From time to time, we've all contemplated the question of how to create a balance between our work lives and our personal lives. When our workload seems to make it impossible for us to ever get caught up, that makes it even more difficult to devote the time we know we should to relationships, family, and other personal activities.
According to research recently published in Human Relations, the secret might be that you shouldn't try to separate your work from your personal life. The study included over 600 employees across varying socioeconomic groups throughout the U.S.; researchers concentrated on moments where participants reported having work-related thoughts--or, conversely, thoughts free from work.
As it turns out, the study found that people with more fluid ties between their home and work thoughts were ultimately less depleted by their "cognitive role transitions"--despite the fact that they had more of them. On the other hand, those who attempted to separate their work and home thoughts actually expended more energy and effort in the process, ultimately hurting them overall.
"Cognitive role transitions" are essentially the moments in which an individual's mind wanders to a different place or time, regardless of where the person might be at the given time. So, at work, for example, you have a cognitive role transition when you start daydreaming about what the cat's doing at home, or how your kid's soccer practice is going. Each of these transitions requires expended energy and effort--no matter how brief.
Yet, contrary to popular belief, allowing the line between these cognitive role transitions to blur may actually benefit those who maintain separate home and work lives--ultimately doing something that takes less effort than staunchly insisting on their separation.
Ultimately, then, it might be worth letting your mind wander a little.
Losing focus from time to time--regardless of where you are--to think about something else that's important could be worth the energy you're saving overall. Allowing more-flexible thinking--and maybe a lifestyle that reflects that--could even make you more productive in the long-term.