Work-life balance is a myth.
Most of us will never be able to fit in everything day to day, week to week, or month to month. Yet when we can’t do this, we feel like we’re failing both personally and professionally.
During my residency training program, I moonlighted for a group of doctors who were well-respected, loved by their patients, and (by most outward appearances) living the dream. The reality though, was that they were pretty miserable. While doing well financially, several were divorced or unhappy in their personal relationships. It seemed to me that souring personal lives led to souring professional relationships, and soon after I finished residency, the group largely went their separate ways.
That experience was one of the factors that pushed me toward academics. While my faculty had their own set of issues and frustrations, they seemed genuinely happier.
At the time, I thought the one group had achieved more work-life balance. But, after finishing residency, I realized that both work and home life create a bottomless pit of demands and expectations. And not meeting either can inflict serious pangs of guilt.
Work-life balance implies that when you give or excel in one area, you’re taking from the other.
What we need is work-life integration.
I quickly realized that if I went down the path of work-life balance, I would end up like the physicians in the group. I needed integrations and boundary control to provide me with mental guardrails and decrease the sense of guilt I felt when I spent more time either in work or home activities.
The same will work for you.
Let’s evaluate your work-life integration.
To figure out how to improve your work-life integration, we need to evaluate and track what’s working and what’s not. Answer these two questions.
- Are your values and priorities in alignment with how you allocate your time, activity, and mental energy?
- How well do you manage boundaries around work relationships and keep interruptions to a minimum?
How well are you managing your work-life integration?
- Take a piece of paper and make 3 columns labeled Work, Home, and Self. Take a few minutes and list your key areas of responsibility, roles, and activities for each. For example, under “Work,” you might list patient care, clinic director, or mentor.
- Next, list 8 to 10 values and priorities that are most important to you. You might ask yourself “What values and beliefs are most important to me?” or “What are the characteristics and qualities that guide how I live?” Examples of values and priorities could include advancement, collaboration, family, health, integrity, personal development, or scholarship. After you’ve listed 10, circle the 5 most important to you and prioritize them from 1 to 5.
- Now rate, on a scale from 1 to 10, how satisfied you are with your work-life integration, 1 being unsatisfied, overwhelmed, or discontent; 10 being satisfied, energized, and happy.
People with high boundary control feel content with their work-life integration. That’s either because they do a good job of integrating work and life, or a good job of keeping them separate. People with low boundary control feel overwhelmed and like they have little control of how their work and life interface.
Time to track what you do.
- On a busy day or over several days, write down all of your activities (as detailed as possible) on a daily time sheet, along with the corresponding area of your life (home, work, or self) and whether or not the activity aligned with the 5 values and priorities you identified as most important.
- Consider the following questions when reviewing:
- Where did you spend most of your time? Was there balance across the domains of home, self, and work?
- Did you include time in your schedule for “self?”
- Are all 5 of your values represented in how you spent your time? If a value did not make it into your day can you think of a way to include it?
- What activities on your schedule are not represented in your 5 values? Is there a way to eliminate these activities?
- What was the impact of interruptions on your day? Are there ways to eliminate or mitigate interruptions?
- Lastly, give yourself an honest evaluation to determine where there is room for improvement.
This is a great way to start achieving that guilt-free feeling of knowing you’re spending your time and your energy wisely. It may take a little time to work through the kinks once you find them, but be honest with yourself and patient with the process. You are on the right track!