Work-Life Integration: Seeking Episodic Versus Daily Balance
The notion that there is an elusive ideal entitled “work-life balance” and it can be achieved in perfect harmony on a daily basis is, purely and simply, an illusion.
I subscribe to a different form of work-life integration—that of episodic versus daily balance—as coined by one of my mentors and great business and philosophical minds of our time, Joel Peterson, Chairman of the Hoover Institute, Faculty member at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Chairman of jetBlue and inspiration to me for the past 15 years since having the privilege of being one of his graduate students.
Episodic balance is an achievable goal. It means that work-life integration and work-life “balance” is achieved when we expand the aperture of time- and seek balance in our lives over weeks/months versus days.
What does that mean practically speaking? It means that every day, I am keenly aware of who the key stakeholders are in my life. Simply put, they are my husband, our two little girls, my closest family members/friends who are family, and my work. Being a lifelong athlete, a mom, wife, ceo, and executive (board member, investor, civic activist, etc.), there is never enough time to appease each stakeholder in any given day. EVER. In my perfect world, I work out 2 hours a day, I have a romantic dinner with my spouse (2 hours), I have cherished time with our girls before and after school (4 hours), I am the “perfect” CEO meaning I devote 12-14 hours to my company, I show up, presently, to be with my closest friends/additional family members for at least an hour daily, I devote at least an hour to the boards I’m on and the causes I care about, and I get enough sleep to refuel (6 hours ideally). In aggregate, this amounts to 24 hours/day (give or take) BEFORE sleep, so 30 hours in aggregate (at least). That takes into account zero tricky transitions (drive time, etc.), zero slack in the system for errors (new family puppy barks in his crate at 2 am, forcing me to wake up, let him out, and absorbing >1 hour of precious sleep), and zero “life events” (e.g. a kid gets sick, a work day involves a work crisis that takes 6 hours when planned for 60 minutes, etc.).
If I have not convinced you that this notion of daily balance is impossible to achieve, DM me on Twitter (@alyssarapp) or Instagram (@alyssajrapp) and we can expand the conversation.
If I have succeeded in demonstrating why daily balance is a mythical ideal, then hopefully I can convince you of something more optimistic:
What is achievable is episodic balance. Recognizing that two-three key stakeholders in any given day can be truly satisfied, while also carving out an hour for myself that is crucial to my sanity (not vanity), is an achievable goal.
What does that mean practically speaking? It means that some days I can be a kick-ass CEO and terrific mom, and I may squeeze in a call with my own mother or brother, but I don’t end up with tremendous amounts of quality time with them or my husband. Other days I know we need a “date night” (dinner alone, sans kids), for about two hours, and that comes at the cost of sacrificing an extra hour of work or an extra hour with our girls. (And goodness knows in the ideal world, we get a couple of days away versus just a night!)
Sometimes I need to widen the aperture further and “fill the well” of love and connection with my husband and our girls for one-to-two work-free days over a weekend let alone one-to-two weeks on a family vacation. Inevitably I’ll then be hit with a really heavy-duty week or two of work travel thereafter. Balance comes in the form of knowing who and what matters most and prioritizing them above all else. But, recognize that success isn’t measured in hours of presence but in the quality of the interactions. Being present with my kids and husband for meaningful chunks of time is the goal—“quality over quantity,” as the saying goes.
Which is not to say that daily balance plays no role of importance. I am a slave to routine if not schedule when not on the road. I cherish making my husband his “Bullet” coffee each morning, catching up with him before the day really begins; making our girls breakfast and hearing them practice piano or spelling before taking them to school. I love reading them books at day’s end and hearing the “peaks and pits” of their daily lives before they fall asleep. I even have grown fond of having our Bernedoodle join me for a 5 or 6 am workout. (Presuming he can self-entertain with a bone.)
I also am downright religious about achieving one hour of “me time” each morning, which, for me personally, comes in the form of a workout…even at the cost of rest. I wish it were two hours, but I can live with one. Whether a Peloton cycling workout, lifting weights, running sprints, stair climbing, or yoga—if I can get my one hour to myself at the start of each day, I have at least taken care of “me.” Then I can devote myself to everyone and everything else for the remaining 23 hours of each day. Whether your one hour involves athletics, or meditation, or anything else, is a highly personal decision. But, just like they say on airplanes, one has to put on one’s own oxygen mask before helping others. My daily workout is my way of doing so.
In sum, work-life integration is not formulaic. It’s personal, and from my vantage point, it’s achieved with episodic versus daily time frames in mind. Like any goal, however, it needs to be set to be achieved.
Alyssa Rapp is the CEO of Surgical Solutions, a Lecturer in Management at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, a recent appointee to the faculty at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and the author of Leadership and Life Hacks: Perspectives from a Mom, Wife, Entrepreneur and Executive (ForbesBooks, 2019).