Work. Self. Family.
In Renegades Write the Rules, Amy Jo Martin explains that her boss told her to pick two of those three options. Because, according to this boss, it’s impossible to have all three. That didn’t sit well with Amy Jo. In fact, this conversation provided the nudge she needed to become her own boss.
In PR — especially if you’re responsible for social media and online community management — it’s hard to feel like you’re ever truly “off the clock.” Are you focused enough on your career, without sacrificing quality time with friends and family, not to mention taking care of yourself? Do you feel like you’re living a balanced life? If you feel overwhelmed just thinking about it, take a deep breath. We’ve all been there. It’s hard, but you can take steps to enjoy your life without having to sacrifice work, self or career.
It starts with a shift in perspective: Instead of focusing so much on work-life balance, think about work-life integration. Balance implies that when you’re at work, you’re only focused on work, and when you’re home you’re only focused on home. But, is that separation actually feasible? I’ve talked about — and written about — this idea before. And, I’m certainly not the first person to strive for integration. It’s a nice sounding phrase, right? But, what does it actually mean? And, more importantly, how do you work toward this concept of integration?
The other day, I was chatting with video game connoisseur and Geben account coordinator Marty Hess, who asked me to explain what this “integration” looks like in my own life. I’m pretty sure I offered some rambling stream of consciousness that may (or may not!) have actually made sense. But, this raises a good point: Talking about integration doesn’t do much good if no one understands the brass tacks so clearly that its applicable to their own life.
So, in the effort to give Marty a real answer — and in the process help anyone else with a similar question — I spent some time identifying specific actions that help me embrace the blurring lines that separate (or blend) work-life-self.
- Dictate your own schedule. It’s easy for me to say this since I started a company three years ago. There’s some natural freedom and flexibility that comes with being your own boss. But, here’s the secret: That flexibility isn’t limited to people who run companies. As my friend Jason Mollica tweeted yesterday, ”Don’t let others dictate your schedule. Be out in front, good and bad.” Our days often get hijacked by things, events or circumstances that appear beyond our control. But, I’d bet that many of these “unforeseen” situations could have been anticipated and planned for. Anticipate potential outcomes, needs and next steps. Then, take the steps to begin controlling the uncontrollable.
- #WorkAway. For at least half a day, once a week, each member of the Geben team is required to work from somewhere other than the office. Coffee shop, library, park, home — wherever they’ll be most productive. Each person can decide when to “#WorkAway” and what they’ll accomplish during that time. For some, they set aside that time for writing. Others use that time to plow through the “stragglers” on their to-do list. Sometimes, it’s when they brainstorm creative content strategy ideas for clients. Escape the office to discover a new sense of productivity.
- #ReadySetPause. This is another idea we’ve “borrowed” from Amy Jo Martin. It’s basically a timeout for grownups. Set aside eight minutes in your day to disconect, relax and refocus your mind. I don’t practice this as much as I should, but just last week, Megumi — who is in the midst of managing two major events for our clients — realized she needed a self-imposed timeout. She took a quick walk around the block and came back refreshed and ready to tackle the afternoon. Talk a walk, listen to some music, call your best friend for a quick gab session … whatever you need to do help your brain recharge. Don’t stress about the fact that you’re technically “at work.” If a quick break means you’ll be more productive overall, it’s a effective — and perfectly acceptable — use of time.
- Do well by doing good. If you’re in PR, you have a skillset that many nonprofits need. Give a little of your time and talents and you’ll be rewarded in multiple ways. First (and most importantly), you’ll be helping an organization that you believe in work toward its mission. You’ll be inspired and motivated when you see how your efforts directly impact your community. Plus, I’ve found that the more I support nonprofits, the more it benefits my business. The connections and networking are incredibly valuable. And, as Simon Sinek reminds us, individuals want to surround themselves with people who share their WHY.
- Bring on the crazy. In our line of work, things are sometimes chaotic. It is what it is. Instead of stressing about it, embrace the craziness. (As a constant reminder, we have “Bring on the Crazy” written on the wall in our kitchen area.) Recently, YoungHouseLove described why they embrace the crazy: “So our goal is just to be flexible and resist the futile attempt to cling to any sense of ‘normal.’ We figure the less we stress about it, the more we’ll be able to enjoy what’s in store for us.” Amen.
- Disregard 9-5 notions. Work doesn’t just have to happen during the hours of 9-5, especially if you’re responsible for responding to media, managing online communities or working with clients in various timezones. Employers, a word of advice: If you expect your employees to respond during “off hours,” you can’t freak out if they take personal calls, check Facebook or run a quick errand during the work day. As long as the work is getting done and they’re delivering high-quality results, does it really matter if they sneak a couple minutes in to go to the bank or post on a friend’s Facebook wall? That said, no one can work 24/7. Know when to step away. Find a hobby. Hang out with friends. Watch a movie. Don’t let the pendulum swing so far that you’re always working. That’s not sustainable.
- Identify energy sources. Pay attention the next time you’re feeling really energized. What just happened that led to this burst? And, how can you duplicate that situation — at work or home? I was chatting with a client recently who said he felt like he was in a rut. He’s a naturally creative person working in an industry that isn’t exactly super creative. A couple years ago, he realized that he could use Twitter to surround himself with other creative people — absorbing inspiration from their creative energies. During our discussion, we realized that the people he used to chat with on Twitter had become a bit self-promotional and not as creative or interesting. So, he tweaked his Twitter lists to incorporate some fresh voices and new sparks of creativity. Now? He’s out of the rut and feeling reenergized. Once you know what energizes you personally or professionally, you can take steps to recreate that environment and keep energy high.
- Celebrate success. What does success look like to you? If you don’t ever pause to think about how you define success — and what milestones along the journey will help achieve it — you’ll burnout. Who wants to keep plugging away without feeling like you’re making real progress? Whether it’s a big win or a small moral victory, celebrate it. At home, this might be something as basic as reorganizing your closets (which I just did at my house!) or exercising on a more regular basis. At work, it could be landing a new client, earning a promotion, or getting your client a meeting with a high-profile analyst or reporter. Whatever it is, don’t diminish your accomplishment. Pause to reflect on how far you’ve come and enjoy it. And, then get back to it and work toward the next victory.
- Be an owner. In her new book, [Re]Frame, Sarah Evans encourages people to take ownership of their work. You’re not “owning” your work if you don’t feel responsible for the good of the workplace, if you’re not fiscally conservative with the company’s resources, or if you’re misusing or abusing hours you’re paid for. As Sarah puts it, “Own your work, or go find something worth owning. There is no Option C.” If you take this level of pride in your work, you’ll enjoy your job more. Instead of feeling like a chore, it’ll be fun, rewarding, meaningful and motivating.
- Reset expectations. If you’re in a career where work can’t shut off at 5:00, that can pose some challenges with your friends and family, particularly if they do work in jobs where “off the clock” truly means off the clock. When you’re with family and friends, avoid constantly checking email, Twitter, etc. That’s just rude. However, if there’s a situation brewing and you truly can’t put your phone down, just be honest. Open lines of communication can help manage expectations and ensure people doesn’t feel ignored or under-appreciated. Clear communication will also help you avoid feeling pulled in too many directions.
- __________________. <– Your turn. Fill in the blank: How do you integrate work-life-self to reduce stress and achieve the desired results in all three categories? Share your thoughts in the comments or with me on Twitter.