Natalie discusses why she hopes to banish the phrase work/life balance from our dictionary and talks us through techniques that will help us implement the concept of work/life integration instead.
We are thrilled to be here today with Natalie. She is the founder and CEO of Mettacool. She is a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach trained at Duke Integrative Medicine. Natalie has been a fellow FIT4MOM instructor. That’s how Cindi and I have gotten to know her. We just love Natalie. She does some awesome things. We’ve gotten to hear her speak at some conferences and she just really knows her stuff.
I have to stay, I’m ecstatic to hear you talk about this topic in particular. As I was looking at your website, Mettacool, you specifically said on the website, “It’s not about balancing work and life. It’s about integrating it.” I had a lightbulb moment! I thought, “I can’t wait to hear her talk.” I’m thrilled to hear more about this because I need some of this in my life right now.
Oh, I think we all do! Thank you so much for the introduction! I’m really passionate about the topic of work/life integration. A little background, Mettacool, the company I co-founded a few years ago is really focused on helping women prepare for a career advancement and transition. We do that with coaching programs that are focused on helping women achieve greater wellbeing while they are also able to get ahead at work.
It’s one of those things where when I spent time in corporate, there wasn’t a lot of development, specifically career development for women that really nurtured who they are as a whole person. We talk about who you are and bringing your whole self to work and how you can prioritize your wellbeing.
I fed into this toxic narrative that you have to put all your time and attention into your work. Especially depending on the industry you work in, a lot of women neglect all of the other parts of their life that make them feel healthy, whole and fulfilled. You see consistently in the research about what’s holding women back. Deloitte does research every year on this topic and they found that the number one thing that women identified as holding them back was the struggle of work/life balance. We will talk about why I hope we can banish that phrase from our dictionary and talk about work/life integration.
What we are going through right now, there is no option to compartmentalize and say, “This is work and this is life.” It is so intertwined right now. With childcare and all of the other things that we are used to counting on, being at the wayside. It’s incredibly stressful.
The first thing that I wanted to talk through and see if anyone relates to is the first slide that mentions a lot of the things that we hear from women that we work with in regards to work/life integration which then ties into how you are managing your time and prioritizing. The word we constantly hear is “overwhelmed.” I feel overwhelmed by my “to do list.” I feel like I’m not getting anything done because I feel this constant push and pull between work and my personal priorities.
Then there is the phrase, “I feel like I’m not doing a good job at anything.” I feel like I’m not being a good mom, I feel Iike I’m not being a good wife, sister, friend, co-worker because I have so much going on and it feels like too much.
You want to be present with your loved ones but you feel like it is hard to turn work “off” sometimes. I know this is something that is really really hard for me.
And then, from a time perspective, doesn’t it feel like the weeks just fly by and it feels like there is never enough time in your day.
Anything anyone else would add?
You touched on it but the guilt is just immense. I just never feel adequate at motherhood or that I’m giving enough to the job and there is just guilt in everything.
Yes. Thank you for saying that. Again, that’s just one of the most common themes in how we are feeling. We are feeling run down and like we are not enough in any area.
I wanted to bring this up quickly. I mentioned that Mettacool is very focused on bringing well-being into work. We are multidimensional beings. We have all of these different areas of our lives that make up who we are. Sometimes it feels like at work we can only show the professional working side of us. When we talk about COVID, it’s been kind-of humanizing to see the fact that we have no choice but to bring our personal lives into work and work into our personal lives.
I’m hopeful that when all of this is over, I think it will be much more normal to have kids in the background and to have more of that acknowledgement that we have this integrated life.
Mettacool focuses on well-being in these 8 different areas of life (shown on the slide). What I want to point out here is that it takes a lot to make us feel whole and to make us feel that we are integrating our career with all these other parts of our well-being.
When we feel severely depleted, or unable to give enough of ourselves in any of these areas or feel like we are running low on sleep, or not moving our bodies and exercising, or not nourishing, or not focusing on our relationships, it’s like to domino effect to all of the other areas of our lives.
The reason I bring this up is that we will be talking in a little bit about why it’s important to understand our priorities and what we value most. To really make sure we are living out those priorities in order to have work/life integration. I will talk about a powerful exercise that we use a lot that I hope brings some clarity to what work/life integration can look like for you.
First, to address the balance vs. integration topic. I am a very visual person and looking at the left side of the slide, when we talk about balance, the first thing I think about is a scale. This is one of the reasons I don’t like the balance. It’s a zero sum game. A scale denotes this idea that you can have that balance but that’s not the case. You’re never going to have this perfect balanced work and personal life. So, we talk about integration.
When you look up the definition of integration it talks about the wholeness that is integration and the blending of work and life. When you think about the reality of our life now, we spend potentially 5 days a week at work. Work is life and life is work. We spend so much time doing that.
What we are going to talk about is this idea of integration and how we can find harmony among these different areas. Knowing that you are not going to have this perfect balance but you do have these four domains of your life: work, family, social/community and you/your wellbeing and how you can really integrate these areas to have more harmony instead of conflict.
Knowing and realizing that the’re going to be times when you’re going to spend more time in these areas than others. Sometimes having that expectation too, really takes some of that pressure off of getting it right and having this perfect balance.
Crissy and Cindi, I didn’t mention this but there are a few worksheets that I will send you that you can share with everyone that will go along with what we’ve talked about tonight. I’m a really big fan as a coach in helping people reflect and spend some time with what we are talking about and how it relates to their life and their work. Some of the questions we will be talking about the reflection we will be doing, there’ll be an exercise you can do following this.
The work/life integration that I just talked about, the diagram that you see here is adapted from Friedman’s Four Circle exercise, so it’s a famous exercise that’s existed for a long time. We have adapted it for simplicity.
The idea is that there are four domains in your life, work, family, community/social life, and self wellbeing. One of the first things we do when we talk about work/life integration with our clients is asking them to think about what’s most important to them and how they would be categorized in these buckets.
For example, work. What’s most important to you? What specific goals do you have at work or interests (mentoring other women or giving back opportunities)? What’s the most important when it comes to your family? Whether it’s your kids soccer practice or cooking a meal and having dinner together every night. What’s important in your social life and community? Maybe it’s attending church every week or getting together with your best girlfriends or having a date night once a month. And then when you look at yourself and your wellbeing, what are those values, goals and interests that you have? Then you take a moment to think about how you would place those priorities or those values in these four domains.
What happens is, I think a lot of times, we write things down as they are in our vision, or in our ideal, but then we take a look at how we envision our work/life integration and the things that are most important to us across these domains, but then we take a moment and step back and say, “Is this a reality? Is this how I’m spending my time? Am I really getting to these priorities across work and family?”
The questions on the next slide or two really help us think about how we can create more harmony and less conflict. This is one of my favorite questions after someone completes that exercise and looks at those different buckets. We then look and say, “What are you letting go of right now in this season?” Maybe you’re a new mom and things are completely different in terms of what you prioritize and what you have time for.
Thinking about, “What do you need to say no to in order to say yes to these top priorities?”
I’ll give you an example, there were certain social activities and organizations that I was a part of before I was a mother. I used to go to the “actual” gym (before Covid, of course). I really liked going to Lifetime and getting workouts in or going to classes. In this season of my life, I don’t have an hour and a half to go to a class and shower. Right now, the only thing I have time for are some quick 20 minute online workouts.
So, thinking about all the priorities you have, what are some things that you either need to change or just flat out say no to?
Can anyone relate to that recently with saying “no” to things and how that felt, when you were actually able to say no?
I feel like this season, with Covid in particular, we’ve been forced to say no to things. My husband and I have talked about this a lot, at least in that sense, we’ve been grateful to have time with each other. More time that we would have before because we were very socially active with so much going on, like taking our daughter to all the different play dates. We really have been forced to say no to a lot of things, because obviously nothing is going on. We were forced into a no and we’ve decided we want to keep the “no” around whenever life returns to normalcy, whenever that may be.
I’ve heard so many people say that. Having a lot of the things that you would have scheduled or the things that you used to think were important, the simplicity of not having the option to do those things creates so much simplicity and space. You take a look around and realize that it is actually quite lovely to have this and to be able to have no other option to spend time on the things that matter most, like your family and doing things that you normally wouldn’t have time for. Thank you for sharing.
Aside from figuring out what you need to say no to in order to say yes to the things that you reflected as your top priorities in those different areas. Looking at where you see conflict in where you wrote things down.
We all have high aspirations and a lot of us are Type A. There is an example on the slide that if you say, “I want to eat dinner with my family 5 nights a week” but then you said, “I want to go to the gym 4 nights a week,” well, it’s probably not going to happen. Or, if your job requires you to travel and you say that you are going to be part of XYZ social events, or go to every one of your child’s games, it may not be a reality. It’s also about looking at where there are conflicts between those demands on where they don’t play nice together.
Then, the next thing to ask yourself is, “Where do you see the opportunity for harmony where there might be conflict?” You can identify alternate ways to achieve a goal that you have or experiment with new ways of doing things. For example, maybe it’s working out 15 minutes in the morning rather than trying to fit it in later when you’re trying to spend time with your family in the evenings. Multi Purposing, really thinking about where there is the opportunity for harmony.
Based on what you consider your priorities to be in these areas, what needs to change? Aside from just saying no to things, what needs to change so that you can really live out this integration.
I can’t tell you the amount of changes that I’ve had to make in the last 6 months to really prioritize the things that I wanted to. Sometimes it’s easy and there are small changes to scheduling but sometimes it’s saying no to things that are hard, or completely changing the way you work or how you approach your personal life.
Then, one of the things I like to think about is, “What support do you need to make work/life integration a reality? I think that we are nothing without our sense of support. It’s really hard to do it all on our own. As women, it’s often hard for us to ask for help. We always talk about this village and how important it is to have a village of great friends, family and coworkers. Thinking about what support you need. When you filled out those sheets previously, “who do you need to be in your court in order to accomplish that?”
For me, it’s my husband, who helps out a lot. Or, I ask my sister-in-law to sometimes help out with my son. Or certain friends I count on to work out with in order to keep me accountable for the things I want to do from a wellness perspective. Really think about the support that you can lean on and how you can ask them if they’re really not a part of your circle right now.
Does anyone have any examples of how you’ve really had to lean on some of your support, with what’s going on right now, or just ways that your life has been made easier by tapping on some of your support system?
I can say one thing that really helped me, was acknowledging what I couldn’t do and acknowledging it to others. I did this with work. I wanted to prioritize fitness so I made an agreement with my husband that two nights a week and Saturday mornings I needed for myself. Right now in this Covid-19 craziness, we from the start have been co-quarantining with my sister with the agreement that we established right up front that I would provide the childcare and she would do the cooking. So, I haven’t had to think about cooking for these 2 ½ months. She brings over lunch and dinner for the kids and I’ve been able to focus on making sure that they are happy, healthy and clean. (Laughing) it’s our first black eye in 2 ½ months so…
(Laughing) I’d say you’re doing pretty good!
Totally! But acknowledging, this is too much for me, this is where I need help and being vulnerable and opening up has made it a lot easier for me to accept the help, whereas if I hadn’t admitted that openly (even if the help had been offered) I probably would have been too stubborn to take it.
Thank you so much for sharing. It’s really hard for so many people to ask for help. I think it’s even harder when there are some of us that don’t have a good support system here, we don’t have family, we don’t feel like we can depend on co-workers to help when we’re feeling really stressed. Maybe you’re a new mom and you haven’t met a lot of mom friends that you can relate to. I think it’s really important when you’re feeling you’re lacking a support system is to think about how you can find that again and make it a reality.
I mentioned the multi-purposing, which is really about trying to find harmony in those different areas of your life. These are some examples as shown here on the slide. When you’re thinking about, “I want to spend more time with my loved ones but I also want to work out.” Thinking whether you can work-out with a spouse. Or, my kids (if they are old enough) or a friend because I want to invest in my relationships, I want to invest in myself and my wellbeing.
Just this week, my husband and I started doing some restorative yoga before bed because I felt like we weren’t spending enough time together, we were so busy with work. After we put our son to bed we were plopping down on the couch and numbing out to Netflix which in the moment sounds really fun but then realizing that we haven’t even talked. We’ve just been sitting beside each other. So, we’ve started adding some movement to our evenings and spending a little bit of time together that normally would have been spent in front of the TV.
Making a list of people to catch up with. When I used to commute for work, that was my time to catch up with my dad and catch up on some work calls that I definitely didn’t want to do after work.
Meeting a friend for lunch twice a week. Using a standing desk, doing household chores with the kids. I can’t wait until mine is old enough to help me with things around the house.
It’s determining how you can combine activities and goals that you have in a way that really meets your needs. If giving back in the community is important to you and so is developing relationships with people you work with, maybe you organize a giving back day with your team at work because those two things blend well.
I’ve given you some of the examples that I have been doing lately. When you do the exercise with the four circles, really thinking about ways that you can accomplish both because I think that’s where things start to feel a little easier.
I also feel that work/life integration goes hand in hand with how we manage our time. Sometimes we talk about time management in a framework of managing time in a way that allows you to prioritize the things that really matter to you and feel like you’re achieving more of the work/like integration.
I would add on top of time management, how to turn off your brain to certain things. How to not constantly be in work when you’re with your family and be more present. I think that time management is probably huge in that.
That’s something that I struggle with too. I hear so many women ask how to turn it off. How do I feel like when I’m with my kids in the morning or after school that I don’t constantly need to check my email, or think about it? That’s such a good topic to bring up.
One thing that has worked for me recently is that I’m one of those people who mindlessly check my email on my phone. So, one of my dear friends made me a little wooden box that says, “Unplug.” My husband and I try to put our phones in that box once we pick up our son from childcare. I think that sometimes having the phone out of site allows me to be more focused because there is no fire that can not wait until 8 when I put my son to bed. Everyone’s jobs are different but if you have that ability, sometimes just putting your phone in the other room or putting it where you can’t reach it can help to take the visual reminder away from work so you can be present with the people that you care about most.
Another thing that I’ve heard a lot of people do is to think about some type of activity that you really enjoy after work that you can do with your family or yourself to get into a different headspace. I’ve tried to stop my work at 4:30 and go on a walk or run to get some movement in and go pick up my son from our Nanny’s house that is a few streets over from our house. Just having a little bit of time to do something that I enjoy before switching into “mom mode” for the rest of the evening has helped.
Is there anyone else that has some tips for turning off the work?
I think one of the things that has really hit us, especially during Covid is that I’ve been a remote worker for the past 5 years and suddenly the rest of the world joined me. I swear, 6 months ago I put together a proposal about putting together a remote team and the feedback I got from my team is that nobody cares about this. HA! Jokes on them.
I was having a conversation with a friend who was also working from home and struggling. One of the things she told me that also occurs with me is that she would finish work, walk outside the home office and have to mom. There’s no transition time. So, Natalie exactly what you were talking about, people who had to go into an office, they’d have a 20-30 minute commute, sit in the car, listen to the radio or podcast and have that chance to transition their brain into the next thing. When you don’t have that transition time, I think it really hurts that part of not being able to turn it off.
I would add to that something that I used to do within my company, is that I used to make my calendar completely transparent, so people could see. I would then block off a certain amount of time to work on a project and only interrupt me if you have to. To let everybody else see what was on my plate.
I love that. I think that being extremely transparent in your calendar but then another part of that is, the group of people that will be the first to say, “Yes, I know I blocked off going for a walk outside at lunch and actually leaving my desk to eat, but you can go ahead and schedule something over that.” It’s also important to note that we should be protecting that time once we put that time on the calendar whether it is work or personal. Really challenge yourself to make a commitment and protect that time.
Another thing is I think we forget to evaluate the wins that we have and the things that we have accomplished. Thinking about getting in the practice at the end of the week reflecting on if you spent your time the way that you wanted to. Did you stick to those things that were within your calendar that you wanted to? Were you able to look at those four areas of your life and say that you did some things that were important to you in those areas?
This isn’t the time, if you had a bad week and you felt like you didn’t get to any of those things to beat yourself up. Take a moment to celebrate any success that you had. What were your small wins? Thinking, “Maybe I didn’t work out three days per week but I did once this week and it was better than the week before.” “I didn’t really get to that big project but I started it and momentum is going to help.” Whatever it is, make sure you’re not too hard on yourself and you’re truly taking the time to celebrate that success.
Here is a recap of that time management framework again to recap. Brain dump instead of a daily “to do list” and then plugging in the priority things on a day to day basis based on where you actually have free time to do those things, so the “to do list” for that day is much more aligned with the time that you actually have available to get those things done.
A few other time management tips is, when you have some related work, batch those things together. Rather than randomly being in your inbox for the day, checking it at maybe at 9am, 12 and 3pm or if you have certain admin tasks, rather than doing it all over the time during the week saying, “Friday’s might be the time where I get to some of those admin things, where I’m doing my expenses or I’m calling some of my friends and family members to catch up with them.” Think about some things that you can group together and then batch those.
Research says that you should only be planning for 50-75% to be available due to reactivity. So, your kids busting in the door and saying that they need you to make them lunch or get them a snack, or the millions of things that pop up that you don’t expect. Such as a customer satisfaction issue that pops up. We all have fire drills that aren’t going to go away. We can hide from them, so plan on knowing that some of your time is going to be taken away. Don’t be surprised if you get to the end of the day, even if using this framework and say, “Oh, I wasn’t able to get to those things, even though I had some free space.”
Know your zones. When do you have the most energy and feel the most productive? For me, it is the first three hours of the day. I know some people who have good afternoon energy or they are night owls. I am brain dead at night and cannot even get the simplest task done if I try working too late. I know that for me, those first few hours are when I’m feeling the most creative, feeling the most energized, so I try to put my most important tasks first thing in the morning, either before my son gets up if I have something really important or right in the beginning of the workday. So, know your zones and don’t multitask.
I know that this is a really hard one, to not multitask but when you’re constantly getting interrupted by your phone or other things, sometimes you can’t help getting interrupted but you can really be thinking about how to focus on one thing at a time. Studies show that when you multitask, you’re not going to be as productive on what you’re working on. This goes into the time management framework.
Is there anything that we didn’t get to talk about with work/life integration that you have questions on or that you are struggling with that you want to talk about?
I’ll say one thing that I really struggle with and thinking about everything you said about knowing how you spend your time and knowing what your priorities are will help with this, but I feel like I struggle with setting up strong boundaries at work. I feel like I’m always pulled into other people’s tasks or I’m the go to person for things that aren’t necessarily my priorities. So I think that having this framework will be really helpful in setting up some stronger boundaries. Knowing what I need to do and how I spend my time, I think will really help with that.
Thank you so much for saying that. Boundaries are an important thing to talk about and to also communicate. We didn’t get to talk about them and I’m so glad you’re bringing this up.
People are going to make their priorities, your priorities. Or, they are constantly going to try and put things on you whether that’s your manager or coworkers. It’s really important when you do have clarity on what your priorities are to communicate that. When someone says, “Hey, can you help me with that?” It’s harder to say no when you can’t communicate “I can’t because….this is what is important for me to finish this week, or do today.” I think there’s a soft side. Instead of just saying, “No, I can’t help you” or “no that’s not my job” which you feel Iike saying, but rather saying “No, I can’t help with that, I wish I could, I have a lot on my plate this week. Here are some things that I’m working on. Maybe ____ can help you, have you thought of that?”
It’s very freeing to be able to say, “I can’t and this is why….” When it comes to management, I used to have a boss that used to be all over the place and have an “idea of the day.” He would go to our team and say a new idea that he had. I really needed to learn the art of managing up and saying to him, “That sounds like a really great idea, but right now these are the things that you have me prioritizing. How would you like me to prioritize that with these four things that I’m already working on?”
Then, it’s a nice way of saying what your manager has you already working on and asking for help re-prioritizing the new task. They may say that one of the things that you’re working on isn’t important and you can scrap that and to shift to a new priority. It still helps them softly know that you are busy working on things that were communicated to you and this is the opportunity to either shed something or rearrange priorities, or tell them, “sorry, it’s not something I can work on right now.”
I’m laughing a little bit at that because I have worked with and for so many people who just chase the shiny objects and get so easily distracted. That was one of the things I spent a lot of time coaching my employees on. Explaining what was on the current priority list and asking them what they don’t want to do in order to make it happen? When I’d ask like that, they’d say they wanted all the things. Cool! What do you not want to do if you want this new shiny object to happen?
Absolutely! It’s almost an imperative if you want to feel like you’re not drowning. You have to prioritize and set those boundaries even though it can be so hard.
Also, another thing that helped me is for when I planned out my day and looked at my tasks, to put a time estimate and be transparent about it. It made it much easier to say no.
Yes, absolutely! Having that time estimate is really important. It helps you get plugged into the reality of “do I truly have the time to get this done?”
By the way, the slides that you saw of the planner pages within my talk, those are high performance time management planners that we collaborated with a company called Boldly & Co. to create. If you are a paper planner person, they are great planners and you can contact me if you are interested in one. I actually use it myself, more for the brain dump, and then I plug it into my calendar but it’s always important to just find a system that works for you. For me, it’s a combination of digital calendar and paper planner.
I really enjoyed talking with all of you and thanks so much for having me here to talk about such an important topic that we all struggle with and we all have room to reprioritize.
One last thing that I’ll say is that this is something that has to be evaluated with every season. I feel like every six months, my work/life integration strategy is different. It’s not something you do once, it’s ever changing. I wanted to say that it is something I think you should visit quite frequently.
Natalie, this has been so helpful. Thank you and it’s such a joy to see you.
Thank you Natalie! We hope to see some of you ladies again!
Natalie Eicher is President and Co-Founder of Mettacool, and is a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach trained at Duke Integrative Medicine. Natalie’s passionate about helping women visualize and achieve their personal well-being goals, leading them to realize their purpose and potential and put it into action. She feels her own purpose is gathering, empowering, and equipping women in community, because a strong community of women who support each other can radically impact our health and happiness, our communities and our culture. Prior to co-founding Mettacool, Natalie spent 10 years in the technology industry, where she was in various sales leadership roles before pivoting into diversity & inclusion. She also earned a BA degree at Ohio University in Marketing and Sales and is a Certified Personal Trainer with specialization in pre and postnatal fitness. Follow her on Instagram @nataliee_wellness.
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