Work-Life Balance Vs. Work-Life Integration for Digital Nomads

Since 2020, digital nomadism has gone from a very niche idea only known by a few to a mainstream concept.

Thanks to advances in technology plus the allure of exploration and a desire for a more fulfilling lifestyle, the number of digital nomads has grown exponentially in a few short years.

A digital nomad is someone who has embraced the freedom and flexibility of technology to work remotely while exploring the world. But more freedom and flexibility come with a higher need for self-discipline and creating a healthy work-life dynamic.

work life balance vs work life integration digital nomad beach cafe
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This is crucial for digital nomads to create a long-term, sustainable lifestyle. Without it, you run the risk of burnout, lower productivity, and isolation.

Achieving a healthy work-life dynamic allows digital nomads to effectively manage their work commitments while still enjoying the benefits of exploration and personal growth.

Establishing a work-life balance has been the prevailing advice for decades. But is this approach truly possible for digital nomads? Or is work-life integration more suitable?

That’s what we’re diving into in this post: work-life balance vs. work-life integration for digital nomads. We’ll define the two approaches and discuss the pros and cons to help you decide which is best for you.

What is Work-Life Balance?

The traditional work-life balance approach dictates that you set strict boundaries between your work and personal life. Ideally, you manage both work and personal commitments without one adversely affecting the other.

In essence, you leave work at work.

Here’s what that could look like:

  • Not checking your work email after work hours.
  • Not scheduling calls or meetings after work hours or on weekends.
  • Not checking or responding to personal emails or phone calls during work hours.
  • Not doing work tasks on your lunch break.

There are pros and cons to this approach.

Pros of the Work-Life Balance Approach

The pros and cons will be different depending on who you ask but these are a few of the general positive aspects of the work-life balance approach:

  • Improved well-being – In theory, work-life balance allows you to prioritize your personal life which can lead to a decrease in stress and improved mental health.
  • Better productivity – when you have a balance between work time and personal time you’re more likely to be motivated, focused, and productive during your work time
  • Enhanced relationships – work-life balance helps you dedicate more time to nurturing relationships with friends, family, and partners.

Cons of Work-Life Balance

There are, of course, some cons of work-life balance:

  • Difficulty achieving a perfect balance – the demands of work and personal life may fluctuate making it seem like an elusive goal, which can bring on negative feelings of guilt or inadequacy.
  • Stricter boundaries – creating the right balance may require setting clear, strict boundaries which can be difficult in certain professions or when work emergencies come up.
  • Potential career limitations – the work-life balance approach often involves tradeoffs and when you’re prioritizing your personal life, it’s the work tasks that take the hit, which can impact professional growth or career advancement opportunities.

While this approach works for some, others opt for work-life integration, which embraces a more fluid and interconnected relationship between work and personal life.

Embracing Work-Life Integration

So, what is work-life integration?

Work-life integration is centered around the belief that it’s impossible to set a boundary between work and life and a better solution is to integrate them. It promotes working a non-linear schedule and/or integrating work tasks during “personal time.”

work life balance vs work life integration for digital nomads working in antigua guatemala
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Chillin’ in the hammock while writing out an outline for a new online course

Some examples of integrating work and life are taking a work call while getting some exercise, or responding to social media comments and messages on the train to your next destination or on the way to dinner.

Work-life integration aligns well with the flexible nature of the digital nomad lifestyle as we’re always moving from place to place. Rather than an office, digital nomads work in cafes, coworking spaces, cool Airbnbs, or other non-traditional work settings.

Here’s an example of a non-linear workday:

  • a bit of work in the morning
  • taking a long break for lunch and the gym
  • doing some exploring in the afternoon
  • trying a new restaurant for dinner
  • and a bit more work after returning to your accommodation before chilling out for the evening

The key difference?

Work-life integration seeks harmony between work and personal life rather than rigid compartmentalization.

digital nomads rachel and sasha explore madrid spain
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Taking an afternoon to explore Madrid, Spain

Let’s talk about some other pros and cons.

Pros of Work-Life Integration

Embracing work-life integration has plenty of advantages:

  • Reduce feelings of guilt – it’s very common for digital nomads to feel guilty when they’re working and vice versa. By eliminating the competition mindset that work-life balance instills, digital nomads can learn to enjoy both work and exploring without feeling guilty.
  • Flexibility – this approach gives you the freedom to work when and where you’re most productive.
  • Optimized time and energy – Work-life integration gives you the opportunity to seamlessly transition between work and personal tasks which leads to increased efficiency and productivity.

This approach isn’t without its downsides, though.

work life balance vs work life integration for digital nomads traveling cinque terre
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Waiting for the train in Cinque Terre, Italy where we didn’t work much so we had more time for hiking

Cons of Work-Life Integration

If building a more integrated life sounds like the thing for you, it’s also important to understand the risks involved:

  • Blurred boundaries – this can make it challenging to disconnect and set clear limits between professional and personal responsibilities.
  • Potential to overwork yourself – without clear boundaries, there is a risk of becoming overwhelmed by the constant presence of work, leading to an inability to fully unwind and recharge.
  • Too much task-switching – it might be difficult to get into a flow state and do creative tasks well.

Is Work-Life Balance Even Possible?

Well, this depends on your personality, the type of work you do, and your travel pace.

For me personally, that’s a hard no.

For years readers, friends, and family have asked for advice on achieving work-life balance. But I’ve never created any content about it. I didn’t feel qualified to offer advice because I’d never been able to achieve it myself.

I do a lot of things, perhaps too many.

My biggest responsibilities are marketing my online English teaching services to reach new students, planning lessons for my existing students, working as an online tutor and Subject Matter Expert for BridgeTEFL, and running this blog (fortunately Sasha helps me with the last one).

work-life balance vs work-life integration for digital nomads
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Working at a cafe in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

All of those things require creative and focused energy. Sometimes I don’t get a spark of inspiration until after dinner and then I end up working late into the night. Part of that is also because there are fewer distractions at night once the internet has gone to sleep.

In fact, my inability to figure out a work-life balance has sometimes made me feel like a failure as a digital nomad, like I was “doing it wrong.”

Learning about work-life integration has been a game-changer for me. I no longer beat myself up or feel guilty. I’ve been working a non-linear schedule for years and, as it turns out, there’s nothing wrong with that.

If you’re also guilty of beating yourself up or feel like you’re doing it wrong because you can’t find a balance, I hope this post helps you realize there’s a better way.

sasha statue rome, italy
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It’s important to make time for silly photo ops

How to Choose the Best Approach For You

The best approach for you depends on a couple of things, like the type of work you do. If you have a remote job with set working hours, you might find work-life balance a good fit. But, it also depends on your vibe and energy levels throughout the day.

If you’re running your own business, however, work-life integration might be your jam.

Here are a few other things to think about:

Take a real look at how you work, what you’re into, and what matters to you. Think about what work-life balance or integration means to you. How do they fit with your values and goals?

rachel and sasha exploring florence
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Exploring Florence, Italy on a sunny weekday afternoon

Set some goals. What adventures do you want to have? What do you want to achieve professionally and personally? What do you need for your overall well-being? Having goals will guide your decisions.

Try out different approaches to see what clicks. Start with strategies for work-life balance or integration, and see how they affect your productivity, happiness, and overall satisfaction.

Stay flexible and be open to change along the way.

Above all, remember this: there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. No right or wrong way to do it. It’s all about finding what feels right for you. So trust your gut and do it your way.

A Few More Tips to Keep in Mind

As a digital nomad, your time is split into three main categories: working time, sightseeing time, and entertainment time. The latter is whatever you like to do for fun. For us, that’s checking out the nightlife and finding some live music. For you, it could be trying top-rated restaurants, going to the movies or theater, etc.

If you want to have enough time for each, it’s best to travel at a slower pace and stay in fewer places for longer periods of time. This also cuts down on the amount of time you need to spend on travel planning and looking for accommodation.

rachel and sasha at the colisseum
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We didn’t work much on this family trip to Italy because we moved around quickly

That said, if you’re anything like us, there may be times when you have to travel more quickly. Here’s something I wish I had known when we started traveling as digital nomads: it’s really hard to do creative, focused work during those times.

It’s much better to adjust your expectations and only focus on the easiest admin tasks that keep things floating along, like responding to emails, creating social media content about your travels, and putting out fires – without feeling guilty about it.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, finding your groove in the digital nomad lifestyle is all about striking that sweet spot between work and life. Whether you’re all about balance or prefer to integrate work and play, it’s about finding what feels right for you.

Remember, there’s no one “right” way to do it. It’s all about your own unique circumstances, preferences, and goals. So, listen to your gut and trust your instincts as you navigate your digital nomad journey.

Stay open-minded and willing to explore different approaches. Keep an eye on your overall happiness along the way. After all, the beauty of being a digital nomad lies in the freedom to create a work-life dynamic that brings you joy and fulfillment.

So, go ahead, embrace the adventure, and blaze on! Find the approach that suits your style, and let the digital nomad lifestyle become your ultimate ticket to work and wander in harmony.

Rachel (& Sasha)

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