Why I gave up on work-life integration and am embracing work-life mindfulness

Several years ago, while working for a fast-paced healthcare organization, I shared the concept of “work-life integration” with my colleagues, many of whom were on the brink of burnout, just like me. Look!, I’d said, excitedly. Here’s a model for how we can give up on this whole ridiculously notion of “work-life balance” and win again! 

My colleagues, mostly highly competent and high-achieving women in the throes of parenting, nodded excitedly. Finally, an approach that acknowledges how everything seems to flow together anyway! There is no balance, after all, when your son’s teacher is texting you during your presentation or your Amazon-surfing for your mother-in-law’s birthday in the two minutes before the meeting with your boss starts. 

We started taking photos of ourselves “integrating,” holding wine glasses on beautiful Saturday evenings on our porch checking email. Look at us!, we thought.It just took a mindset shift. We’ve officially got it all.

But did we? We certainly felt like embracing the flow between domestic and work responsibilities meant we were masters of all of our domains. And yet, why did we still feel like we were never catching up? That we were falling short in every area? And that we were still frazzled, frustrated, and perpetually anxious? 

After some reflection, I realized that “work-life integration” was a way for us to accept – rather than challenge – the notion that we can and should do our work from anywhere. It legitimized the constant mental shifting that women, in particular, are so accustomed to doing, even when that mental load was causing us extreme burnout. 

We needed a different approach

I started to realize that, perhaps, from a mental health perspective at least, there was some benefit to the long-forgone stark division between work and home. At least then, I thought, we knew when to “turn off” one set of tasks and move more fully into the next. This hypervigilance of awaiting our bosses to text us at 9pm certainly wasn’t helping our sanity. 

But that stark division is not the world we live in, I recognized. The flexibility that integration offers is the part that we really want. And as an entrepreneur, I needed that part too. 

And so about a year ago, I started realizing that what I was really searching for was something I’d start calling work-life mindfulness.

Dropping the rope on trying to do it and be it all — at once

Work-life mindfulness is an approach that recognizes that there is not always a clear-cut division between our work selves and other selves. First of all, we have a multitude of identities, and they don’t just fit into the categories of “work” and “home.” Secondly, the dentist isn’t usually open on the weekends, so we must have that ability to flex to our different needs. 

But work-life mindfulness recognizes that we can’t constantly be flexing, or we lose productivity, sanity, and effectiveness. It’s been proven that the concept of “multi-tasking” is fallacy. Our brains can’t actually process information simultaneously in an effective way, and so something always suffers and we get fatigued. And constant set shifting wears on us as well. Ask anyone working at home in a pandemic. 

Work-life mindfulness is based on the idea that we can practice being where we are when we are there, allowing ourselves to do what our brains most want to do — be fully present. 

If that seems like a pipe dream, I get it. We have to start with a sense of expectations. Work-life mindfulness doesn’t mean that we are always able to find long stretches of uninterrupted, focused time. It means that we can practice the tools of mindfulness in each and every moment to make the most of the windows of time we do have. 

What work-life mindfulness is all about

Look, this is hard in a pandemic world, I know. But it’s also the time we could most benefit from practicing it. Here’s what work-life mindfulness means: 

  • Finding the boundaries that you can and need to set to protect your time and energy
  • Practicing mindful awareness of the present moment 
  • Cultivating emotion regulation tools to manage situations and relationsips 
  • Understanding what you individually need to support your stress cycle 
  • Figuring out how to respond rather than react in the moment
  • Learning how to keep self-judgment at bay

The beauty is that you can start literally anywhere. Start by noticing what it feels like for your fingers to tap the keys on your laptop. Start by observing the criticism you’re lodging at yourself for not calling back your girlfriend. Start by NOT reading email while you’re drinking your coffee! 

When we know better, we do better. And I’m personally doing better now knowing that there is simply no way to be all the things all the time. 

If you’re hungry for more, learn about our upcoming free webinar on work-life mindfulness launching soon or check out one of our circles to delve deeper into the concept and how it can transform your stress, energy, and mental wellness. Join our community list to get more content and updates on these offerings.

Dr. Ashley Solomon is the founder of Galia Collaborative, an organization dedicated to helping women heal, thrive, and lead. She works with individuals, teams, and companies to empower women with modern mental healthcare and the tools they need to amplify their impact in a messy world.

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