E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

It’s All About Work Life Integration; It’s All About You!

Tenerife - Los Roques De García & Mount TeideOne of the topics that I set myself to blog about way back when I first got things started over here a few years ago was surprisingly enough about Work Life Balance (Yes, I know, it doesn’t have much to do with KM, Collaboration, Communities, Learning or Social Computing for that matter… but not to worry, bear with me… ); and that everlasting battle of living both a fruitful and satisfying online and offline life without going crazy along the way. Well, it’s been a long while since I shared a blog post on this topic, so I thought I would spend with you folks today a few minutes talking about it. Because, in my own experience, it’s not about striking a good work life balance, but eventually it’s all about Work Life Integration.

This blog entry is inspired by another article that was written a few hours back by my good friend, and former IBM colleague, Alan Lepofsky under the title "Finding The Balance Between Online and Off" and I can certainly recommend it as an interesting and thought-provoking post on what are some of the various different challenges that knowledge workers face today with regards to their own exposure to the online world: The Social Web.

Alan questions that, as more and more social networking tools keep flourishing and demanding much more of our attention and that of our various social networks we hang out with online (We can see the latest example with Google Buzz), it is becoming increasingly more difficult to make it work in a balanced way with our offline lives. To the point where, while we may enjoy quite a bit our own online lives, we seem to keep neglecting the offline ones. And that may not be a good thing altogether. Read through his entire post and you will see what I mean…

For a good number of years most businesses have been trying to strike that good balance between like and work for each and everyone of their knowledge workers. More than anything else, because it’s probably the right thing to do (And you will see what I mean in a couple of minutes…). However, things didn’t always work out as they should have and eventually if you would go out and start asking those employees they would tell that work life balance is a myth. At least, for them!

Well, it shouldn’t be! After all, we are all smart and very productive knowledge workers, aren’t we not? I mean, "A knowledge worker is someone who gets to decide what he does each morning" (Beautiful quote by Thomas A. Stewart), so why is it that difficult to strike that good balance between the two? To me, it’s all about our inability of "Saying No!" (By the way, I would strongly recommend you read that wonderfully crafted article by Alexandra Samuel, although I would totally understand it if you say "No!" ;-)).

It’s about our inability to let things go (Like reading every single thing that comes through your way – Facebook, Twitter, email, newsgroups messages, Instant Messaging, etc. etc.); to let information fly past by us without even having a peek at it; to say "No!" to other fellow knowledge workers, because we don’t want to hurt their feelings; to be ourselves when we already know what’s right and what’s not so right (Working from 6:00 am in the morning till midnight is not right! No matter what your boss or your colleagues tell you about it or regardless of that huge deadline that is approaching!).

And things are only getting worse! All of that thanks to social software tools! Yes, that’s right! With them the always thin line between work and life becomes thinner than ever. We are now more capable of working remotely, distributed and virtual that our personal offline lives, vs. our online work related ones, are becoming almost impossible to distinguish. And that’s when we are starting to be in trouble, as Alan has put it quite nicely under the rather insightful questions he ponders towards the end of his post.

So, you may be wondering, where do you draw the line? How do you put a stop to it? Where have I drawn the line myself (Specially seeing how most folks who know me seem to be perceiving how I seem to "live" out there, up in the clouds, on various social networks, when it is actually not the case)? Well, it starts with that concept I mentioned at the beginning of this post: it’s all about Work Life Integration!

IBM‘s short article on The New Workplace Model puts it quite nicely:

"In today’s fast-changing world, the most skilled and creative professionals expect to take charge of their own integrated lives"

That’s right! Spot on! It all starts with you! Not your boss, nor your peers, nor your family, nor your friends. It all starts with you taking responsibility, and action!, for your own online and offline life; for your own work and personal life; in short, it all starts with you taking care of yourself. No one else. Just you! Yes, I can tell you you may not please your boss, your colleagues, your family, friends and whatever other acquaintances. But that’s fine, don’t worry too much about it! Why? Well, for a very good reason: because if you don’t do it, NO ONE will! That’s why it all starts with you deciding what you do each morning. But think wisely. That’s where work life integration kicks in! That’s where you take back control of who you are and how you may make use of your time, both offline and online.

Unfortunately, that’s something that I learned myself throughout the years the hard way. Till one day (Those of you who know me well would probably venture to guess when that happened and be right) I decided to put a stop to it. To say enough was enough. I wanted to make that work life integration work out for me all right. Not for everyone else, but for me. I’m sure it wasn’t pretty for everyone, but thanks to that move I could probably state I’m still alive and kicking and *loving* what I do, both offline and online!

Thus the next time that someone asks you to do something, to read something, to comment on something, to get something done even, sit back, relax, count to 10 while you are taking a deep breath and evaluate, rather carefully, whether that new task fits right in with your recently re-discovered self: the one who understands that what matters the most is your own self, because no-one else would for you … Time to take control back of who you are both online and offline, don’t you think?

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  1. Thanks for the mention Luis, glad I could inspire you.

    I think the Clay Shirky quote “It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure” is brilliant.

    The filters can come from the product itself, or from our own heads. But as you mention, we all have to get past our inability to let things go. Figuring out which are the right things to filter out (like posts by trolls) and which things we need to pay attention to is the challenge.

    1. Hi Alan! Thanks for dropping by and, once again, for the inspiration! I surely agree with you that Clay’s quote is one of those that can work its magic quite nicely whenever we have got that sense of being overwhelmed by the information we are inundated with time and time again.

      I think that filtering, specially, my favourite, social & collaborative filtering are key to making sense of it all and, in my experience, it is a continuous learning experience of fine tuning it according to your needs and interests, and all of it based on nurturing and cultivating our various social networks, regardless of which tool they may well use.

      I agree with you it may present a good challenge, but then again an exciting one, if you ask me, because it would allow folks to understand how they themselves can take much better control of the information they get exposed to based on what their networks are sharing.

      Thanks again for the great feedback and look forward to catching up with you, once again, face to face! 😀

  2. Spot on Luis! Learning to say ‘No’ is very powerful and is one of the most important things we can do to overcome our feeling of overwhelm from all of the content coming at us.

    I’m starting to explore Personal Kanban right now. I love the idea of integrating this with the GTD methodology. A key tenet of Personal Kanban is limiting your work in progress. This is hard for those of us that like to try and help everyone, but ultimately we need to focus on ourselves first.

  3. It is a great concept that I’ve had a chance to be involved with from a manufacturing standpoint. I never thought about it from a personal productivity perspective, but it makes sense. It seems like it would be awesome for software development environments as well.

    1. Hi Alan & Chris! Way too cool! I will go ahead and comment on this last response from Chris. This is just amazing and somehow I am not sure why I missed it! I know about Personal Kanban from my good friend Jim Benson, who has been tweeting and blogging about this topic for a long while, yet I never thought it’d be something I could incorporate into my daily workflow, but now, after reading your comments, I’m excited again about the prospect of following it up, giving it a try and see how it would go.

      Now, I am not much of a paper or sticky notes boy, so I would probably need to find something online visual enough to grab that same spirit. Thinking that perhaps Connections Activities or a MindMap may be able to do the trick!

      Worth while exploring for sure! Many thanks for dropping by and for engaging on such a great conversation! Worth a treat! And very much appreciated! 😀

  4. Great commentary, I do largely agree (like anything else, there are oddball exceptions for unusual reasons, but as I’m such an anti-absolutist by nature – and because I’m right, haha – we can for practical purposes disregard my caveat). And I think this is something that somehow we “older people” (read, regardless of age, more business/world-mature) should try to impart upon the younger, to help save them from at least some of the bad stress and destructive tendencies that an out-of-balance work-life integration creates. Although I will say the emerging generation of workers already seems much more aware of this than my generation was (I’m 46, for transparency’s sake).

    I also can identify strongly with the struggle, not just from history but from a semi-obsessive nature which makes it hard to fully trust my spam filter and hard to not feel I should look at each streaming comment from my connections. I think people like me need to find both tools and personal techniques to push back and regain our breathing space. For example, I’ve found nutshellmail (yes, I know, it’s email… 🙂 ) as effective for creating a singular view of the multiple streams I want to see and am training myself more closely in the fine art of both quick skimming and forceful self-filtering (“It’s not that important” or “Unless this person gets onto (x) or (y) topic, just stop looking/don’t comment”). Let alone the aspects of work filtering.

    You hit on the very important point that we put too much on ourselves out of some combination to please/ego gratification and fear of, as you well put it, hurting others (even though really a diplomatic “I’m too busy” is accepted by MOST people without a second thought, despite what goes on in our own heads about others’ perceptions).

    I usually don’t like to post a “me, too” or “great!” comment as it doesn’t add much or any value, but I think this topic is so important I just wanted to lend support.

    1. Hi Wilson! What a wonderful set of comments! I really appreciate you dropping by and sharing this insightful commentary with us, because I think you are certainly highlighting some of the main challenges our generation, and perhaps the one above us, has been seeing for years: that constant and everlasting motto of “trying to please everyone” no matter what, just in case that something else may happen or it may come up my way.

      Lots of food for thought with those excellent comments. I must confess, for the sake of transparency, that I used to feel that very same way up to a few years ago, but then again I learned through the hard way (Physical health at risk) that unless I did put a stop to it, no-one would; so I started to develop a trend of thought I needed to put a stop to it while I could.

      And in doing so I eventually got it started by watching younger generations how they eventually get things going themselves amongst their peers and those around them; and over time I’m starting to grow very fond of the whole concept of “Social Contracts”, which I will probably develop some more in a follow up blog post.

      But again many many thanks for those great comments and for adding further up into the conversation. Enjoyed it quite a bit knowing I’m not alone in some of these aspects 🙂

  5. Luis and Alan and Chris,

    I love how this article and this conversation wrap neatly all my pet topics.

    For years I’ve been evangelizing the links between Lean, Agile and Social Media. This conversation really makes my day.

    Work – Life IMbalance comes, like any imbalance, from deficiencies. Most often, those deficiencies are of knowledge. We don’t know what we are doing, we don’t know how much we have to do, therefore we cannot limit it, filter it, or manage it.

    We simply don’t understand what we do every day.

    Social Media is our finely sharpened double-edged sword. It allows us to share tasks, to delegate and to collaborate like never before. But it also lets hundreds or thousands of people think that they can pop in unexpectedly and take up our time – maybe even give us tasks. (e.g. “Didn’t you see my facebook message yesterday? It’s been 12 hours and you haven’t responded!”)

    We’re just finishing up a project with the UN entirely done in GoogleDocs – 19 collaborators world wide. It’s been so smooth as to defy description. It’s many-to-many product development done right.


    Because our work load and our work balance has been well informed by the capabilities and capacities of the participants. No one expects any more of someone than that person can provide.

    Work-life balance tends to suffer when we become (willingly or unwillingly) overcommitted. We do this because we have no mechanism to say “Dude! This thing here says I can say no!”

    We have no authority to filter out new work. We have no clarity to make informed decisions or statement.

    SocialText is going Kanban-happy because it is giving their very distributed team the ability to make informed decisions and feel comfortable about what’s being done – whether they are in Palo Alto or Vancouver.

    But, and Alan can correct me on this, the Kanban at SocialText is extended and strengthened by the fact that the coders are using SocialText Signals at the same time for real-time communication and status updates.

    What does this mean? That both the kanban and Signals are Social Media in the truest sense. They are informing people to make good decisions through real-time knowledge sharing. Without that – there can be no hope of work-life balance.

    And yes, I am aware this was waayyyyyy to long of a comment.


    1. Whoaahhhh!! Talking about inspiring commentary coming along! What a superb comment, Jim! I thoroughly enjoyed and don’t worry about being a lengthy one… it’s worth every single word!

      Talking about words… I just couldn’t help thinking about this quote you mentioned above: “We don’t know what we are doing, we don’t know how much we have to do, therefore we cannot limit it, filter it, or manage it”. That’s just so spot on!

      That single sentence is an entire business case for those folks who are trying to promote Enterprise Micro-sharing/-blogging behind the corporate firewall. Absolutely fantastic and couldn’t have agreed more!

      That’s one of the reasons why I am really enjoying your commentary about Lean, Agile and Social Media. Right on the money, once again! Whether you would want to call it Ambient Intimacy, Declarative Living or Narrating Your Work, it’s all about setting the right expectations for your own awareness and those around you. That’s what I like about micro-sharing itself; the fact that I can share those expectations to meet mine and those folks who care to follow, so eventually they can see whether I am ready to chime in, or not, and if not venture into when, more or less.

      I think that “narrating your work” just fits in perfectly all right, like Alan’s example shows above. Yes, it may all sound like sharing some “silly” messages, but then again not having such “transparency” in sharing what you are doing automatically puts you on the list of those who-can-be-contacted-because-they-are-not-doing-anything; and you wouldn’t want to be in that group, unless you would want to go crazy!

      Fabulous discussion, folks! Thoroughly enjoying it and surely a tipping point for me on proving the business value of micro-blogging/sharing, behind the firewall, and for that matter outside, too!

      Thanks for the inspiration!

      1. Yes!

        All of those (Ambient Intimacy, Declarative Living or Narrating Your Work) are great spins on what I’m after. Which, in the end, is clarity.
        Ambient Intimacy – clarity of social relationships
        Declarative Living – clarity of personal preference
        Narrating Your Work – clarity of team direction
        Clarity is won through mastering your filters. Through taking information overload and making it your .. um … well, making it into knowledge. That knowledge is actionable.
        Teams who understand what’s going on can make immediate use of that understanding. They help their peers, they fix things in their processes that are broken, and they can work without worrying that they are doing the wrong thing.
        After that, work-life balance becomes a lot easier to solve, due to the release of a primary source of stress.

        1. I must admit that I never saw it coming this way, Jim, but this last comment on the notion of “Clarity” just hit home big time, my friend! Specially, for someone like me, who over two years ago decided to bring forward some clarity to his work life and ditched corporate email altogether in favour of much more open, public and transparent social software tools that would help that clarity naturally come out and eventually make my job much much easier!

          Wonderfully inspiring and a great source to describe how I am feeling about living “A World Without Email”; I wonder now whether folks would still see email as obscure, secret and private as it is and *do* something about it… Fingers crossed it will happen for them, because I can certainly state what a relief it’s been all along, since I got it started and you just gave it another direction I never thought it could take!

          Whoahhh! Thanks much for that one, Jim! Please do remind me whenever we meet face to face to invite you for a drink or two! 🙂

  6. Hey Luis, was intrigued by this post It’s all about work life integration: It’s all about the Idea!! We had a social media evening last night in our office & invited lots of clients etc. I was in attendance & took away some great learnings, but even better I was able to share with my colleagues the story of your experiment to reduce work email – they loved it! Also, good to have you on board on Linked In. Do stop by the Blog (and also the Idea Awards) whenever you have an email free second & refresh your memory about what we’re all about at All about the Idea. Thanks! I often dream of the Gran Canaria when it’s raining in the City in London!

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