The unrealistic concept of work/life balance makes me cringe. Most women are time starved, sleep deprived and burning the candle at both ends to keep up with career demands and being the Chief Household Officer at home. Those with kids have an extra layer of beautiful chaos while trying to raise younglings to become well-adjusted adults.

You can't have it all -- at least not all at the same time, and certainly not by doing it all yourself. Life is a rollercoaster of zany and less zany but the ride can be fabulous if you adopt a hybrid philosophy of purposeful behavior and the opposite when sometimes you just need to let it go.

As a self-proclaimed intense and ambitious Type A personality, I confess I am still a work in progress in the work/life integration department. The following strategies have helped me and I am grateful for the mentors, coaches and gurus who have shared them with me. It takes a village so in that spirit I'm paying it forward with the hope of a little less zany and more gratification in your life and career.

Schedule Email -- Two Times a Day: Email can overwhelm your workday and decrease productivity if you don't manage it on your terms. Schedule two chunks of time each day when you will tackle your email uninterrupted with a singular focus. Train those with whom you work that you will respond but it need not be at an immediate instant-message like speed. Teach others how to treat you professionally (and personally) and set clarity of expectations.

Take a Break: Taking an occasional break during the day will rejuvenate your energy, reboot your mind, and boost productivity. Sitting is the new smoking so take a walk, go out to lunch, or take advantage of a brief meditation break to empower your wellness as well as your efficiency at work and at home.

Be Mindful . The craziness of the workday can often spill over into your personal life. Take advantage of some quiet time -- even if only five minutes and savor your surroundings. This is just as important at work as it is at home. Breathe deeply and exhale!

The Art of Single Tasking: Research tells us that our brains get overwhelmed with performing multiple tasks at once and productivity and accuracy suffer. Focus on one thing at a time -- celebrate completion and marvel how you will accomplish more and be less stressed. For a real challenge -- try keeping only single tabs or projects open on your computer at any given time.

Calendar Your Life as Well As Your Work: Career calendars fill quickly with tasks, projects, presentations and events. When was the last time you scheduled something fun for yourself and/or your family? A date night with your beloved, or a quiet evening all to yourself? By scheduling YOU time, you will honor your life and your career because you deserve it.

Digital Detox: This is extremely tough since current studies indicate that people check their smart devices 200+ times a day. Can you unplug from technology when you are home and resist the urge to check your email, Facebook or Twitter feed? There are times when you are on-call and you have to work late or go above and beyond -- that will never change. So when you can unplug, do it, and celebrate the time you have to enjoy your life.

Use Your PTO: Vacation is there for a reason, and you need to take time away from work to recharge and focus on other things. Just like your lunch break, take it, relish the time away from your workplace and enjoy the world and the people in your life. Plan your paid time off in advance to be sure that you use all of it. Not taking all of your vacation is not a badge of honor but a badge of poor judgment on your part. Don't be a vacation loser!

Set Boundaries: Some families prohibit smart phones at the dinner table. This is becoming popular in work scenarios as well where all devices are deposited in a bin during meetings to keep attention and focus. Perhaps your boundary is setting limits about when you are available after hours -- or not at all. It's ok to set and re-set boundaries so you set clear expectations for colleagues and family members.

Have a To-Don't List : Many of you are ruled by daily lists that are unrealistic and unattainable. Prioritize your to-do list and shorten them drastically to the very few things that MUST be completed in a given day. Chances are some things can be bumped to another day, delegated, or even eliminated. Create a to-don't list so you can set realistic expectations at work and home and honor your time more wisely.

Go To Bed!: 75 percent of Americans are sleep deprived. Weight gain, stress, and illness happen when you are sleep deprived. While sometimes it can't be helped when the baby gets up in the middle of the night or the geriatric dog needs to be let outside. Plan for more sleep in your life and you will find yourself happier, healthier and more productive in life and career.

Take baby steps towards your new work/life integration goals. Let your loved ones in on your plans so they can help and consider an accountability buddy who can keep you in check. You deserve to be happy in your life and career and you have the power to do so. Enjoy Your Career. Love Your Life!

Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" now in the second edition, and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Executive Director of Career & Professional Development at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to AOL Jobs, CNN Money, and the British online magazine - The Rouse. She is hosting a new webisode series called Thrive! about career & life empowerment for women and hosts the international podcast series Your Working Life - check it out on iTunes. Follow her on Facebook,LinkedIn, and Twitter.