After years of employers and well-meaning lifestyle articles speaking of the "work-life balance", turns out it has always been a problematic concept. When you think about it, "work" should never act as a counterweight to "life", with opposition between these two terms actually highlighting the nature of the problem. In a new world defined by flexible hours, remote work opportunities, and ever-changing career trajectories, it's never been easier to integrate your working day with the rest of your life.
While black is the opposite of white and night the opposite of day, work is an integral aspect of life rather than the polar opposite. When we oppose "work" with "life", we're not even giving it a fighting chance. Instead, it's important to develop a new attitude to work - as an entwined, necessary, and sometimes annoying part of life rather than something that's trying to weigh us down. According to some experts, life's many activities are better approached as a series of threads. Our ability to define, separate, and weave multiple threads offers a more accurate and useful model than the unhealthy work-life spectrum.
While most people need to work, no-one remains 100% positive throughout their working day. Whether you're a rock star, an accountant, or a street sweeper, there are pros and cons associated with every activity and profession. The trick, and it's easier said than done, is spending more time doing the good stuff and less time taking care of the annoying details. According to a study by the Mayo Clinic, people who spend at least 20% of their working day doing what they love - the "red threads" - are more likely to be happy and significantly less likely to experience burnout.
Some workplace activities are simply not fun, with stress more likely when people feel loss of control or lack of flexibility. Problems also arise when people feel like they're forced to perform inefficient or unnecessary practices, especially if they don't have the appropriate skills. On the other side of the coin, less stressful workplace activities are associated with teamwork, creativity, opportunity, and personal responsibility in combination with professional freedoms and skills.
While not everyone has the ability to change their daily routine, most people can make some adjustments. According to research by Time, 73% of people claim to have some freedom to modify their job in order to fit their underlying strengths and preferences. However, despite this rather healthy percentage, only 18% of people choose to make positive changes. Whether you work for a large multi-national, run a family business, or work for yourself, there is often an opportunity to shift workloads between tasks and people based on personal preferences.
Whether it’s changing work-loads between team members, shifting tasks based on times of the day, or doing different jobs depending on your mood, moving things around is a great way to improve your life by adjusting the patterns of your working day. Even when professional freedoms are lacking, learning to work smarter and avoid procrastination can help to shift the internal goalposts of your mind. All-in-all, seeing work as a necessary and somewhat flexible part of life is much healthier and more productive than approaching it as an "other" force that exists in opposition to the rest of your life.