A growing number of experts have concluded that achieving work-life balance is an unachievable state. Instead, strive for work-life integration.
When you think of balance, you probably envision an equal distribution. Yes, that’s balance. So, if you apply this concept to work-life balance, you might think it looks like there’s an equal amount of both happening simultaneously.
This is how many people define work-life balance. This is how many people want the work-life balance to perform. But I’m going to challenge you to consider that as an entrepreneur, the concept of equal distribution just won’t work for you. Speaking from personal experience, here’s what work-life balance for entrepreneurs really looks like.
A setup for failure
If you do a quick search on work-life balance, you’ll see there’s recently been a lot written about how this really just might be an unobtainable state. Instead, experts say, you should strive towards work-life integration.
In my experience as an entrepreneur – as well as a husband, father, and friend – I find integration to be the better approach. Consider that your work life and your home life are never two truly separate things. They overlap. For some of us, there’s a big overlap. So, how could we push each one in the opposite direction in order to reach that equal distribution for balance?
Let’s face it, when it comes to our work life and our home life, our brains don’t do a very good job of dividing. Our human computing devices do a much better job at integrating these two states.
Ebb and flow
Here’s what happened when I tried to turn this into a balancing act. Realizing that I spent all of my efforts focused on work, to the detriment of my family, friends or personal time. And later feeling guilty because of my long-held belief that successful people should be able to distribute their attention equally.
In my experience, I’ve learned that it makes more sense to focus on managing the energy spent on one side or the other, rather than attempting to spend equal amounts on both.
What does that look like for me, as an entrepreneur?
When I’m starting up something new, it’s going to get all my focus. There’s no attempt at balancing. My wife and family know that all of my energy is going to be on this new undertaking. What’s important, though, is they also know this focus is for a finite time.
When the end of that time is reached, the focus changes back to my family. We’ll take a vacation, and I’ll refocus energy on recharging my personal relationships. Have those relationships been put in danger because I spent the previous month focused on a new business project? Absolutely not.
Aside from managing the ebb and flow, I find that it is incredibly important to incorporate small practices to manage your stress and energy. I personally find that a few minutes of meditation and deep breathing can go a long way in relieving stress and bringing yourself into the present moment. While you may shift your focus from work life to family life, you should always remember to include self-care in your routine.
Integration in practice
Part of work-life balance – or, rather integration – is managing expectations. In following the principles of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), I’ve laid down the foundation of success by establishing clear responsibilities, deadlines, and measurables. I set myself up for business by design and used the same principles to structure my life so that it too happens by design.
So, whether your focus at the moment is heavily on work or it’s mostly on your personal development or leadership, you started this time with its end in mind. I always know how much energy I should expand because I can see the finish line. My wife and children, for example, can be sure that the lack of my presence in their lives during this time is a temporary condition. It doesn’t come as a surprise, and they know when it will end. And if not, they know that there are days I block off to be fully present.
In some respects, this is a balancing act, but not in a way that forces me to race in opposite directions to seek distributed attention. Instead, it’s about managing energy. It’s a matter of establishing the set amount of time I will spend on each of the important aspects of my life in my personal calendar. This allows me to be sure that my professional duties are taken care of before migrating my energy to the personal and social aspects of my life.
To outsiders, it probably seems like a life of sacrifice. They think that entrepreneurs must sacrifice their lives to achieve business success. This outside assessment seems especially true if a traditional definition of work-life balance is applied. But when you put integration in place of balance and run the program again, it all starts to make sense.
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