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But don’t worry, I was too until I learnt there was more to it.
As human beings, there are a lot of things that go into our everyday lives. Eating, reading, writing, going to work or school, and meeting up with friends are just some of the things that make up our days. Our activities form the foundation of our habits, routines and lives as a whole. So understanding them on a deeper level is never a bad idea.
In this post, we will talk about how Occupational Therapists’ view occupation, and why understanding this will hopefully give you more insight into the things you do every day. We will also cover what an occupation is, the three main groups of occupations, occupational balance, and why it’s important. Lastly, we’ll discuss a simple three-step process you can use to apply this knowledge in your daily life.
According to the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT),
“Occupation/Occupations refer to the everyday activities that people do as individuals, in families, and with communities to occupy time and bring purpose and meaning to life. Occupations include things people need to, want to, and are expected to do.”
To an average person, your daily occupations are anything and everything you do in a day that is meaningful and purposeful to you. They include everything from waking up in the morning, getting out of bed, and making yourself that first cup of coffee, to working and paying your bills. These are all occupations, and the mix of occupations in your life and how you carry them out are unique to you. Because your culture, experiences and preferences influence them.
Now on to the three main groups of occupations. They are (like you might have already guessed); self-care, leisure and productivity.
Self-care activities are activities that you do to take care of yourself; like showering, eating and sleeping. Leisure activities are activities you do for enjoyment; like reading a book or a blog, spending time with family and friends, or singing. Productive activities are activities that are goal-oriented and give you a sense of purpose; like working, paying bills, completing a project or even exercise.
The critical point to remember here is that you decide where your occupations belong. So there are no wrong ways to classify them. Do what feels right to you, and you can always change your mind in the future if you realise that activity fits better in a different category.
Now, this question might have already crossed your mind,” What about x activity? Can’t it fall into more than one group?” I’m here to tell you that you’re right! And I have a handy little Venn-diagram to help you visualise things a bit better.
In the Venn diagram, you can see some different ways that occupations can overlap into the three categories. For example, eating is a self-care activity. However, depending on the context, it can also be considered a leisure activity or a productive activity. How? I’m glad you asked.
When you go out to eat with friends or family, the act of eating is still self-care because we all need to eat. But the social aspect of eating with people you care about can turn it into a leisure activity as well. On the other hand, if you are having lunch with a client or prospective business partner, then it is very likely that the goal of that lunch is to make progress in some way. It might be by discussing work, or by using the time to build rapport to improve the relationship between all parties and enhance the business relationship as a whole. So, in this case, eating could be considered both self-care and productivity.
Another example of this would be exercise. Depending on the context in which the exercise happens, it can fall into all three major groups. For some people, exercise is just part of their overall self-care routine. For others, it’s something they enjoy doing, either alone or with friends. But for a professional athlete, model or actor/actress, exercise might be more of a productive activity because they need to train to stay in shape for their work. So there is no right or wrong to it, your occupations fall into the group(s) that make the most sense to you.
Now, why is knowing all this even remotely important to you? Because of something Occupational Therapists’ refer to as ‘Occupational Balance’. You achieve occupational balance when there is a healthy balance between each of the different groups of occupations in your daily life. This concept takes the work-life balance that we are all familiar with one step further by breaking ‘life’ down into the self-care and leisure groups. Because having a good balance between these two areas is just as important as making sure there is a balance between your personal life and your work life.
Suppose you only focus on only self-care activities in your personal life and don’t make room for leisure activities. In that case, it can easily lead to social isolation and reduced fulfilment because you aren’t making time for the things that bring you joy in your life. On the flip side, if you only focus on leisure activities and neglect your self-care activities, it can lead to burnout and social or health issues. An excellent example of this would be if you decided to party every night with no regard for your sleep. You might be able to sustain that for a while, but the lack of sleep can lead to issues with your performance during work, your attentiveness in everyday situations, fatigue, and a host of other sleep-related problems.
Now on to the fun part, how can you apply this information to your everyday life? By knowing which groups your activities fall into, you can make sure you’re giving enough attention to each area of your life and achieving occupational balance.
The exercise below is a simple one you can do to get a basic idea of how your activities are spread across the groups:
1. Get a pen and paper and write down all the activities you do in a typical day
2. Put an ‘S’ beside self-care tasks, an ‘L’ beside leisure tasks, and a ‘P’ beside productivity tasks.
3. Tally them up, and your results are in!
Alternatively, you can download a blank version of the Venn diagram here, print it out and fill in your occupations wherever you feel they should be.
Once you’re done, have an honest look at the numbers and what they mean. Is there one area that gets more attention than the rest? If yes, why? And is that a pattern that is healthy for you to continue? How would things look if you decided to change up your routine? What activities would you want to add? Which ones would you give up?
The questions are endless, but this is just an introduction to how you can use this new information to live your life in a way that is more in tune with what you want for yourself.
So to wrap this up, let’s go over what you learnt today. You now know what occupation means on a broader level, what the three main groups of occupations are, what occupational balance is. You also learnt a simple method to analyse your occupations, so you have a guide on where to make tweaks if you need to. Plus you have the bonus of a new perspective on occupation the next time a conversation about occupations comes up.
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I’d love to have you on this journey with me.
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This article is for informational and educational purposes only. Do not take it as a substitute for advice from a trained professional familiar with the specifics of your situation.