Our lives are divided three ways now. It used to be that we had our work, and our life. They were distinctly separate, never to cross. But nowadays, we’ve got a third aspect to our existence – our online life. This third life falls somewhere in the middle of the other two, resting not entirely on the work side of the fence, and spilling over into the life side as well.

This is causing much consternation among many of us. The lines between work time and life time are blurring and the grey area seems to be ever-widening. We are becoming ever more protective of our “life” time, taking extended technology sabbaticals and stepping away from our evil smart phones. Our work life is becoming closely guarded too – we’re shutting off the social media and unplugging from our email, in the hopes that it will turn us into some sort of productivity super hero.

The problem is, we’re drawing so many lines in the sand that we’re ultimately not really getting what we need to out of that big, blurry grey area called the online life. And that means we’re missing out on some tremendous opportunities.

You know how sometimes, you need to sit back and re-think your career, or the way your non-work life is going? You are willing to take time to really figure out what you want in those areas, to reflect, regroup, and make changes when necessary. It’s central to your happiness. But how often do you reflect on your online life?

Let’s face it. This whole online thing has really sideswiped us. 15 years ago it wasn’t a big deal. Today, it’s one of the bigger deals going, and for the most part, we weren’t prepared for it at all. It’s changed a lot of aspects of both our work and our lives. Yet we tend to gloss over it, not really give it too much thought, until it’s bombarding us from all directions. Then, completely overwhelmed, we run screaming from the room. We shut down, take extended sabbaticals, and look the other way. And then we wonder why the Web is not working for us.

So what if we took that same level of reflection and applied it to this new, third aspect to our lives? What if we started to strive to achieve not only work/life balance, but work/life/online balance?

Here’s something I’ve been pondering:

I remember a few years back when my friends started having kids, they would go one of two ways. Either they had a baby and then I rarely heard from them or saw them anymore, or they had a baby and I heard from them and saw them more often. Both were equally busy with their new families, but it was their perspective of what being a new parent meant to their lives that was different. The ones who became totally absorbed with this dramatic life change were doing so because they were trying to fit their lives to this new child. The ones who seemed to have more of a life after baby was born were doing so because they were fitting their baby into their lives. Neither were bad parents. They just handled it differently.

It’s the same with the online life. You’ll find that even though there is no space in your life, that much like a baby, you can’t just ignore your online life and it will go away. You need your online life, because it will help you be more successful in your business. You need your online life, because it will help you advance that cause that’s important to you. You need it because it’s a source of connection with people that matter to you. Whatever the reason, it’s there, and you can’t deny it. But if you try to fit your existing life into the online life it’s not going to work, because you’re trying to change everything because of one thing. That’s why you’re overwhelmed. If you make everything about your online life, then everything else suffers. The work/life/online balance is thrown right out the window.

What if you took the approach of the parents who work to fit their baby into their life instead of the other way around? Suddenly you’re able to step back and see everything in perspective – all aspects of your work life and your life life at once. Then you have this third bit, your online life, which you can see for what it is – like a new baby, it is something new that is designed to enrich your life, not take control of it. Then, you realize that, in addition to everything else you have going on, you can still find the time to devote to your online life’s care and attention. And, your online life begins to survive and thrive because the rest of you is so balanced. Devotion to your online life is still a lot of work, but it’s made possible because you’re taking care of the other pieces too.

In other words, everybody wins.

Like it or not, this is a new era. You can ignore the online world all you like, but it’s not going to go away. And if your personal or professional success is in any way dependent on your efforts out here on the Web, then you owe it to yourself to figure out how that balance is going to work, don’t you think?

[photo by bruce…]