How to find alignment in the age of always-on business

“When we continually talk about work-life balance, we set ourselves up to be disappointed,” says University of Texas associate professor Dawna Ballard. In one of Collabosphere’s top-rated sessions, Dr. Ballard explained an alternate way to find peace in this era of 24/7 connectivity and ever-increasing expectations.


Balance vs. alignment

The very notion of achieving balance is a myth, Ballard said, urging the audience to instead think about alignment. Instead of “work-life” balance, she said, we should focus on time.

[bctt tweet=”When we continually talk about work-life balance, we set ourselves up to be disappointed”]

“The reason that I don’t like the term ‘balance’ is that it’s based on a machine metaphor; it’s a tool, it’s not something that humans are really designed to do,” she said. “Alignment is a dynamic process of trial and error.”

Ballard isn’t alone in her skepticism about balance. “I hate the term work-life balance,” wrote PGi founder Boland T. Jones. “…Entrepreneurs should embrace the fact that work and life aren’t going to be separated by something as simple as a hyphen. A business leader’s day isn’t a scale that needs equilibrium.”

We’re seduced by the thought that if we could somehow focus purely on work when we’re working, and purely on “life” when we’re not working, we’d wind up perfectly serene and content. This, alas, is a mirage. How could we ever hope to separate work and life in 2016? How would we quantify that?


The time-space mixtape

Since we were in the live music capital of the world, Dr. Ballard drew parallels to the music world to explain how we can find alignment in our daily lives. Just as you may have one playlist for romance and another playlist for relaxation, so can you try different ways of navigating through time and space to make yourself a happier, more productive collaborator.


We all know this song: real-time, same-space collaboration. “This is important particularly in turbulent times,” Ballard said. In her research, though, she has found that this is the most overused form of work. “You’re always on. It’s great, exhilarating and adrenaline-filled, but you can get out of alignment pretty fast by reaching over all the time in so many different directions.”


As many organizations have discovered, telecommuting (real-time, different-space) offers lots of advantages for employer and employee alike. With the flexibility, though, comes risk for the employee. “I found in some of my earlier work that the most overloaded people in organizations were those with flexible time-work arrangements,” she said.


“Sometimes we forget the old-fashioned phone ring or doorbell and how we used to actually make decisions about whether we would answer the door or pick up the phone,” Ballard said. Sometimes she changes her ringtone to a doorbell just to remind herself that she doesn’t always have to pick up and attend to whatever request is awaiting.


The failed romance of multitasking did a lot of damage to our productivity. Ballard’s last way to approach time involves unapologetic priortization. One organization that instituted an hour of mandatory quiet time saw an immediate uptick in productivity. “In an always-on business environment, the idea of silence is addictive.” Your annual vacation can’t be the only time you decompress.

Watch the full talk below, including a great Q&A session at the end!

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.