Dr. Mia Cary, CEO & Change Agent, Cary Consulting
Smartcuts for Work-Life Integration
Have you ever been asked, “Are you traveling for work or for pleasure?” If we are traveling for work and our response to that question is not “both”, then it is time to reboot and recharge. For most of us, work-life balance is unrealistic and embracing work-life integration can set us free. Read on for tools and resources for integrating work into your daily life, managing stress, finding focus, and learning how to thrive regardless of role, title, or practice type.
Work-Life Balance is a Myth
The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. This includes most of the hours that we are awake during the week and often includes time during weekends as well. Our work is a big part of our lives, not an either/or balance that we should be striving to achieve. It is not work or life. It is work as a part of life.
To achieve this mythical ‘balance” we often struggle to decide what deserves our attention the most. During my first year of veterinary school I was enrolled in a joint DVM-PhD program. When I was working on my research I felt guilty for not studying for my next exam. When I was in the anatomy lab studying for the next exam I felt guilty for not working on my research project. Many people have been successful in these types of joint programs, but for me liberation came when I decided to focus on my veterinary studies and put the research work on hold.
Knowing that we have choices allows us to consider what we want to say yes to, what we want to say no to, and what we want to integrate into our daily lives. The following 11 smartcuts will assist us along this journey to work-life integration.
11 Smartcuts for Achieving Work-Life Integration
Members of Success magazine’s Young Entrepreneur Council were asked how they achieve work-life integration over work-life balance. Following are the smartcuts, or life hacks, they rated the most effective.
- Blend responsibilities. Most modern work environments are built on a foundation of trust and include the flexibility to work at least part of the time remotely. During our current COVID-19 reality, many of us are working from home whether we like it or not. Even if in the new normal we do not officially have “work from home” days there are ways to knock out a few work items while at home which then make it easier to take care of personal errands and tasks while at work.
- Keep a regular schedule. Creating a schedule allows you to keep track of what you have achieved as well as what you wanted to do and did not get around to, and thus your productivity. This gives you data that helps you plan better in the future. Do you have a regular late-afternoon slump period? If so, use that time for a brisk walk or errands that get you moving. Knock out a few personal tasks and you will be more inspired to complete another work task before calling it a day.
- Work with purpose. Do you have a documented personal purpose statement that serves as your guidepost? If not, consider investing time to think about what truly matters most to you. Taking time to think about why you are doing what you are doing will allow you to approach your work with intention. When our work and our daily tasks have meaning and build to a larger purpose – it is easier to have an energetic approach versus considering them a boring chore, or to just log in time.
- Do not always compartmentalize. In the days of traditional 9 to 5, experts on professionalism recommended that we keep our lives at home separate from our lives at work. In the digital age, home and work aspects of our lives tend to overlap. We can still customize how much and what we share however, thankfully, authenticity is now celebrated, and we no longer need to have separate work and home personas.
- Work in bursts that work for you. Create specific goals that you can achieve in whatever time chunks work for you. For me, it is usually 30-50 minutes max, then I take a break and either do something physically active or relaxing. This invigorates me to go to the next planned task or goal and attack it with a higher level of energy.
- Love what you do. Do you wake up in the morning excited to jump into your day knowing that you are doing work that is important to you, and that is tied to your higher purpose? If not, make time to figure out why. It could mean simply hacking your job to better align with your purpose or priorities, finding and committing to a project at work that aligns with your purpose, or maybe it is time to consider a bigger move.
- Leverage technology. Never have we been in such a technology-driven digital age that we can truly untether from the desk or office space. Invest in software, apps, technology that allow you to work from anywhere, anytime. And importantly, make sure you turn it off when you no longer wish to work. Specific to veterinary practice, where are you on the veterinary virtual care continuum? Is it time to take one more progressive step along that continuum? COVID-19 may have thrust you into practicing telemedicine whether you were ready or not. If so you may or may not have had the time to create a solid workflow that incorporates our current challenges. Have you thought about whether you are going to keep telemedicine as part of your new normal?
- Discover your ideal work environment. We are all not the same in terms of what makes us thrive personally or professionally. This is another area where time is well spent considering what matters most to you. Do you prefer to work in an environment that is quiet for optimal focus or does working remotely during office or non-appointment times in a bustling coffee shop (with a facemask!) get your creative juices flowing?
- Focus on productivity over time spent. What matters more – how many hours we spend working or what we have accomplished at the end of the day? I vote for the latter. Did we complete the tasks and goals we set out for ourselves, or was the day full of distractions and lethargy that kept us from getting done what we intended? The choice is ours.
- Manage expectations. Perfection does not exist. Perfectly imperfect does. Some days you are going to need to put in more work hours to meet deadlines and critical goals. Other days you will be able to incorporate more personal time into your workday. Be flexible. Be realistic. And give yourself a break.
- Be mindful of your mindset. Attitude really is everything. Do we view our work as a boring chore that we look down upon, or can we find ways to get excited about not only what we are able to accomplish, but also our approach to our work?
10 Tips for Managing Stress
Embracing the work-life integration life hacks and attempting to live them daily is a big step towards positive wellbeing and thriving. Being mindful of the following stress management reminders, which tap into many if not all the nine dimensions of wellbeing, will help us to stay grounded and realize when to integrate, and when to disengage.
- Relax your muscles
- Deep breathing
- Eat well
- Slow down
- Take a break
- Make time for hobbies
- Talk about what is bothering you
- Go easy on yourself, aka #lightenup
- Eliminate triggers/root causes
Work-life balance is a myth and the 11 work-life integration smartcuts presented here will help you on your journey to positive work-life integration. So, now what? What one thing do you commit to doing for yourself based on what you learned today? Make sure your ‘one thing’ is SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Perhaps your one thing is to continue sharpening your saw by reviewing one of the resources listed below by the end of the week. Another option is to take this information to your workplace and share it with your team at the next staff meeting. One step at a time and as always, #youdoyou.
9 Ways to Deal with Stress at Work
10 Tips to Manage Stress
11 Ways to Achieve True Work-Life Integration
AVMA Wellbeing and Peer Assistance Resource Center
Eliminating Stress Brings Pain Relief
The Ohio State University, 9 Dimensions of Wellness
The Five Essential Elements of Wellbeing, Tom Rath and Jim Harter
Transformative Powers of Gratitude