Rebalancing Work and Life

Ashutosh Priyadarshy author headshot

Ashutosh Priyadarshy, CEO @ Sunsama
November 26, 2020

I'm trying to reorganize my days around the idea of work life "integration" instead of work life "balance." Now that I work remotely and asynchronously, it figures that I should be working at times of day when I am effective, not when it's normal to work. In theory, I thought it would be as easy as just redistributing my working blocks throughout the day. But the problem is that it's much easier to reallocate traditional "life" time for work than it is to reallocate traditional "work" hours for life.

Almost everyone has felt this. It feels effortless to answer emails for a couple hours in the evening from your couch, so you don't think twice about it. You just do it. You don't feel the need to announce this your colleagues or family or to schedule it into your calendar. If your work is important to you, it finds a way to flow down and fill up the rest of your time without any deliberate effort.

It's the opposite if you wanted to do something personal at 10 AM on a Tuesday. You wouldn't just get up and go out for a hike on a whim. If you really wanted to, you'd be deliberate about it. You would ask for permission, tell someone, or plan around it. What's worse is you may never even consider this as a possibility because each hour of each day has it's own particular feeling of what activities are acceptable. And if you do something in conflict with that day's expectations, you're likely to feel guilty.

In theory, the idea of working hours should be a curious vestige of industrial era working norms. But the expectations of what's appropriate are etched so deep into my psyche that I can write all of this and still feel guilty about going for a run on a Tuesday morning.

Ideally, I'd live totally unshackled from these invisible expectations. But for now, I've resigned myself to accepting that it takes a concerted effort for me to do non-work activities during typical working hours.

I've blocked off time on my calendar every Wednesday from 10 AM to 1 PM for the past year so that I can go for a run. I started off strong, but as the weeks passed, I started working during that time again. Now, I set a reminder on Sundays, telling me to commit to picking an exact park and time for that week's run in addition to the calendar reminder. It takes me two nudges to overcome that conditioning and do something that I enjoy.

The other tactic that works to break down these ingrained expectations is to forcibly reverse the polarity so that your personal activities crowd out your work time. Basically, you trick yourself into feeling it's the weekend, which is when the polarities naturally reverse and your leisure activities fill up your time without much effort.

I recently spent a week at my parents' house and wanted to make sure I could spend quality time with them. I told my colleagues that they should not expect me to be available and that I'd plan to work half-days, as my family obligations allowed. By reversing my priorities, I reversed the way I distributed my time. It felt easy to close my laptop and hop out for a long walk with my mom on a whim or let my lunch linger leisurely into my usual working hours.