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Work-life balance has been popular for decades, and yet we still struggle to achieve it. Why? Because it was impossible to achieve in the first place!

In this article, we’ll explore the challenges of trying to achieve “work-life balance”, and introduce a more realistic approach: integrated living.

We’ll also give essential tips based on several books in our library, as well as a video guide from our founder that contains a practical formula (and a free template) for life integration. Let’s get started!
Redefining Work-Life Balance and Transforming It to Work-Life Integration

What is Work-Life Balance?

Work-life balance is a principle of managing your time between work (professional life) and life (personal life).

The term first appeared in the 80’s through the Women’s Liberation Movement in the U.K. At the time, many women were already part of the workforce. Yet, they still also held the role of housekeeping and family life.

“Balancing” these two, professional and personal life, became a key point of the advocacy. Women called for time off for maternity leaves and better working hours to gain a “good work-life balance”.

Today we have more flexible gender roles, so work-life balance has evolved. Nowadays it leans towards feeling less stressed with work and expanding personal interests.

How Important is Work-Life Balance?

Ideally, achieving work-life “balance” is said to lead to:

  • improved productivity
  • better mental health and physical health
  • healthier stress management and less likelihood of burnout
  • more time for personal activities and relationships, and
  • overall improved well-being.

However, reaching that ideal state is more of an impossible feat than an achievable goal, and here’s why.

Is Work-Life Balance a Myth?

While work-life balance used to work as a basic rule or concept, it’s difficult to achieve in practice because of the mindset around what it should be.

There are two things that you need to remember to get out of the traditional thinking of work-life balance:

1) Work is an essential part of life, and so are other areas.

With work-life balance, we’re splitting ourselves in many areas of life (especially professional vs. personal time). We juggle those areas as separate entities. Thinking of it this way will stress you out and tear you apart.

“The first step in improving the quality of life consists in engineering daily activities so that one gets the most rewarding experiences from them.”
Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Finding Flow, he highlights that your life is the sum of your experiences, and the quality of your life depends on the quality of your experiences.
All your experiences are parts of a bigger whole: your life. Your co-workers can become your best of friends, and your family members and loved ones could also become business partners.

2) You will never achieve a ‘perfect’ work-life balance.

Because we’re focused on balance, we think that there’s a perfect way to equalize your time for work and life. This perfectionism over a “healthy balance” will create more burnout and stress than it’s trying to save.

A concept called “The Efficiency Trap” was discussed in Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks. It explains that the more we make things more efficient, the more tasks and work we take on as a result.

“The trouble with attempting to master your time, it turns out, is that time ends up mastering you.”
Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

Work-life balance has a similar paradox. The more we strive for a better work-life balance, we end up experiencing work-life imbalance instead. Getting rid of this perfectionism is crucial to living a more satisfying lifestyle.

Tips to Living a ‘Balanced’ and Integrated Life

So instead of isolating these key areas for “work-life balance”, why not focus on “work-life integration” instead?

Here are some key tips and healthy habits for a more integrated approach, including big ideas from the books from our library.

1) Evaluate How You’re Spending Your Time

Despite our best efforts, we often don’t know where we spend our day, hour-by-hour. There might even be times when we wonder, “Where did all my time go?”

Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
Ideas from Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

So it’s important to list down everything that you do (work hours, sleep) and how much time you’re investing in them to build your awareness of time.

2) Set Your Own Goals and Priorities

The truth is, we don’t have time to do everything. So instead of thinking about all the things that you could use your time for, focus on what you truly WANT to do.

Start thinking about what you REALLY want to achieve. If we apply Gary Keller’s The One Thing, we can ask the question: “What’s the ONE thing you can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

The One Thing by Gary Keller

Ideas from The One Thing by Gary Keller

3) Set and Communicate Boundaries

When setting leisure and work hours, it’s important to commit to them and make sure you communicate this to people around you.

Some of the books in our library recommend setting up boundaries like letting people know what you’re up to, and when it’s okay to talk to them.

Be aware of your own boundaries too. Taking uninterrupted time off and regular breaks from work will improve your mental health. It will also positively affect both your productivity and rest time.

4) Remember Your Energy Levels

Work-life balance is a big deal for many because they want to avoid burnout. Burnout happens when you engage in long hours of work and take on intensive workloads.
Mark McKeon’s book Get in the Go Zone, highlights the importance of an “ideal performance state”. Optimizing your physical and mental health is crucial to doing focused work.

Get in the Go Zone by Mark McKeon

Ideas from Get in the Go Zone by Mark McKeon

5) Refine Your Plan

Again, the idea is not to aim for perfection, especially for the first time that you plan things out. There will be disruptions and changes in your life too, and those will bring you back to the drawing board.

Creating the life you want to live involves a continuous improvement process. Set aside a regular time (quarterly, for example) to review your current plans and time blocks and adjust accordingly.

A Guide for Work-Life Integration

Instead of trying to arbitrarily “balance” your professional and personal spheres, work-life integration takes the different components of your life and your personal goals and brings them together for a more efficient and authentic way of living.

How can you start? Angela Lam, ReadinGraphics Founder and Chief Potential Officer has provided her formula for living an integrated life:

In this video she further debunks the work-life balance ideal, and applies what she learned from ReadinGraphics book summaries to her own life. You can download her integrated life worksheet from the video description on Youtube.

Summary and Other Recommendations

Achieving work-life balance is straightforward, but it’s surrounded by many myths. These misconceptions result in the exact opposite of a healthy work-life balance. Ironically, you end up with more burnout, more stress, and less balance.

Creating an integrated life is an easier way to improve all the areas of it. Building towards a bigger whole will help you achieve “true balance”, and lead to more life satisfaction.

Aside from the books we’ve already mentioned, we also have other books that bring a new perspective to time management and productivity.

You can check out these and other related books in our library.

If you want to get your hands on helpful graphics like the ones shown above, subscribe to our premium plan! Get access to 300+ text and audio summaries along with at-a-glance infographics.

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