Even Work-Life Balance Experts Can’t Keep Their Lives ‘Balanced’

Why integration is the smarter strategy.

In today’s unhealthy workaholic culture, “work-life balance” is often put forth as the solution to all of our problems. We’re told that if we can just strike the right balance, we’re set. But as this recent piece in Science of Us explains, even work-life experts struggle to make that happen.

Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, details the numerous psychological and societal reasons why achieving work-life balance feels downright Sisyphean (for experts and for the rest of us), but one key point she makes sticks out: “Recent surveys show that overworked Americans put work-life balance near the top of their wish lists,” she writes, “but if the experts can’t seem to manage it, how can the rest of us ever hope to?”

Image courtesy of Unsplash

At least part of the issue, Schulte explains, has to do with the fact that work-life balance, as we currently conceptualize it, is an illusion. “Balance” implies that there’s only one perfect way to mix our professional and personal lives, but in reality that ideal mix changes day by day, person by person, depending on individual priorities and values.

So let’s strive for work-life integration instead. Rather than putting work and life in separate boxes that have to be arranged just so every day, you can rearrange as needed. And the self-imposed consequences of not living up to it every day don’t feel quite so dire. (After all, a loss of balance implies a face-plant.)

That’s not to say you don’t have to put in effort with work-life integration though. According to experts Schulte cites, no matter your approach, advance planning could help. Part of this planning can start with simple ways to reframe our time at work and at home, as Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke, tells Schulte. For instance, turning off our phone notifications, curbing how often we check email and “stopping the obsession with inbox zero.” They’re all small steps with big rewards.

Read more on Science of Us.