The idea of work-life balance has good intentions. As creative entrepreneurs, we must protect our time and energy like our lives depend on it (because they do!). Otherwise, it won’t be long until you find yourself on the fast-track to burnout.
But for all of the humans out there who can’t “turn off” at 5 o’clock sharp or take a leisurely stroll around the block during lunch every day, true work-life balance might seem like a pipe dream. Instead of inspiring you to take more control over your day, you end up feeling ashamed and inadequate—as if you are the only one incapable of achieving this whole work-life balance thing.
Guess what, though. You’re not! Work-life balance is a construct we create to remind us to take breaks and recharge, but it is not a prescription for how to live your life (or run your business). And believe it or not, every single person struggles with it.
Whether you are self-employed, grinding in a 9-to-5, or juggling multiple side hustles, we all have days when it feels like work-life imbalance is the name of the game.
And that’s OK.
Building a thriving business and living a life you love does not require a this-or-that approach. Because when you are making dinner at night, you’re still an entrepreneur. And when you are taking a sales call, you are still a human with friends and family.
You exist in both domains at all times, so instead of treating work and life as two distinct sides of your identity, it’s time to rethink what “balance” really means.
Integration is about accepting, embracing and harnessing the power of bringing your full, unabridged self to every moment of your life.
It means never hiding your “mom life” from your clients and never hiding your “business hat” from your family. Instead, it is about letting all parts of you coexist and allowing yourself to get a little messy as you figure it out.
When you start viewing your life from a place of integration rather than a never-ending battle between work and personal time, you will achieve the freedom and flexibility that likely drew you to entrepreneurship in the first place. (But this time, it will not come with the shame associated with living life like it’s a zero-sum game.)
If you are ready to leave behind the illusion of “work-life balance” and adopt integration in your life, use these four tips to bridge the gap and cultivate a holistic approach to achieving true balance.
Update your workspace.
Whether you work from home or in an office, you likely spend a fair amount of time at your desk. And if you are like many entrepreneurs, you spend most of the day hard at work so you can wrap up, put on your comfiest sweats and catch up on your favorite show over dinner. But there’s no reason to relegate your comfort to an after-hours luxury!
Instead, bring joy to your everyday workspace by adding personal details that remind you that you are more than just a worker bee. It’s hard to give into the pressure of work when a photo of your pup’s silly smile is on your desk! Give yourself the chance to indulge at work, whether it’s your coziest sweater or a drawer full of your favorite snacks.
Of course, a few personal touches is not permission to let clutter accumulate. Clutter can overwhelm even the best of us, so it is worth investing in storage solutions to organize paperwork and other supplies. (Do not forget to clean up your computer’s desktop too!)
Define your own schedule.
When your inbox is constantly pinging you with notifications during the “traditional” workday, you might fall into the trap of working 9-to-5. If you prefer that schedule, wonderful! But if you pursued entrepreneurship because you wanted more control over your time, do not feel like you must be present when everyone else is busy at work.
Your schedule belongs to you, so if you are most creative at two in the morning, adjust your schedule to allow for that! Or if you want to take afternoons off to pick up the kids and shuttle them to after-school activities, put up your out-of-office and don’t look back.
When you embrace a schedule that works for you, you can let go of the “shoulds” and feel more present at every moment, whether you are working or spending time with family.
Don’t let your boundaries go unnoticed.
Setting boundaries is vital for an integrated approach to life, but it’s only the first step! Once you have determined where you draw the line, you must also enforce it. Otherwise, all the boundaries in the world will not help you reclaim control of your time.
Enforcing boundaries with clients, colleagues and family members is key to protecting your energy, but you must also apply the same rules to yourself. If your kiddos are not allowed to interrupt your valuable work time until 6 p.m., that should also mean you are not distracting yourself on TikTok or browsing Amazon deals until 6 p.m. either.
Fortunately, it gets easier to stick to your guns with practice, so keep saying “no” to others and yourself. Before long, you will feel like you have more ownership over your schedule and how you complete your responsibilities at work and at home.
Get familiar with yourself.
Many people who have dealt with severe burnout will say they were “blindsided” by it. They were hard at work one day when, suddenly, they just could not keep going. Sometimes it manifests in physical symptoms, like migraines or back pain. Other times, it produces emotional and mental consequences, like anxiety or depression.
Despite feeling blindsided, most of those people can also point to subtle “hints” that should have alerted them to the impending crash—if only they had listened. Unfortunately, a culture that glorifies the never-ending grind has made it hard to recognize when our bodies and spirits are begging for help. Calls for rest and downtime are silenced by client emails and project deadlines until you are operating on fumes.
But tuning into your body’s response to stress can help you identify the signs that tell you to hit the brakes and slow down. Maybe you tend to get cranky with loved ones or perhaps you suffer from afternoon headaches. You might even feel inclined to work more than usual as a way to “compensate” and get it all done.
When you know the signs of burnout creeping up, you will feel better equipped to address them before it snowballs out of control. It can take months to overcome a chronic case of burnout, but with small-but-significant adjustments to your lifestyle, you can nip it in the bud while the symptoms are still minor. Integration is not about being in two places at once or doing double the work; instead, it’s about accepting every aspect of your identity and letting each piece shine at the right time.