While for some, the concept of work-life balance is a reality or aspiration; for many leaders and high achievers it is a myth or false ideal. On those rare occasions that work -life balance exists, it’s usually temporary. For years, both as a high -flying attorney and then as a coach, work life balance was something I aspired to but never quite achieved.
The work-life dichotomy was invented in the 1800s. The expression “work–life balance” was first used in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s and in 1986 in the United States to describe the balance between an individual’s work and personal life.
More recently, the concept of work-life balance, or its absence, has received greater prominence due to work encroaching on all areas of peoples’ lives to an unprecedented degree. For many nowadays, life often feels like all work and no play.
The Price of Globalization and Technology
There are two primary, and overlapping causes for this. Firstly, increasing globalization has meant that for many, a working day can and often does span 24 hours. Secondly, advances in technology mean that employees and the self-employed are often expected to be connected and available at all waking hours. Companies use email and provide smartphones to facilitate this.
The above should not be taken as implying that everyone is working round the clock because their employers have a gun to their head. Executives will often put in the hours because they have their sights on promotion. Leaders will do so because they believe that it what is expected of a leader and that it sets an example for their team. Finally entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals will continually burn the candle at both ends because that is the trade off for being your own boss.
The reality for many leaders, executives, entrepreneurs, managers and professionals is that, whether the motivations are intrinsic or extrinsic, there is a high price to pay for spending a continuous disproportionate amount of time working. Consequences for the individual include:
* High stress levels which impact on mental and physical health.
* Exhaustion and burnout, often resulting from inadequate sleep.
*Impaired performance and inefficiency.
* Drug and alcohol misuse.
Furthermore, it is not in a company’s best interests to have their senior employees always connected and working round the clock, as the impact on the people expected to drive growth and innovation ranges from impaired decision making and strategic thinking to poor emotional intelligence and a lack of creativity.
Corporate awareness of the problem is growing as reflected by many companies introducing meditation programs for their employees
A More Realistic Approach
Rather than pursue something that I no longer believe is realistic, I apply and work with clients to implement a strategy that yields the same perceived benefits of ‘work-life balance’ but is more compatible with a modern working environment. Elements of the approach include:
- Going with the Flow. Proceeding with the expectation that there will be times that work takes priority and a disproportionate amount of your time but deciding to ‘go with the flow’ rather that resenting and resisting is less stressful and more realistic. The precondition to embracing this approach is a commitment to invest scheduled time in your family and personal life.
- Time blocking. The above step only works if you are fiercely protective of the non-work time you have scheduled. You must be brutal about segmentation. This means that when its time for the family day out or workout in the gym, turn your smartphone off and be ‘present’ and fully focused on the activity or people at hand. If you need to, let your colleagues know you are not contactable at certain times. Train them to respect your personal time. It’s rare that something or someone can’t wait till you are available.
- Be Zen. The numerous and well-documented benefits of mediation and mindfulness practices cannot be overstated. A few minutes invested in some form of mediation will yield benefits in all areas of your life that increase over time. It is no coincidence that some of the most successful people in world (e.g. Hedge fund manager Ray Dalio, Legal Sea Foods CEO Roger Berkowitz, Salesforce’s Marc Benieoff, Linkedin CEO Jeff Weiner and Arianna Huffington) engage in some form of daily meditative practice.
- Sleep.For too long insufficient sleep has been a badge of honor. For many years as an attorney I prided myself of producing my best work at around 2am. I look back and realize how misguided I was. As research from across the world makes clear, the impact on health, performance and productivity resulting from consistent, inadequate sleep is catastrophic.
And sleep is not simply an issue of quantity. High quality sleep is necessary for real recovery and restoration. This can be achieved by having no caffeine after 3pm, a regular sleep schedule, total darkness, no TV in the bedroom, not eating a meal more than 2 hours before bed and blue light blocking glasses for the evening.
There are many other steps that can be taken that will increase your ability to enjoy a more fulfilling personal life, while improving your performance and productivity in your work life. Start with one or two of the recommendations from the above list and you soon realize why, for an increasing number of high achievers, going with the flow is more realistic and beneficial than pursing the elusive work-life balance.
Martin Soorjoo is the founder of 3XP Performance Coaching. Martin works with his clients to help them consistently perform at their best.