Many business owners don't get the luxury of “clocking out” at the end of the day — especially for entrepreneurs working from home.
Turning off during your personal time seems impossible because your laptop’s always open, and when it’s not, your mobile device pings you with new emails and notifications. Not checking them feels like you’re neglecting your company, and potentially missing opportunities.
While some point to establishing a work-life balance to prevent burning out, the solution might lie within improving your work-life integration.
What is work-life integration?
Work-life integration is a concept that acknowledges the interconnectedness of work and personal life. It isn’t about separating work from personal life, but finding a way to integrate them seamlessly.
So instead of striving for balance, where you spend an equal amount of time on both work and personal life, work-life integration is about finding a way to blend the two to complement each other.
Why is work-life integration a good idea for entrepreneurs?
If anyone understands the intermingling of work and life, it’s founders. Many are solopreneurs or work in small teams, which means wearing multiple hats and juggling several daily responsibilities.
It’s a challenge to balance work with your personal life, especially when you’re not in complete control of your day. If you work remotely with young children (or even pets), distractions can happen at the worst possible times.
Often, there’s no clocking in and out of work duties — or your personal life. So you’re forced to answer client emails while walking your dog, or to finish up work during the wee hours of the night when the children are asleep.
Your lifestyle doesn’t fit the mold of separating work from your personal life, which can lead to feelings of guilt, self-doubt, and anxiety.
With work-life integration, the stress of maintaining a barrier between the two dissipates. Instead, you embrace handling work and personal responsibilities throughout the day. When work or life calls, you can handle it immediately without remorse.
Work-life integration vs. work-life balance
Work-life integration and work-life balance have one thing in common, and that’s to create harmony between your work life and personal life. But how you achieve this is where the two differ.
Here are two examples to illustrate the differences:
Scenario 1: Work-life balance approach
As an entrepreneur working from home, John strives for work-life balance. He sets strict boundaries between his work and personal life, ensuring that he only works during designated hours and that personal tasks are kept separate. John also prioritizes self-care activities like exercise and meditation to reduce stress.
However, John finds it challenging to stick to his routine as unexpected non-work-related tasks often come up during his designated work hours.
For instance, his toddler gets sick and must stay home from day care. Or his wife has family visiting for a few weeks and requires attention. This makes him feel guilty or anxious because he must either neglect his personal life or reduce his work productivity.
The work-life balance approach follows these principles, according to United Nations Department of Operational Support:
- Not scheduling work-related activities during your off time
- Not attending meetings during lunch breaks
- Not having meetings during the afternoon on the last day of the work week (e.g., Fridays afternoons)
- Not sending urgent business emails that require immediate action during personal time
So there’s limited flexibility to make up for lost time when you have to cater to life’s demands.
If you have a family that supports your work hours and a routine that makes it possible to maintain a consistent schedule, this approach may be right for you.
Scenario 2: Work-life integration approach
As an entrepreneur working from home, Jane embraces the concept of work-life integration. She acknowledges that her work and personal life are interconnected, so she strives to find ways to blend them seamlessly.
For example, Jane might take a break from work to spend time with her kids in the afternoon and finish some tasks later in the evening after they’ve gone to bed. She also schedules Zoom meetings around her family’s schedule instead of trying to fit everything into a traditional 9-5 workday.
This approach allows Jane to prioritize both her business and personal responsibilities, without feeling guilty or overwhelmed by rigid boundaries between the two.
With the work-life integration approach, it’s all about swimming with — not against — the tide. If you have an undying desire to work on your business no matter the time of day without sacrificing personal time, then this may be your path.
Tips for integrating work and your personal life
There’s no one way to implement an integrated work-life strategy, so it’ll require testing to see what works for your business and family.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
Set realistic expectations: Be honest with yourself about what you can realistically accomplish in a day. Don’t overcommit to work tasks or personal obligations.
Create boundaries (but be flexible): While work-life integration means there are no hard-and-fast rules separating work and personal life, it’s still important to set boundaries. This could mean dedicating certain hours of the day to work and other hours to personal time.
If things don’t go according to plan, be flexible and adjust your schedule accordingly.
Avoid perfectionism: The goal is never about perfection — it’s about experimentation and being open to change. The ever-changing dynamic of your personal life makes it impossible to schedule your days to the tee, so you must learn your family and their routines and aim to work around them.
Rethink what balance means: Instead of trying to separate work and personal life into neat boxes, consider how they can complement each other. For example, taking a break from work to attend a child’s soccer game can provide much-needed stress relief and help you return to work refreshed.
Use technology wisely: Staying connected to your business is critical to keep things running smoothly. But do you really need to respond to every message that comes in, no matter the urgency? Create a system for prioritizing messages and tasks.
Schedule buffers and makeup time: Don’t wait until the last minute to complete deadlines. Schedule your duties in advance and include buffers in between tasks to allow for unexpected interruptions or delays.
Schedule a catch-up day each week for unexpected delays. For example, Fridays can be dedicated to catching up on tasks you didn't complete during the week.
How to foster work-life integration in the workplace
It’s partly why more employers are adding work-life balance as a benefit in their job listings. But what employees really want today is more flexibility. Seventy-six percent say they want to work wherever they want, and another 93% want to work whenever they want.
This shows a desire to have more control over their work life, so they can have more of a personal life.
Some employers have adopted hybrid work styles and four-day workweeks, but these aren't necessarily “flexible.” Workers are still bound to a 9-5 schedule, even if they’re working from home.
By fostering a work-life integration culture in your workplace, your teams aren’t forced to conform to traditional work hours or even workdays. Some may find weekends more productive when their kids are visiting a co-parent. Others may be late risers and prefer to begin their workday later.
Here are a few tips to create a workplace that embraces work-life integration:
- Create an async work style that encourages workers to respond to messages when it best suits them.
- Keep everything organized and accessible online via a shared platform, so workers can access information anytime and from anywhere.
- Give workers the tools to stay connected, such as videoconferencing software and messaging apps.
- Focus on output vs. time worked. Set clear goals and deadlines — when your team works doesn’t matter as long as they complete tasks on time.
- Allow workers to take time off as needed and be open to extensions, if necessary. To prevent abuse, ask for advance notice for non-emergency situations.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to work-life integration. However, with the right mindset and measures, it’s possible to create an environment that benefits your business and its employees. You may not get it right immediately, so experiment with your teams to see what works for everyone.