Out With “Work-Life Balance” and in With “An Integrated Life”

We often hear people talk about the “work-life balance.” It’s an interesting phrase because it implies that work is separate from life. It also implies that we can balance the two. But think about it… On the one side of the scale there is work, sitting all on its own and on the other side of the scale there is the physical, mental, spiritual, environmental, interpersonal and intrapersonal aspects of life which all get dumped together as “life”. The imbalance is obvious – one aspect of life versus all the other aspects of life - and yet we still aim to give an equal amount of time to both sides. It can’t be done - and striving for it just sets us up for failure. It’s the old traditional linear way of thinking.

What we need is to think about ‘work’ and ‘life’ in a new way. Systems Theory offers us that new way of thinking. Although Systems Theory has been around for decades, few people know about it and even fewer people apply it in their lives.

Systems theory offers us a circular way of looking at things. Rather than thinking about work versus life, it suggests we think about all the different aspects of our lives and how they relate to each other. Systems Theory tells us that every aspect of our lives is connected to every other aspect of our lives. Ignore one aspect and it affects all other aspects. When people neglect their medical health check-ups because they are too busy at work, for example, they miss the opportunity to pick up early signs of illness. By the time they do pick it up, it’s often too late and they are already suffering from illness - which then affects their occupation, finances, social lives, mental health and so on.

Rather than thinking about how much time we spend on work versus the other aspects of our lives, it would be more helpful to think about what we are including in our lifestyle. Are we including all the things that are important and necessary for our health and wellbeing? If we are, then we will be living a life that is meaningful and which leads to optimal health and wellbeing. If we are not, we will merely be filling our days with frantic busy-ness on a path to physical and mental illness.

So what are the aspects of our lives that we should be integrating? And how can we integrate all of them?

There are three tools that can help you:

The Rocks, Pebbles and Sand Story

This little story is a metaphor for life and illustrates that we should take care of the most important things in life first – the things that really matter and are critical to our long-term wellbeing and happiness. If you deal with the most important things first, the less important things can still fall into place, however, the reverse is not true - if you fill your days with busy-ness, there is no time for family and friends, no time for self-care and no time to prepare and eat ‘slow’ healthy meals.

You can read the story here: The Story of the Rocks, Pebbles and Sand

The Wellbeing Wheel

The Wellbeing Wheel is a useful tool to help us achieve a new way of thinking about life.

The Wellbeing Wheel breaks the different aspects of living into eight categories and helps us to plot which aspects we are giving our time and attention to and which aspects we are neglecting. The categories are as follows:

  • Physical
  • Medical
  • Environmental
  • Spiritual
  • Interpersonal
  • Financial
  • Occupational
  • Intrapersonal

As Systems Theory tells us, each category affects and is affected by each of the other categories, so if we want to enjoy optimal health and wellbeing we need to give time and attention to every aspect of our lives.

The key point here is not to try and give each aspect an equal amount of time – it’s not about how much time (quantity) is spent on each aspect, but rather that there is some quality time spent on each and every aspect. The focus is on integrating every aspect into our living. Some things may have to be done hourly, some daily, some weekly, some monthly and some only yearly. But every aspect must be given its due attention.

Plot your own wellbeing. Think of it as doing an audit on your life so you can see where things stand as it is right now and what areas require more of your time and attention. Read my article The Wellbeing Wheel and use the The Wellbeing Wheel poster to help you do this.

The Yearlong Time-Blocked Calendar

When I ask people what is most important to them in life they usually say things like family, partner, spiritual practice and health, but if I asked them to show me their diary or calendar I know that I would not find quality time actually scheduled for any these things. Instead, I would find work meetings, work social events and work projects scheduled in their calendars.

Don’t tell me what you value – just show me your calendar. If you really value something, you will have made time for it and it will be scheduled, rather than left it to chance. How many times have you left a work or client meeting to chance? Probably never. You have consciously and thoughtfully scheduled it in your calendar to make sure that it happens. Whenever you see the entry you are reminded that that time has been prioritised and set aside for that activity.

If it really is important to you, put it in your calendar!

This is where the yearlong time-blocked calendar becomes a very useful tool. The concept of the time-blocked calendar is that you consider what is important to you (The Rocks, Pebbles and Sand Story helps here), in all the different aspects of your life (The Wellbeing Wheel helps here) and then you schedule time for them in your calendar to ensure that they all get time and attention over the course of a year. The intention is to get away from the idea of work-life balance and move into an integrated life where every aspect of your life is consciously incorporated into your living to ensure optimal health, happiness and wellbeing.

My article Do it All… With a Yearlong Time-Blocked Calendar has an example calendar and instructions on how to go about creating your own.

With the three tools that I have given you - The Rocks, Pebbles and Sand Story, the Wellbeing Wheel and the Yearlong Time-Blocked Calendar - you have everything you need to create your own integrated life and enjoy optimal health and wellbeing.

“Wellness is the complete integration of body, mind, and spirit – the realization that everything we do, think, feel,
and believe has an effect on our state of well-being.”

Greg Anderson