As I was preparing to leave work one day last week, I ran into a colleague who did a double-take when he saw me.
"Is your watch broken?" he asked, flashing a smile.
I knew why he was grinning. It was after 5 p.m., and I was still at the office. That's not the usual order of things for me these days, so I appreciated his gentle jibe.
I usually leave the office at about 4:15 p.m., but that's not because I get there especially early. I arrive at work between 8:10 and 8:30 a.m., depending on whether I deliver three, or all four, of our children to their various schools.
So am I a slacker who is confessing that he isn't toiling a solid 40 hours or more each week as every American with a real work ethic should?
Nope. Not in the least. Rather, I've found that I can use my time better by building my schedule this way.
My workday really begins right after I wake up, when I check email I received overnight. I know many people say it's not healthy to do that early morning email check, but I just can't seem to kick the habit. I've given up trying for now.
I continue to check and respond to messages as I prepare for the day, although I do not respond while driving. I'm adamant about that.
During especially busy weeks, my time in the office may extend until 5 p.m. or later, and I have no problem with that. But if I'm not deep into a project when 4:15 rolls around, I usually pack up my things and head for the parking lot.
I've found that my commute home takes 22 to 27 minutes if I leave at 4:15 p.m., but if I wait longer, my drive time rises to 35 or 40 minutes. That may not seem like a huge difference, but I've found saving 10 minutes and avoiding the stress of heavier traffic make me a much happier person when I pull into my driveway.
And when I walk in the door, the first thing I do on most days — after gathering hugs and kisses from family members who are hopefully there to greet me — is jump back on the computer for another half-hour or hour to finish up the day's work.
So, does all of this mean I'm violating the rules of work-life balance that I tout in this space every week?
Some work-life hard-liners (they really do exist!) may say yes, but I don't think so. As I said, this schedule makes me a more pleasant husband and father in the late afternoon and evening and saves me some stress, while still allowing me to complete all of my work each day. I think it's an absolute victory in my quest for balance.
I thought of this again last week while perusing an article by Laura Vanderkam on the Fortune website. The story's headline was, "Work-life balance is dead — here's why that might be a good thing," so you can see why I was intrigued.
In her article, Vanderkam writes that professionals are growing more comfortable with "blurring the line between work and home."
"Increasingly, people are rejecting the notion of 'work/life balance' in favor of another metaphor: 'Work/life integration,’ ” Vanderkam wrote. "Thanks to smartphones and remote work, moving work around on dimensions of time and space is not only possible, but it’s become the norm.
"That’s what I found when I recently completed a time diary study of 1,001 days in the lives of high-earning women and their families. A full 75 percent of time logs showed something personal during traditional work hours: exercise, school visits. On the flip-side, 77 percent showed work outside the workday norm. Women took calls after their kids went to bed. They wrote reports on weekends."
I see this with the team of writers and editors I manage. It's not unusual for them to leave early on a particular day, only to make up that time by working from home later in the evening.
I'm fortunate to have a boss who allows me similar flexibility. I've written about the times I've left work early to coach my son's T-ball team or attend a child's concert. I've also been known to sneak away for an occasional long lunch with my wife when she's in the neighborhood of my office building. When I do those things, I always make up the time from home in the evening or on the weekend.
"But wait," you say. "Isn't working at night or on weekends, when you're supposed to be focusing on your family, a big no-no?"
It definitely could be, if those hours weren't part of a trade-off for family time during the regular workday. I know I need to be careful about this, making sure that I don't get so used to working at home in those off-hours that it starts invading family time on weeks when there's no trade to make.
But overall, I like the idea of work-life integration. It makes sense for me, and I think it helps me to excel in my various roles both in the office and at home. Not that I'm perfect in either area — far from it, in fact. But this flexibility, this ebb and flow, really helps.
What do you think of this idea? Is work-life integration a more apt description of your personal quest than work-life balance? Is breaking down these barriers between the office and the home too much of a slippery slope toward people just working all the time?
Send me an email or leave a comment online with your ideas, and I'll share some of them in a future column.