Merge Gupta-Sunderji is a leadership speaker and consultant, and founder of Turning Managers Into Leaders.
For years, nay decades, there’s been talk of work/life balance – that delicate equilibrium between the time you spend at work and that which you dedicate to family, social and leisure activities, and personal interests.
The overriding objective of work/life balance is that your personal life should not suffer at the expense of your work responsibilities. The widely held belief has always tended toward compartmentalizing each to successfully walk the tightrope between the two.
It’s long past the time to let this obsolete idea go.
Work/life balance is a myth, a non-achievable nirvana that few (if any) have realized. Instead, it’s time to embrace work/life blend.
Balance implies two extremes
The word “balance” implies that a negative – work – needs to be offset by a positive – life. But there shouldn’t be anything negative about earning a living. Even if you’re not crazy about your job, it is still where most people spend the bulk of their waking hours, so it is time to accept reality.
Work/life blend acknowledges that trying to isolate work from life is not only impossible, but also places immense amounts of anxiety and tension on those trying to do so.
Whether you’re chairing a meeting, buying groceries, making a sales presentation, taking the dog to the vet, Skyping in on a conference call, dropping off the dry-cleaning, researching a prospect, picking up takeout, dealing with staff absences or running on the treadmill, they’re all threads in the very fabric of your existence.
So trying to separate the individual fibres in the pursuit of work/life balance is not only unrealistic and stressful, but unnecessary.
Work/life blend is fluid. It recognizes that we don’t need to compartmentalize the different strands of our life. It gives one permission to flex seamlessly from one area of life to another. In the end, everything still gets done, but just not in clearly defined time periods such as 9 to 5, or 6 to 8, or whatever.
Work/life blend is what allows me to visit my dad in the hospital during the day when his doctors are more accessible, and write this column in the early evening before the family comes home for dinner. It gives me permission to get on a worldwide conference call at 4 a.m. to accommodate colleagues on the other side of the world, and go for a swim at our neighbourhood pool at 2 p.m. when the facility is less crowded.
Shift from balance to blend
So what will it take to reposition from balance to blend?
It doesn’t just happen, it takes a deliberate and thoughtful mental shift. Don’t think that work/life blend is a magic potion though. There are still trade-offs to be made. Embracing blend over balance does not mean that you’ll suddenly have the capacity to get more done. There are still only so many hours in the day.
So identify which pieces of your life are the most important – time at the gym, attending after-school softball practice with the kids, crafting the board presentation – schedule them into your calendar, and give each of them equal seriousness and significance.
When you define priorities, inevitably they are followed by the B-lists and C-lists, activities that fall under the nice-to-haves but don’t make the A-list grade. So recognize two things:
- First, you’ll have to let many of the items on those B and C lists go.
- Second, it’s okay if your limits occasionally change and things shift from one list to another.
Just like any other habit, changing your mindset from work/life balance to work/life blend won’t happen overnight. Accept that it is a journey, not a destination.
Shifting your philosophy from balance to blend means you can reduce the pressure that comes from trying to isolate and compartmentalize.
Paradoxically, when you seek to blend, you’ll end up with greater balance.
We’ve launched a new weekly Careers newsletter. Sign up today.