by Connor Provines, operations director at Share Your Office
I was relieved when I got my first job out of college, but as I commuted to the financial district at rush hour every morning, I knew something was missing. My hours weren’t particularly long, but many times it felt like I was working out of obligation, waiting for the end of the day.
Looking back, I was suffering from the overarching problem with work/life balance: even when the two appear to be perfectly balanced in a standard 40-hour work week, it feels like something’s off. Work quickly becomes a tedious experience, and life is a temporary joy that you savor as unproductively as possible before going into work again.
Lately, writers have begun to push for a new concept called work-life integration, where work and life can flow seamlessly into one another depending on mood and circumstance. This concept was written about at length on the New York Times, and I’ve discussed it myself on the Share Your Office blog. In short, many people want flexibility and a sense of purpose more than they want short work hours and excess benefits.
Here are a few practical, actionable tips I implemented into my daily schedule that helped me integrate work into life:
1. Loosen the time you wake up and go to sleep.
The first step to feeling less constrained at work is to loosen the constraints on your home life. It’s healthy to keep an eye on how much sleep you’re getting every night, but there’s no need to obsess over it. As long as you’re not depriving yourself too much, you’ll still be plenty productive in the morning.
More importantly, having a slightly more lax schedule allows you to feel more motivated when you do start working. If you wake up half hour early on a work day, why not just go in a bit early instead of lying in bed? You can leave half hour early at the end of the day, and you won’t have that groggy, nagging feeling that you wasted half the morning.
Similarly, if you’re working from home, don’t be afraid to shift things around. Better to take care of urgent personal matters during the day and work later to make up for what you missed than to work lethargically all day because your mind is elsewhere.
At the end of the day, falling asleep when you’re sleepy makes the most sense. Attempts to excessively regulate your schedule result in a lot of dead time where you end up doing something just because you feel obligated to.
2. Mentally go through your schedule at the start of the day.
At the start of the work day, usually during my commute, I think about where I previously left off and what I should start with. I can usually come up with enough tasks to last me through to lunch, if not later.
This is a conscious, proactive approach to work that makes you feel more in control of your life. Personally, it motivates me more than waiting for my boss or my email inbox to remind me of what I was supposed to be doing.
Self-motivation is one of the keys to work happiness and work/life integration. While work/life balance seeks to minimize the pain inflicted by your job, work/life integration seeks to turn that pain into satisfaction by giving you a sense of ownership. If you’re internally driven, you’ll find yourself feeling happier even with the same type of work and the same salary.
3. Reward your progress.
Who doesn’t love office snacks and free coffee? It’s tempting to refill your mug whenever you’re sitting idle?sometimes even when you’re not sitting idle.
I’ve found that stretching your legs to grab a snack or pour some coffee can actually function as a procrastination tool, and it’s easily abused. If you’re facing a challenging task that you don’t feel like working through, you might end up using these little treats as a way to put it off.
Instead of feeding the stress of a major task, you should try to reward yourself for completing a job and psych yourself up for the next job. I like to stretch my legs before tackling a new challenge, but then I try to stay focused on the task until it’s done. Once you’ve finished, reward yourself with a snack or a walk around the block. Rinse and repeat.
This sounds trivial, but small rituals like pouring coffee and strolling out in the sun can make a big difference to your mentality. On the flip side, the worst thing you can do is abuse treats as procrastination tools, since that will only increase your stress.
These are a few of my tricks, but they’re far from universal. Arguably, it’s more important to understand the overall concept of work/life integration than it is to follow a prescribed set of hacks. Still, specific examples don’t hurt, and I urge you to try a few of my suggestions.
What personal hacks have you discovered to keep your work mentality in check?
Connor Provines is the operations director at Share Your Office. He oversees day-to-day operations of the U.S. Share Your Office team, designs marketing and sales strategies, and manages a small team to assist with marketing and business development. He was in charge of developing and executing the core marketing strategy for Share Your Office, successfully growing the business from dozens to hundreds of clients.