Peter Booth

There are many reasons to shoot for work-life balance, and not all of them have to do with enjoying personal time. For example, it’s been shown that our productivity improves when we take breaks, and people don’t think as creatively when they’re stressed.

But some people think that the idea of work-life balance is all wrong. “‘Balance’ assumes that we spend an equal amount of time in all or most areas of our life,” writes Ivan Misner in his blog. Misner is the founder of the business networking organization BNI. He calls the idea of balance a myth, preferring the term “harmony.” One area of life—work or personal—may predominate at certain times, but in the end it can work out to a healthy mix.

Similarly, researchers Ellen Ernst Kossek and Brenda Lautsch prefer to speak about flexibility rather than balance. They refer to two types of people: Separators, who maintain firm boundaries between work and personal life, and Integrators, who switch back and forth between the two (think of the typical workaholic checking his or her smartphone at the soccer game). A third type—called “Volleyers” or “Cyclers”—switch between Integrator and Separator styles.

Integration gets a bad rap, but Kossek and Lautsch say that some people can integrate successfully. And sometimes, work and personal life intersect naturally. For instance, Dawn and Tom Wotton, owners of Home Sweet Home Improvements, in Bealeton, Va., find that they get many business leads through volunteer activities such as scouting and parent-teacher groups. Tom says that a rapport naturally builds among volunteers working toward a common cause. Just be sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

“It’s a bad mistake if you are there for the purpose of developing a lead and not because you are passionate about being involved in the program,” Tom says.

Each approach to crafting a life has pros and cons. What’s important is finding one that works for you. Whatever your current style and situation, these tips can help you (and your employees) achieve the goal.

  • Track your time. Kossek and Lautsch suggest taking note of when you feel the most stress. That will indicate which areas you should change.
  • Experiment with different schedules (and reevaluate periodically). As your life circumstances change, you may need to switch strategies.
  • Schedule “appointments” for important leisure activities.
  • Think ahead. Before accepting a job, consider how it will affect your schedule. The Wottons will pass on a project if the prospect’s scheduling expectations unrealistic or the job requires long commutes for their employees.
  • Try a four-day workweek during the summer. At Home Sweet Home Improvements, the Wottons have found that this can be a boon for employees with families, since they can spend long weekends with the kids and save on daycare. Clients may also prefer that schedule. Just be sure that you set expectations up front.
  • Have standard operating procedures in place. This makes it much easier to delegate tasks, says building-industry consultant David Lupberger.
  • Outsource. An expert marketer, bookkeeper, or computer tech can do certain jobs much more efficiently than you. (Lupberger suggests that administrative and marketing work are often the first things it makes sense to outsource.)
  • Finally, ask others how they manage their time. Friends, family, and colleagues face the same challenges, after all.