We have all heard the saying “a healthy work/ life balance”, it is something that has been used for generations, and is still said regularly today. But in the digital age that we operate in now, is the idea of “balance” still achievable or is it simply unrealistic?
As a freelancer I have come to understand that what works best for me is the idea of work/life solidarity; it is finding something I am passionate about and integrating that into my life. Never mind your work/life balance; time split equally across two worlds. I strive for a merging of all the things I am enthusiastic about, for me, it is all about blurring the boundaries.
But is there really a difference between work/life balance and work/life solidarity? Whilst it may not seem obvious at first, there is a stark contrast between the two and it may require rewiring the way you view your responsibilities. I have put together some of my thoughts on combining work life and personal life, and why for me, it has changed everything.
What Do We Mean By ‘Balance’?
If you have ever had more than one responsibility in your life, you will probably have been told to ensure you maintain a “healthy work/life balance”. Whether you have said it to yourself as a way of excusing yourself from your work duties, or others have said it to you – the question still remains, what do we mean by balance?
If you have a ‘normal’ 9-5-office job, and a family at home, you may clock off at 5 and not give work a second thought. However this is an incredibly traditional way of working, nowadays people step out of the office at 5, but they are still receiving work emails, updating the business social media pages or tying up loose ends on the work laptop. Due to technology and businesses evolving over the years, it is simply much less common in 2018 to simply ‘sign off’, so where does the idea of balance begin?
By definition, the word balance means an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. This suggests that to maintain a balance across your work life and home life, you must dedicate equal amounts of time to both. For most, this is simply not feasible, with more roles becoming ‘virtual’, and working hours differing from the standard 9-5 there is just no way to live what is seen as a balanced lifestyle.
What Is Solidarity, and Why Should You Consider It?
If you are still confused and wondering what the difference between a work/life balance and work/life solidarity actually is, I hear you. It sounds like a pretentious way of saying the same thing, but the two concepts are worlds apart and can really make all the difference to your productivity and happiness across the board. The idea of solidarity amongst your work life and personal life suggests that the two intermingle together. Rather than clocking off from work and clocking into home life, you simply focus instead on how you can get value from each aspect of your life as a whole.
As a freelancer myself with a young family, striving for that desirable balance was incredibly hard. My hours can vary from one day to the next, and although I have the luxury of working from home and with my family, I still have to be ‘logged on’ as it where. The stress and feeling of being overwhelmed by responsibility was really what made me consider my lifestyle, and what led me to strive for work/life solidarity instead of this unobtainable balance.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of people who would disagree with me here and say that they have a fantastic work/life balance. However, the majority of these people tend to have older families, more traditional job roles, or simply fewer responsibilities. I am aware that my way of thinking won’t suit everyone, however for those in a similar industry to me working as a freelancer, working shifts, unusual hours or even working remotely – you may find this a huge help.
How To Implement a Work/Life Solidarity Mind-set?
We use the term ‘healthy’ and ‘balanced’ far too often when talking about the way in which we choose to live our lives. But ultimately everyone is striving for the same thing, happiness, and fulfillment. If you are going to live and die by the law of a balanced lifestyle, you are likely to be in a similar position to me when I first started my freelancing career; incredibly unhappy and under immense pressures from all directions.
The moment you switch your way of thinking, you can unlock a whole new world of opportunities for yourself. Can’t make your child’s football match because you are in ‘work mode’? Missing the important meetings because you are at a family BBQ? The truth is there is always going to be something you might miss out on because of other commitments, and this is sometimes going to be unavoidable. But there are ways to decrease the number of things you miss, and that’s when work/life solidarity comes in.
Plan: My first bit of advice would be to forget everything you already know about maintaining a work/life relationship. Start off with a plan of action for the week, grabbing a couple of hours out of the day to plan ahead will see you off to a great start as it will not only allow you to look at what you have coming up, ensuring you are better prepared, but will also make it easier to assign allotted times to work activities and home activities.
Making the most out of your calendar, diary or smartphone to properly plan out your responsibilities is important, but the most paramount part of this is ensuring you are strict with the time you give yourself. I know how tempting it can be to let a 3-hour working session sneak up to 4 or 5 hours when you are on a roll. But by straying from your plan you are inevitably eating into your “me time”, meaning you are making less time for yourself and your loved ones.
By sticking to the time frames you set out for yourself at the start of the week, you can ensure you are getting the absolute most out of every minute spent on any specific thing. Whether that means quality time with family without checking work emails every few minutes, or time spent working uninterrupted by the family for a few hours. Making this plan and ensuring those you live with are aware of it will improve your productivity and your downtime simultaneously!
Passion: I am well aware that not everybody is lucky enough to be doing a job that they love. The chances are that if you are freelancing you have found your dream career, and as such will be more driven and dedicated to your trade. However there are still plenty of people who haven’t found that long-term role yet, and that is where this part comes into play.
In the UK the average person will spend 30-40 hours every week working – that is A LOT of time! With the majority of our time being spent at work, it is pretty important to find a role you can be excited about. If you are finding that waking up is a chore and you are wishing the days away, then it may be time to explore new career paths.
The key to work/life solidarity is finding the aspects of both worlds that you are passionate about, and that brings value to your days. By focusing on these aspects rather than trying to do everything in equal measure, you will be able to spend more time doing what you love.
Time “Offline”: With the vast majority of businesses relying heavily on technology, it is more difficult than ever to have any real downtime. Unfortunately, the truth is that technology is addictive; if you’re not staring at some kind of screen, whether that is at work or at home, then what are you doing??
Taking a couple of hours every day away from all technology can really help you relax and unwind properly. I know this may be an unpopular idea, but it can work wonders for your overall health and happiness, and does a lot to make integrating the different parts of your life together a breeze!
For someone like me whose business relies on being accessible almost 24/7, it can be incredibly hard to just put my phone down, close my laptop and spend uninterrupted time with my family or doing something for myself. However, by implementing a few set rules into my plan every week, I have found an easy way to integrate my work into my lifestyle.
Work/life Solidarity: Is It Worth It?
If you have found yourself here then you may be looking for better ways to manage your routine, and it can be quite a challenge to forget the idea of balance in replacement for solidarity. But is it worth the effort of changing up your lifestyle? For me, the answer is definitely!
Whilst a healthy work/life balance probably worked great back when the majority of roles started and finished at the office door, times have changed and in turn so has the way we live our lives.
Over the past few years, the idea of work/life integration has become more and more popular, in particular amongst those who do work for themselves and struggle to find ways of managing work and life when the two are so closely linked.
So is work/life solidarity worth the effort of planning out your time and parting ways with your mobile for a couple of hours a week? Work/life solidarity brought for me a happier life at home, with increased work productivity, which inevitably has improved my business and earnings! So yes, it is 100% worth it and I recommend anybody looking for an easier life to consider ditching the balance and striving for solidarity.