Work Life Integration: how to focus on what really matters

Are you too busy? How many of those tasks that you do every day really matter? Rather than trying to do even more, maybe it is time to consider doing less, better.

Women’s leadership trailblazer Sheryl Sandberg, says she believes that women have made more progress in the workforce than we have in the home. Data backs this up. Most women are still doing much more than their share of housework and childcare at home. The work avalanche erupts with the first child. For professional women that’s now their early thirties: just the same time as their career is beginning to take off. The ‘busy habit’ takes root and even if you jump off and start your own business, those habits are hard to shake off.

Time management  is too often a list of tricks and tools for cramming more into already crowded schedules. While a bit more efficiency can always help, the premise too often misses the point. We need to start with the big picture rather than the detail. We need to start with what matters and fit our life around it in new ways. That is: work life integration rather than work life balance.

We’re all too busy

It’s not just a women’s issue, says Stew Friedman of the Harvard Business Review, “it’s a critical social issue with great economic consequences.” Overwork is a taken-for-granted part of many corporate cultures. It impacts our quality of life and thinking across the generations. Think of the 60-something CEO who can’t fit in time with their grandchildren, or the working couple who can’t make enough time for an evening out together. Even children those days are scheduled up to the hilt, ferried from ballet, to violin to swimming. There’s no time left to be bored, to mess around, to experiment and day-dream. Sure, women are usually at the end of the line taking the strain, but we are all missing out.

The cost of busy

We all know the phrase: “No one ever said on their deathbed, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.'” It’s true. Palliative nurse Bronnie Ware kept a log of the epiphanies of her dying patients. The top five regrets are as follows:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Making time for friendship, being creative and being true to yourself is ultimately what matters.

Work life integration

The idea of work life balance suggests a trade-off: work less and have more of a ‘life.’ But what if the separation was more blurred? Could work be a place where you can be true to yourself and express your feelings and creativity? For Stew Friedman it is about being an authentic leader, in all areas of your life: work, home and community. He calls it work life integration, rather than work life balance.

Stew Friedman developed a ‘total leadership’ programme for male and female executives. It resulted in some practical experiments designed to produce what he calls “four-way wins” — improved performance at work, at home, in the community, and for you as an individual. The programme was centred around three core principles:

  • act with authenticity by clarifying what’s important
  • act with integrity by respecting the whole person
  • act with creativity by continually experimenting with how goals are achieved.

Participants from corporations and the army were able to try different ways of organising their lives. The results, after four years of action research with organizations around the world, show both improved work performance and quality of life. As Stew concludes: “Their performance at work improves even as they devote less time and attention to it and more to the other aspects of their lives. It sounds paradoxical, but it’s what we observe time and again: when people focus more of their attention on the things that matter they are more efficient, engaged, and productive.”

Beyond Busy

So, are you busy going nowhere special? Is it time to go beyond busy? The key is to start with the values that matter most to you, then begin to fit your life and your business together around those principles. As all the unnecessary clutter falls away you’ll do a lot less, much better. Applied to your business, this fits with the ‘pareto principal’ which holds that 80% of business comes from 20% of customers. Focus in and your business could be more profitable by doing less better. Being less busy could be the route to riches in both your business and your life.

2 thoughts on “Work Life Integration: how to focus on what really matters”

  1. I know many excellent time managers who still don’t have lives that work for them. From my experience, this directly corresponds to knowing, in our own lives what’s truly important to us and how we define success. This changes at different ages and stages of our lives as women.

    What is it that each of us must take responsibility for in order to have the experience of personal fulfilment and “success” as we define it on our own terms? Most people work very hard in many ways. But staying aware of what genuinely deserves my attention at any given time is the most crucial work I do.

    Our culture has defined too many things as worthy of having the power to distract us. The best “time management” strategies are about reclaiming this power.

    A deep but uncomfortable truth is that in reality it’s always me who’s choosing what I’m doing. Each of us is 100% free to disobey someone, refuse a task, quit a project; we only have to live with the consequences. It’s always a choice. That’s cold comfort of course if your choice is truly between doing appalling work and starving. But too often we live as if that’s the case, when really, it isn’t.

    As you know Erika, I am currently running workshops for women interested in redefining success on their own terms and exploring their relationship to work and reward, achievement and success. The next one is on 16th June in Eastcote, Middlesex. Details are here on Eventbrite:


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