Michael O’Hara, COO of Leadnomics, published a blog post titled “Stop using work-life balance and start using work-life integration.”
In it, O’Hara says that your professional life and your personal life will inevitably collide. So, he says, stop trying to balance them and accept the fact that you’re the same person at home and at work.
He lists three rules for achieving work-life integration.
1. Know when to take a break. Instead of bringing work home, skip breaks or arrive earlier, so you can get home earlier without taking work home.
2. Set boundaries. The key, he says, is knowing when to say “no”.
3. Bring home the good, not the bad. No matter how bad your day at work is, or how stressful, reset your mood before you go home. That, O’Hara says, lets you focus on your family when you are at home, and sends you back to work refreshed from yesterday’s “baggage”.
Easy to Say, Hard to Do
I’m a great-grandmother, and I’ve been working since I was 15 years old. For nearly all of that time, I was supporting multiple generations in my family. So I understand stress, and the need to both integrate your family into your work and draw some lines of demarcation between the two.
But I have to say that O’Hara’s three suggestions are easier said than done. For instance, just how do you find time to take a break when your boss expects you to respond to email, texts and cell phone messages 24/7? And what’s the trick to resetting your mood before you head home? Mr. O’Hara doesn’t say.
I am afraid I don’t have an answer to the question of how to break the electronic tether so many of us live with today except to say that you negotiate your work situation before it becomes a problem. I once worked for a truly heinous boss who would force people to come in on Saturday, whether they needed to or not. (Of course, we were “exempt” employees who didn’t collect overtime pay.) He would scream, “If you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t bother coming in on Sunday or Monday either.” So one day I said, “OK, thanks.” And spent my weekend with my kids. On Tuesday, he completely ignored me, and never shouted that particular command at me again. (This won’t work in every situation. I had an employment contract. If you don’t, don’t try this if you need the job.)
At this stage in my life, I no longer have to have a job. So I am very careful in how I write the agreements for the consulting gigs and writing projects I do take on. I specify how many hours I will work, when I am available to work, and explain up front that I may not be able to handle last-minute projects. I’m clear that not everyone can take the same attitude I take — there were decades when I didn’t have the ability to walk away from paying jobs either. So I am grateful that I can do it now, and I do.
Getting Past Work Day Stress
On the issue of resetting your mood, however, there are a number of tricks that can help. Not all of them will work for everyone, but at least one of them should work for most everyday stressors. Try them until you find what works for you.
- Work out. Before you head home, stop at the park or the gym and burn off some of that stress. For me, it’s sit-ups. For my husband, it’s bicycling. A female CEO I know is a runner who swears that a good run will completely reset her mood. No matter what you try, work up a bit of a sweat to release endorphins – the brain chemicals that affect mood.
- Listen to/watch feel-good content. If you’ve had a bad day at the office, don’t listen to the news or any kind of talk show – not even NPR – on the way home. And be careful what kind of music you listen to. I have a playlist I call “feel good music”, and it’s just that: music that makes me happy. A technology entrepreneur I know listens to motivational speakers when he’s in a funk. Whether you like Eckhard Tolle or the sound of your children’s music recital, listening to or watching content that lifts your mood can be a great way to de-stress from a bad day at work before you head home.
- Pretend. The psychologists call it “changing your physiology”. If you want to feel happier, force a smile for about 60 seconds. If you want to feel confident, change the way you walk for a few minutes (walk slowly, head held high, posture relaxed but not slumped). In other words, pretend that everything is ok. Combine a smile while walking around in a confident, relaxed way and it will improve your mood – especially if instead of focusing on your body, look at the people around you and make a special effort to smile AT them, to make them feel better. It’s contagious. (Of course, so is a bad mood, or depression – one reason that disgruntled unhappy employees are so toxic in an organization: they spread their bad feelings to others.)
- Practice gratitude. It may sound corny or old-fashioned, but one of the best ways to get through a bad mood is simply to stop complaining and stop focusing on the negatives. If you take time to appreciate the good things in your day – the weather, the good food you have at lunch, your health, your friends and family – you have less time to focus on who did you wrong, or what happened at work that stressed you out. Some years ago, I was going through a bad time, and a wise mentor told me to “start appreciating something”, and to do nothing else for five minutes. She told me to think about my phone and the fact that I could contact anyone – and be contacted by anyone – anytime. I thought it was stupid, but when I started doing it, I started to feel better. You might, too.
- Do it anyway. Not to sound like a Nike commercial, but when I am in a bad mood, I can have a hard time getting started, or just getting on with my day. But the negative thoughts and emotions that are getting in my way are just feelings. They really have no power to stop me from doing what I need to do. Sure, listening to them is a good idea sometimes – and sometimes, I just have to do what I need to do. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I had a really bad Thursday. I got into an argument with someone, a client was late paying a bill so the cash I had counted on wasn’t where it should be, and I was coming down with a cold. But every Thursday, I have certain things that have to be done. A 14-year-old who has to be delivered to a class. A report filed with a regulatory agency. Some bills to be paid. A meeting to attend. So it was important for me to “suit up and show up” and take care of my Thursday obligations. Doing it with a smile – and not allowing anyone to see the underlying bad mood and worry that my day started with – helped me turn the day around.
These are some of the ways I manage my schedule and my stress. What works for you? I can always use more tips and good advice on how to manage stress, because there is ALWAYS stress in any job.