One of my earliest posts was about the work-life balance, and four ways to think of having it. At the time I was working for a financial institution in the middle of the financial crisis. It was epic. We were working long hours, on tough questions, in an environment of high uncertainty. I had a great team and a good boss – and I think that’s they only we all go through it.

Having come through it, I’m a big fan of setting limits. We all need to spend time with family and friends, we need time to eat well, to exercise, and to sleep properly. I’m better at discussing expectations and planning time ahead. I fill in my calendar to plan important tasks to protect that time and have fewer interruptions as a result. It also helps that I’m the only one of my team in the office I work in – that reduces the rate of interruptions. Once again, a supportive boss helps!

Here’s the original post in full.

The first thing I read this morning was an SMS from a friend who’d just finished work, at 5am. No she’s not a shift worker, she and a colleague had worked through the night. I could feel the words “she’s insane” scrolling through my head, but really I’m not much better having worked a couple of 12+ hour days this week.

So what happened to the work-life balance?

One definition of work-life balance says that you should find both achievement and enjoyment each day in each of four quadrants of your life; work, family, friends and self.  But people still place different priorities on each quadrant, and find a different pattern to balance their priorities.

picture-161: Working 9 to 5

No, nothing to do with Dolly Parton. The idea of turning up at 9, leaving at 5 has a certain simplistic appeal. But for many roles it’s just not realistic – even in regular office jobs people often need to be more flexible.

This choice can make it easier to manage commitments to family, friends, non-work interests and self. But there can also be a trade-off, if your manager needs more from you and sees that you place a much lower priority on work you’re unlikely get that juicy assignment.

As a manager it’s important to know that some people have this attitude to their work, they’ve sold their skills and attention to you for a certain number of hours per week and that’s how they manage their commitments to work and family. From the work perspective this shouldn’t be a problem provided the role doesn’t require undue flexibility, the work culture can accommodate it and the person has realistic expectations in relation to career progress.

picture-1712: Live to work

I’m sure you recognise the pattern, maybe you use this approach. Focusing on the job is the number one priority and all your energy goes into the work. No sacrifice is too great as long as the work gets done. This approach requires a lot of energy, but the rewards in the work sphere are really high.

One speaker at a recent training course was scornful of aiming for a work life balance saying that afterall it’s all part of life. He went on to talk about the measures he has in place to have time with his children but it was very clear that for him it was OK to put all his energy into work.

However the trade-of is the impact on relationships with family and friends. It’s hard to sustain a partnership if you never see each other. It’s also not really sustainable for the individual – leading on occasion to chronic illness.

picture-223: Set limits

There are lots of jobs; executives, managers, consultants where the “live to work” culture is endemic, apparently “setting limits” is an approach with growing appeal.

The idea is that you choose and publicise your personal limit. You might decide that you are not contactable during the weekends and switch off your blackberry. You might decide, as one colleague has,  that you will only schedule meetings in the morning. I’ve decided I will limit my schedule to no more than 4 meetings per day – I find if I have more meetings than that I’m not able to achieve what I need to each day. I’m also going to excuse myself from meetings that lack a purpose. It’s not going to be popular but it will be effective.

picture-234: A 4-Hour Work-Week

Timothy Ferriss’ book “The 4-Hour Work-Week” has become enormously popular and has been featured on CNN, Fast company, USA today and Wired.

He takes a radical look at how we think about work and wealth, and says that our current philosophy of working for forty years, saving, and deferring all the fun stuff until retirement needs rethinking.

Instead he suggests that there is a new subculture, “the New Rich”, which has abandoned this work-life paradigm and instead have found a way to make enough money and free enough time to follow a luxury lifestyle now. The book provides tools to challenge your thinking on how you currently spend your time including a “Lifestyle Quotient” calculator.

I might never manage to fully automate my income, which would give me an LQ of 0, I might not even manage a 4 hour work day (this week’s was 40 hours in four days), but it did challenge me to think a little more in terms of what I really want to be spending my time on – and where I spend my best energy.  Well worth the read.

Image: balance 

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