by Mark Anthony Figueroa
"Perfectly balanced. As all things should be." - Thanos
Why? Simple, for your mental and emotional well being.
You’ve heard the old Irish saying: “First the man takes the drink, then the drink takes the man.”
I’d like to posit that a workaholic is an alcoholic, but with work, and workaholism is a real thing.
“The term workaholism was coined in 1971 by minister and psychologist Wayne Oates, who described workaholism as “the compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly” (Oates, 1971). Since then, research on workaholism has been plagued by disagreements surrounding how to define and measure the construct. For example, workaholism has been defined as an addiction to work (Ng, Sorensen & Feldman, 2007; Porter, 2006; Robinson, 2000), a pathology (Fassel, 1990), a behavior pattern that persists across multiple organizational settings (Scott, Moore & Miceli, 1997) and a syndrome comprised of high drive, high work involvement and low work enjoyment (Aziz & Zickar, 2006)...”
The article above makes some key differentiations between work engagement and workaholism.
If you’re a workaholic and genuinely excited about your work and proud of it, then good on you.
If your heart palpitates when there’s an unfinished task, regardless of its importance, and you can’t think about anything other than work, then you may need AA: After-work Activities.
And, I don't mean the mandatory work-sponsored “fun day” that has been "proven by Bob, Craig, Bill and Karen of the Live and Play Where You Work Forever Institute to promote fun in the workplace", or a vacation planned months in advance, but a non-task-oriented, non-work related hobby that you don't need to plan or plan around. Just some simple "Me time" that you can use to regroup and refresh.
Can’t take a step back and regroup you say?
There are a lot of emails to send, forms to follow up on and data to collect, you say?
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What is Work Life Balance?
Imagine a standard scale with a left and right arm. On the left is work, on the right is your life outside of work. Work life balance is essentially the relationship between the weight of these to items. The goal of the scale is to get the two as close to balanced as possible.
At an extremely high level (without getting into any of the complex minutiae - because, believe me, the rabbit hole goes deeper than Wonderland), there are three work life balance configurations:
Imbalanced, tipped toward Work
Imbalanced, tipped toward Life
These three are probably in constant flux throughout the day. Some days, there's a LOT to do. Others, not so much. The key is staying within a degree or two of the center.
Why is Work Life Balance Important?
“A good work-life balance,” said Chris Chancey, career expert and CEO of Amplio Recruiting, “has numerous positive effects, including less stress, a lower risk of burnout and a greater sense of well-being. This not only benefits employees but employers, too.”
If you had asked me before my MBA what work life balance was, I’d respond that it was making sure your personal life doesn’t interfere with work. While that answer is partially correct, it doesn’t account for the other half. What happens when work interferes with your personal life?
*Also, fun fact, MBA isn't a title, so if your name is "First, Last, MBA," go fix that.
Anyway, a few years ago, I was in the Marine Corps, working 24 - 38 hour shifts with 30 minutes to 2 hours of sleep per shift. I held a top secret clearance, analyzed data and presented it to pilots across all military branches for different operations. Any catastrophic negligence that would have impacted aviation assets would have resulted in me owing the government $500,000 and up to 10 years jail time. As you can imagine, I (and many of my colleagues) had a poor work life balance. The imbalance wasn't because there was no time off. It came from work consuming our lives in unhealthy ways, either for the pursuit of a promotion, or leading us to "drown away" our free time until the next shift.
For me, this imbalance caused several problems:
I only associated with people I worked with
I rarely thought of anything other than work (or what I could do to drown it out)
I was constantly afraid of mistakes that I may have made
The bulk of my conversations revolved around work
The majority of poor work life balance situations resemble this scenario. Most people don’t complain about work life balance when they have more time for life than they do for work. While there is no evidence that less work can lead to aggression, high blood pressure, mental illness, alcohol abuse and depression, there is substantial evidence that shows too much work can lead to the previously mentioned problems as well as an early grave, or even worse gray or balding hair.
How Do You Implement a Balanced Work Life Relationship?
Implementing or improving work life balance looks different depending on the circumstances. A person without children may not have the same level of urgency to balance work and life that a person with children might.
My wife and I are business owners and coworkers. We generally, and unintentionally, do everything together. When it’s a busy day, it’s not unusual for us to encourage each other to work from 9 am to 9 pm with an hour in between. We try to maintain 9 pm as our cut off time.
Here are 3 tips in order of importance from multiple sources and a disgruntled MBA:
*Note: There are about 10 standard items. The 3 listed below are the most important, in my opinion.
Accept that work life balance is a dynamic thing. You can create charts, tables, clocks, calendars, robots or even employ magic fairies to remind you when it’s time to take a break and do something that is not part of your work. Assuming that things will always run like a well-oiled machine and everything will always be on-schedule is unrealistic and can lead to less productivity. Most workloads are dynamic and fluctuating. They require proactivity on what can be controlled and proactive responses to what cannot be controlled. That said, the first step to creating or improving your work life balance is recognizing that a true work life balance begins with being adaptable.
Clarify work-related priorities. This is probably the most subjective item on the list. Though we often recommend using a task manager to manage tasks; however, when you use a task manager, it is crucial to remember all tasks and outstanding items have varying levels of importance. For example: A weekly team meeting might not be as crucial as walking your dog, if you and your team correspond regularly. Defining what a priority could be difficult if you are constantly in “Go” mode. A helpful book that I recommend (and read once a year) is The 7-Habits of Highly Effective People. In his book, Covey dives deep into Production (the thing you want to make), Production Capabilities (the thing that makes / enables making), and he identifies a simple way of identifying and assigning importance to to-do items. The focus of the book is the 7 habits Covey identified over his tenure that make a person efficient and productive while still having time to unwind and relax. Here is his time management matrix:
Set boundaries for your active productive/focus time and work-related communication.
I. Active Time: Use a tool like the Pomodoro Technique. The technique states that there are diminishing returns to a person's ability to focus after 25 minutes; therefore, every 25 minutes, you should take a 5-minute break. If that’s not possible, then tack on an additional 5 minutes for every 10 minutes over the 25-minute threshold. The maximum amount of time of consistent focus should cap at 45 minutes.
A. Work 25 minutes, Break 5 minutes
B. Work 35 minutes, Break 10 minutes
C. Work 45 minutes, Break 15 minutes
II. Work-Related Communications: I would argue that if a colleague or vendor (who isn’t a fairly well known acquaintance) sends a non-urgent, work-related email after a reasonable hour (10 pm or so) they are either lacking in etiquette or manners, or they do not respect your time (though perhaps my wife, who is a night owl, would disagree).
Responding to these kinds of messages immediately, reinforces the expectation of odd availability hours. It’s a vicious trap and you can find yourself in the compromising position of creating artificial urgency. In today’s hustle and bustle culture, that might not be seen as a bad thing, but reinforce that for a few years and it'll be easy to overlook how much time and stress has been allocated to low impact items.
That said, most email hosts have the ability to schedule emails. If you find that you are sending a non-essential email out after working hours, schedule it for a reasonable hour like 9 or 10 am or sometime before 8 pm. If it's truly important and can't wait, then obviously this doesn't apply. In most instances it's not.
We took a little break from the usual flood of information. We talked about work life balance and why you should implement it into your life.
Next, we will hit the ground running with Scheduler Applications.
See you next time!
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