On March 9th through 10th, thousands of Americans will do the near impossible: put their smart phones away and unplug for 24 hours. This National Day of Unplugging invites people to take a breather from technology from sundown today to sundown tomorrow so they can focus on connecting with friends, families and neighbors in real life.

There's no question that we spend entirely too much time on our devices, which can get in the way of our ability to enjoy experiences fully. Our always-on culture makes it challenging to create boundaries; a recent study from Ernst & Young shows for instance that 1 in 3 global employees believe it's gotten tougher in recent years to keep work and life in balance.

That statistic may sound problematic, but I see it as an opportunity to reimagine the way we think about work (and life). While a 24-hour respite from technology would probably do us all good, the reality is that most of our lives and jobs now require us to be "on" much of the time. The whole idea of achieving work-life balance today is a bit of a fallacy.

And that's OK. We spend so much time thinking about how we can better unplug from work and create clearer boundaries. What if we shifted our thinking from work-life balance to work-life integration? That shift has been key to my happiness, both professionally and personally. Rather than try to separate the two, I'm always thinking about how my life experiences relate to and fuel my work experiences -- and vice versa -- and how I can create a workplace culture that effectively fuses work and life.

Technology makes integration possible  

The beautiful thing about technology is the way it enables us to do our jobs and live our lives at the same time (as long as company policy allows for it and bosses don't exploit it). Being able to work from home -- or anywhere -- when needed means we can travel more, spend time with the people we love and easily tend to personal matters. It also means we can stay in touch with our family and friends when we're away from work. FaceTime changed my life because it truly makes me feel like I can be with my family when I'm traveling for work.

Living the life -- at work  

On the flip side, work-life integration also means creating workspaces that promote health, happiness and freedom. This is part of the reason why we're seeing so many companies follow Google and Facebook's lead and invest in spaces and experiences that allow employees to enrich their lives while they're at the office. From on-site barbers to extracurricular woodshop classes to yoga studios to rooftop patios complete with grills, these types of perks are indicative of a new norm where employees are encouraged to bring their full selves to work. This type of culture helps promote freedom, happiness and creativity, which generally leads to higher quality work and deeper employee engagement and connection with peers.

Life experiences fuel work

One of the most important and overlooked aspects of work-life integration is the value of experiences outside the office. Some of my best work-related ideas have come to me while watching a basketball game, visiting a museum, seeing a play or meeting someone new during vacation. If you want to stay on your toes as a leader and feel a greater sense of purpose in your work, you have to get out of the office and seek new avenues for inspiration. If you only think about work when you're at work, you limit your ability to spot solutions to problems, invent and innovate.   

Although it's certainly important to unplug from work once in a while, it's more important to evaluate whether your career allows you to successfully integrate your work and life with integrity, and enjoy both to the fullest. Spending energy trying to build and maintain a firewall between the two isn't just futile in today's environment - I think it signals that you're not in the right role. If your main focus is creating separation, there's a good chance you may feel happier doing something else.

While technology has its challenges, I for one am grateful for the way it has blurred boundaries, ultimately helping me and my team feel more connected and inspired in both our work and our lives.

Of course if you need a short term timeout from tech, I'm a huge advocate of adventure travel to recalibrate your senses and renew your spirit. Whether you take yourself offshore to explore foreign coastlines by catamaran, or lace up your hiking boots to discover the wonders of trekking in Nature far from the nearest cell signal, there is nothing quite like disconnecting from the everyday and forming new connections outside your comfort zone to refill your energy reserves. Thirty years of wandering into new communities and living (even briefly) like a local have taught me that the awesome power of travel for energy and learning is endless.

So, integrate and explore more, and I bet you won't feel quite as compelled to draw a hard line between what energizes you and what feeds your wallet.

Published on: Mar 9, 2018