The Key to Balancing Life and Work When the Two Merge? Just Be Present

Focus feeds the lightning strike, whatever you're doing

When we first started talking about "work/life balance," we lived in a much more binary world. 

I distinctly remember going to work, firing up my desktop tower, putting in a full day surrounded by workmates, shutting it down at 5 (OK, more like 7) and living the rest of my life with no connection to work until the next day. Back then, there was a clear line between "life" and "work" and a very real struggle to find a balance between the two. 

Today, my office is wherever I can set up my laptop, connect to the cloud and video conference into my team. The technology and tools that fit in our pockets are always on. They stand vigil during our meetings, live on our kitchen counters, entertain us on the couch, and come to bed with us at night. They don't see the lines between work and life; they see only urgency in notification and immediacy in action, like digital toddlers constantly buzzing, beeping and chattering for our unfocused attention. 

Today we have erased the barriers that separated our work from our lives. But in this connected, convenient and increasingly seamless world, we don't turn off. 

It's this seamlessness that has changed the way I think about work/life balance. I no longer think about making rules to separate my work from my personal life; today I think about maintaining my focus while managing the flow of information coming at me, regardless of its subject. For me, it's no longer a struggle for balance; it's a battle for presence. And it's become more important than turning something on or off. 

At our agency, Liquid, we have codified our ways of working. We talk about how you show up. We talk about presence and its importance to the creative process. Our client swarms bring together high-level executives to look at new ways to solve business challenges. You have to be present and actively engaged in the discussion or the work will suffer tremendously. 

Internally, when we do kickoffs and creative brainstorms, I do look to see who is with me. I keep track of who's present. And I try to insist that every creative project start with an initial face-to-face session, before the realities of working across geographies compromise the presence in the room. 

Now, here's the trick. 

Just because you're "present" doesn't mean you immediately solve the creative or business challenge in front of you. It's not a silver bullet. But my experiences have taught me that you continue to work the problem because you were present. It's the focus that feeds the lightning strike that hits you on the way home, or in the shower, or when I sit down to play the guitar and clear my head.

I have learned that when you try to immediately address all the things that are buzzing around you, you start making quick decisions, and those are not always the right decisions. I have to decide where my attention should be at a given moment because that kind of reactionary multitasking doesn't work for what I do. 

I prefer to be fully engaged in what I'm doing in that moment, be it work, family or a personal pursuit. Because when you allow yourself that focus, the easier it is to address the thing in front of you and ignore the distraction of the 44th response to an email string involving 12 people on your extended project team.

Being present is hard work, but it's an investment that shows up in everything you do.

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Tony Cordero
Tony Cordero is vp and head of creative at Liquid Agency.