Look up “work/life balance” on Instagram or Pinterest and you’ll find a million recommendations on exactly what to do to make your personal life better and your work life more streamlined. But there’s one obvious problem: that blogger doesn’t know who you are, what you do, or what you do outside of work!
Instead, work and life balance is more of a spectrum. Let’s start by talking about what that spectrum is. I’ve had many great teachers throughout my career as a therapist, and one of them taught me this spectrum: Separatists to Integrators.
Separatists like work to be work and home to be home. They are not very likely to schedule personal appointments during the workday or spend their lunch break with a friend, go to happy hour with coworkers, or even answer personal phone calls. On the other hand, when they clock out, they’re done. They don’t take work home, don’t answer calls or emails on the weekends, and may or may not forget what their job is on vacation!
Separatists do all these things because they feel like they can give their best to each world –– work and home –– when they can be 100% focused and present on that world at that time. They get much more stressed if their worlds start colliding. And some separatists who have stressful jobs find that keeping work contained helps them de-stress the best.
Integrators are basically the opposite. They like to blend their work and personal lives and may have much more flexibility when it comes to appointments and calls during the workday. Their coworkers may be some of their closest friends, and you’ve likely gotten an email back from them at 8 pm or on Saturday morning. They may have trouble disconnecting when they’re on vacation.
Integrators do all these things because they feel like they can give their best when they’re prepared for what’s coming. They don’t feel like they have a separate work life and personal life – just one life. And so they’d rather keep the pulse on everything going on at all times. Integrators become much more stressed if something gets sprung on them.
How to understand the spectrum
All of us fall somewhere on the spectrum from Separatists to Integrators. You likely sense a little of both in yourself, but lean one way or the other the majority of the time. But it’s not just about where you fall on the spectrum. It’s also about where your job falls on the spectrum! Some jobs are purely shift work, where you’re truly done when you clock out and there’s nothing to take home. Other jobs have constant demands rolling in, expect you to be on-call, or are simply hard to do well if you’re not connected.
Think about where your personality falls on the spectrum, and then think about what your job falls. Are you a Separatist who’s running your own business? An integrator who works a shift, receives no communication, and then shows up to a dozen changes the next day? These are mismatches, and they’re going to stress you out. The closer the match between personality and job on the spectrum, the easier it will be to feel like you have work + life balance.
Individualizing your work + life balance
Once you’re more aware of your match or mismatch, you can use that information to make your work + life balance so much better. If you’re just reading a blog about work + life balance, you’ll only get the opinion of the author from the perspective of where they fall on this spectrum. And it might be the complete opposite of what you need to do! Knowing where you and your job fall on the spectrum means you can tailor your work + life balance to YOUR actual life.
Let’s say that you’re a Separatist in an Integrator job. Boundaries need to become your best friend. You likely need to give yourself certain after-work times to mentally stay in work mode so that you can answer emails without stressing out, and you also need to set aside time to completely disconnect, and notify your team of this time.
But if you’re an Integrator in a Separatist job, you may want to talk to your manager about how to know what’s happening at work when you’re not there, or see if there is flexibility to do what you need to do during the work day, and work a little later when you need to.
Things to Consider when Individualizing Your Work/Life Balance
If your personality and job are a pretty good match on the spectrum, that doesn’t necessarily mean your work and life balance will be easy! There are several basic things to consider.
1. Your boundaries
Make sure you know when you’re “on” and when you’re “off,” and stick to it. That means your actual presence at work, being logged on to your computer if you’re working from home, responding to emails, answering calls and texts, work meetings, and any other forms of communication. Practice saying no!
2. Your autonomy and level of flexibility
This mostly means feeling in control of your workday. Think about the hours you’re expected to be at work, any flexibility you have with your schedule, and how much control you have over your tasks throughout the day.
3. Your personal time
When you are definitely “off,” how do you want to spend that time? Work/life balance means finding ways to refuel during your off time so that you feel at your best when you’re at work. How do you like to refuel and take care of yourself? What kinds of activities feel like they really do rejuvenate you, and aren’t just ways to zone out?
Just start with a few of these tips, and expand on them! I hope this gives you a solid foundation for thinking about your own work/life balance, and how your career can truly support you and your goals.