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What is work-life integration and is it right for you?

A black woman sitting at a desk practicing work-life integration

Many Independent business owners leave their nine-to-five jobs in search of greater autonomy over how they live and work. In other words, they’re looking for better work-life balance. However, what often happens instead is that they find themselves more unbalanced than ever.  

The reason why is simple: it’s easier to blur the lines between work and life when you’re the one in charge of the business. Not only that, being an Independent business owner means you’re pursuing your passion and it can be hard to clock out at a reasonable hour when you love what you do. 

But picture this, instead of feeling overworked, you feel content. You have time to enjoy your favorite hobbies and hang out with friends and family, while still growing your business the way you want to. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well I’ll let you in on a little secret. Achieving this dream scenario comes down to a simple concept called work-life integration and I’m going to show you how you can make it work for you. 

What is work-life integration 

Some say that the concept of work-life balance is outdated and even unrealistic for most entrepreneurs. Expecting yourself to achieve “balance” can create unnecessary pressure and stress. In fact, as many as 60 percent of Americans claim they struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance, so it’s no surprise that the idea of work-life integration has become popular.

So what’s the difference between work-life integration and work-life balance? Work-life integration aims to bring work and personal life together rather than separate them. Business owners who integrate their professional and personal lives instead of worrying about “work time” vs. “personal time” can instead focus on the optimal time to accomplish their tasks. 

Why work-life integration matters 

The reality for many Independent business owners is that their work life and their personal life are naturally very interconnected. After all, you started your business so that you could have more control over how your work fit into your life. For many people, a blurred work-life lifestyle actually allows them to do both things well and on their own terms. 

So why are we constantly trying to pull them apart? We need to shift our mindset and acknowledge that it’s okay to be committed to your work and that sometimes it will fall outside of “traditional” working hours. It’s also true that the digital tools we use to run our businesses more efficiently make it harder to “leave it at the door” when you finish the workday.  

We live in a hyper digital world where we can connect with anyone at any time, anywhere. Independent business owners know this best of all. Our work email is always just a tap away, to-do lists in the palm of our hand, and the temptation to get just one more thing done will always be lingering in the back of our minds.

For someone determined to achieve work-life balance, this constant connectivity poses a problem. But digital tools actually make work-life integration easier as they allow you to be wherever you need to be and still get things done in your business. 

The bottom line is that work-life integration is about eliminating the pressure to split our lives into two distinct categories and accepting that work and life are both part of life and they will naturally flow into one another.  

A fresh perspective: the swirl 

If you’re still wrapping your head around the concept of ditching work-life balance in favor of integration, let me try this metaphor on you. I like to think of it as a work-life swirl. Go with me on this one…

Work-life is life. Personal life is life. They are simply two parts of the same inextricably blended experience. 

Like a swirled soft-serve ice cream cone, each flavor is distinct, yet belongs with the other as part of a delicious dessert. In this metaphor, work is one flavor and your personal life is the other, and the goal is to blend them together into one amazing mix. 

From this perspective, the priority is to do what we want and feel the way we want as often as possible. No matter which flavor of the swirl we’re enjoying. 

Is work-life integration right for you and your business? 

Work-life integration isn’t as simple as making individual adjustments – especially for those who work to a set schedule or have specific family commitments. There must be a shift in your business habits and a supportive family structure for work-life integration to be possible. One of the best ways to tap into your ideal work-life integration is to explore your business and personal values.  

When making significant changes, it’s critical to have a specific goal in mind. Since work-life integration has different meanings, understanding what that term means for you is essential. Ask yourself these questions to get started: 

  • What do you value in life above everything else (in 3-4 words)? (e.g. include transparency, authenticity, fun, connection, depth, etc.)
  • What is your mission in life and business? (What are you here to do or create? How do you want to help people?) 
  • What do you want to be known for?

Now picture yourself practicing work-life integration and think critically about whether it would hurt or help you in the following ways: 

  • Will you have more time for creative endeavors?
  • What will happen to your stress levels after work?
  • Will you be able to care for or connect with loved ones the way you want to?
  • Will this approach enable you to take better care of yourself throughout the workday?

Your next step will be to take this roadmap and use it as a benchmark to assess your current work-life priorities. 

  • Does your work in the world reflect what you want to be known for? 
  • Is your schedule aligned with your mission and values?
  • Are your values reflected across all aspects of your life, work and personal?
  • Do your choices and behaviors support how you want to feel in your work and life? 

Based on the outcome of your assessment, you will have more insight to see if work-life integration (or swirl as I like to call it) is for you and your business to achieve a happier and healthier life. 

Optimizing your work-life swirl isn’t a race. It’s not even a fixed distinction. It’s a continual process of refinement to adjust your behaviors to accommodate your goals and desires. To ensure you’re building processes that support the work-life swirl you want, schedule regular check-ins with yourself (quarterly, every six months, annually). 

With time you’ll be able to successfully move from a binary mindset of separating work and life to one that is more accepting of the way work and life naturally swirl together.

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