How To Drop The Work-Life Balancing Act And Set Some Boundaries

Just as there really is no such thing as multi-tasking, one CEO believes work-life balance is a mere dream. Instead, he offers three ways to take back your life and become more valuable at work without buying into the myth.

Work-life balance is a myth we all want to believe. And why wouldn’t we? We are told that being hyper-connected means we can be brilliantly productive anywhere, while enjoying deep friendships, a happy family life, personal achievement, and a meaningful spiritual connection.

Instead, work-life balance is more often like the parent at the piano recital, discretely sending email replies while their child performs for strangers. Work-life balance is the distracted commuter dropping in and out of your conference call and contributing nothing but static and apologies. It is the friend who stops you mid-sentence as you are sharing important news, to say he has to take a call from a client. It is the diluted joy, diminished health, and lack of satisfaction we experience in our lives when we choose not to fully escape the world of work.

As a provider of alternative workplaces over the past 20 years at Regus, Worktopia, and now Serendipity Labs, I have had a unique vantage point for observing professionals as they are catapulted by technology, mobility, and connectivity into a 24/7 digital way of life.

The always-on work culture has yielded huge gains in worker productivity, but without regard for any boundaries with our personal lives. Now, Generation X and Millennial values are taking hold, and as a result, workers are learning to redirect these same forces to empower choices that improve their lives, while making them more valuable at work.

Here’s how you can do the same:

1. Set Boundaries

An estimated 120 million U.S. workers are now categorized as mobile workers, and can choose how, when, and where they work at least some of the time. They are the great new wave of consumers of alternative workplaces: cafes, hotel lobbies, and coworking.

In the war for top talent, corporate workplace policies are now becoming more flexible to meet worker choices, not the other way around. So train your clients and coworkers how to work with you. Set their expectations about where, when, and how you will work.

By answering calls and replying to emails and texts when you are conducting your personal life, you are training them that there are no boundaries. Remember, in business, unless it is a true emergency, it can probably wait until you can offer your full attention and best contribution.

2. Make Good Choices

It may sound revolutionary, but ask yourself: Do I really need to go to work today?

With so much mobility and flexibility, a long commute is often wasted when the people you are supposed to be collaborating with are not at the office either.

Consider the value of each meeting before you decide to set one or attend one. Who will learn something of value? Who will actively contribute? Can it be conducted online or by video collaboration?

Check coworker calendars before burning valuable time on an unnecessary commute. By working near or at home and only working three days a week, you can also reduce your CO2 footprint by over 2.2 tons annually.

3. Be Present when Present

Serve one master at a time and focus. You are at your professional best when your work has your full attention.

Whether you are giving a big presentation or collaborating with a group, distraction is the enemy of inspiration and productivity. Book an off-site venue for more strategic meetings. Fewer attendees will be tempted to slip in and out than if it is scheduled at the headquarters.

The truth is, sometimes we choose not to be present and feign the importance of being needed in more than one place at a time. Once a virtue, this kind of busyness and being over-scheduled is now seen as undisciplined and weak. The same goes for your personal life; the discipline to be truly present applies.

So, set boundaries with clients and coworkers; make good choices about how, where, and when you work; be fully present when at work; and above all enjoy taking your life back.

--John P. Arenas is CEO of Serendipity Labs LLC, a franchised corporate co-working brand. Arenas has over 20 years of experience building workspace and hospitality brands and working in commercial real estate, investment and finance. As a serial entrepreneur, he has successfully built three companies that serve on-demand workspace needs for corporate real estate occupiers and mobile workers.

[Image: Flickr user TtoTheStreet]

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3 Comments

  • Appreciate the setting of boundaries. Once we recognize that life is a journey with hills and valleys, we can appreciate that sometimes work demands more time and sometimes home or other dimensions demand more. We strive for integrated lives with each element contributing to the richness of our experience. It's not really "work-life" balance, but work as a part of life. A see-saw isn't fun if it's in perfect balance, only if it goes up and down with two people engaged.

  • Well done! In your next column please explore the other side of the telecommuter's life: the loss of community compared to the traditional "catch up by the water cooler" office setup.

  • Catherine Hutchinson

    Love this, thank you John for such a succinct overview of the myth of work life balance!