I’ll come out and say now, because this post will work better if we’re upfront with each other at the beginning: work-life balance is dead.
I wish I could say it lived a good and full life, but it didn’t. Most of the time it was around, it was a buzzword. Work-life balance was never our friend. It was something we periodically seemed to shriek and holler about and claim we needed but never truly followed through on. The more we sought ‘having it all,’ the more stress we experienced.
Well, now work-life balance is officially deceased. It’s gone to the great buzzword fields in the sky. And, I am happy that people are finally letting go of an unrealistic, unattainable goal.
Here’s the problem for leaders, though: we still need to find a sense of harmony in today’s world.
Business does move faster. You probably feel it yourself … whether you attribute it to Moore’s Law — which somewhat explains the rapid pace of technological expansion — or you attribute it to increasing globalization. (Relate to constantly managing projects that are often across time zones, anyone?) A recent study done by Groupon (yes, Groupon) revealed that over 60% of the North American workforce doesn’t feel there’s enough time in the day to complete all their tasks.
How can harmony be sought, you may be wondering? The big picture answer: align your daily actions with your deepest desires, and know that harmony takes different shapes at different stage of your career and life. It's not about getting more done; it's about getting the right things done. But for now, let’s run through a few actions you can take to find more harmony in your workday.
1. Build a firehouse
This is from Lynn Isabella at UVA’s Darden School of Business. She explains — and you’ve probably experienced — that a lot of work stress and the gradual death of work-life balance comes from having to spend a large portion of your day ‘putting out fires.’ We’ve all been there. It’s toxic, time-consuming, stressful, and in general, just a miserable way to spend 8-10 hours. You need to put out these fires. So, the theory goes, you ‘build a firehouse.' Since you probably won’t actually erect a large red structure in your office, what does this really mean?
It means using strategies like uninterrupted work time, frequent breaks, the 52-17 ratio, and delegation skills to reduce your focus on putting out fires. As a leader, your focus needs to be on strategy, coaching others up (building a bench), communicating big ideas, and longer-term vision around the financials. You can’t be constantly dealing with direct customer complaints or political hand grenades. Sometimes it’s interesting because we’re all a little bit drawn to the drama, but … you absolutely can’t be an effective leader if you need a hose next to your desk from 8am to 6pm.
2. Learn more about your team and your boss
Science has shown us that 55 hours/week is basically a hard ceiling on human productivity at work. Still, 55 is a lot. That’s 11 hours/day — so if you get to your desk at 8am, you’re not leaving until 7pm daily. That can be exhausting. Conversely, there’s reams of evidence that companies shift to five-hour work days (25 hours/week) and increase revenues. What gives?
What gives is people. Everyone is different. Some need the ability to work 75-80 hours/week; heck, some #thrive on that. There are other people who could work 30 hours in a week and accomplish about the same amount as that 75-hour person. People are different: different skills, different approaches to problem-solving, different speed of work, different ability to focus, etc.
As such, you need to get to know your team and your boss better. If there are people on your team with young families and they can be productive without being beholden to seat time, let them. If others on the team grouse, go talk to the others. Explain the situation. ‘Dave has two kids under three, and he’s been productive in work-from-home situations. I thought it made a lot of sense.’
As you manage down, you also need to manage up. What does your boss expect from you? Is he/she a seat time person? Could you have a conversation with him/her about adjusted arrangements?
Remember, the end game is achievement of goals, not recording of hours.
3. Practice Mindfulness
This is all the rage in corporate circles these days. Consider it, though. Become more mindful. Trust me it works. Listen to soothing music. Breathe differently. Walk around a new area at lunch. Really listen to others. Get in touch with who you are inside. It’s nearly impossible to lead others successfully until you’re aligned on that front, and learning to live in the present — in all its many forms — can help immensely with this.
Leaders who work with Lisa as their executive leadership coach have seen great results when it comes to finding work-life harmony. Perhaps this is the next step for you?