It often seems that in order to work well that you have to sacrifice your family and personal life. In his book, Love Works: 7 Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders, Joel Manby recounts a time in his life when he almost wrecked his family by his incessant work habits. He reached a point in his career when he was away from his family 250 days out of the year. That’s about 70% of the time. He admitted that even when he was home he was not really there; work was always tugging at him. Joel bemoans in the book, “The harder I work and the higher I am promoted, the worse life gets” (20). Although he was having major success in the workplace, Joel had forgotten to lead and love the most important people in his life—his wife and four daughters.
It seems that if you want to be successful in today’s workplace, you might as well give up your personal life, your family, your friends; the list goes on and on. Garry Keller, the founder of Keller Williams, the number one real estate company in the world, recounts a similar situation in his book, The One Thing. He reached great success, but came crashing down at one point because of burnout. How does one maintain balance in such a demanding work culture? Is it possible to attain career success and still maintain a healthy personal and family life? The answer is a resounding YES, but there are some caveats.
First, what is success, really?
Before we can discuss work-life balance, we must first define success. For many, success is about having more. More money. A bigger house. A higher title at work. When John Rockefeller was asked how much money is enough, his reply was, “just a little bit more.” Simply put, we live in a culture where many people are just not content with what they have. On a quest for more, they develop anxiety, depression, and many more problems. More than 18% of the U.S. population have been diagnosed with anxiety, and the majority attribute that to work-related factors (source).
Ironically, the word “success” shows up in the Bible just once, and it is in the context of Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, reading and observing everything written in the word of God. The bible says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Tim 6:6,7). Elsewhere, Jesus himself said, “what will it profit a man if he gains the WHOLE world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36; emphasis mine). The Bible’s definition of success is not based on the amount of stuff that you have. I’m not saying that it is wrong to have a lot of things, but making that one’s life pursuit in life is foolish. Research shows more things don’t bring happiness, neither does a lavish career.
So what is success? The Bible says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with [all] your might” (Eccl 9:10). Success is doing your job, whatever it is, with the highest level of diligence and excellence. That’s it! It has nothing to do with having higher titles or climbing the corporate ladder. Seek to do your job exceptionally well every day. Then go home and do the same for your family. Notice the word whatever in the passage. This is not limited just to the workplace. Whatever means in your home, in your church, in training your children, in loving your wife… whatever you do, do it with all your might and be content. That is the essence of success.
How to strike a balance at work and at home
With this definition of success in mind, here are two simple tips that you can apply today to get more out of your work and your personal life. You might be surprised how simple these tips are, but the truth is often very simple.
#1. When at work, be at work.
Many people fail to strike a good balance with their work because they spend too much time doing other things instead of actually working. Researchers have found that we lose about 28% of our day to ineffective work habits. That’s two and half hours a day gone! As a result, workers stay later and later in the office just to make up for lost time. I call this professional procrastination.
Research finds that those who work more than 65 hours per week don’t see an increase in their performance. If anything, their performance is actually lower than those who work 40-55 hours per week. See Morten Hansen’s Great at Work for more information on this.
How do you combat this syndrome? Design your work day to focus on the most important tasks as early in the day as possible, when your energy level is high. Avoid distractions and learn to focus on the task at hand. Set appropriate boundaries with colleagues, and even your boss, to let them know when you are available and when you are not. I wrote an article a few weeks ago that provides more tips on this topic. You can find it here.
The bottom line is, we need to learn how to work smart. Don’t waste your time on frivolous things when you are in the office. Focus on your work, lest you regret it when you look up and find that, once again, you’re the last person in the office—making up for wasted time.
#2. When at home, be at home.
Leslie Perlow who wrote the book Sleeping with your Smartphone did a research connectivity at the Boston Consulting Group. She had workers take nights off during the week during which they were completely unreachable by colleagues and clients. Not only did the workers’ level of satisfaction increase, they also saw an increase in the level of satisfaction of their clients.
This is true! Recently, I did something radical. I removed my company’s email app from my phone. After four years of coming home just so I can check emails during dinner, during family time, and even right before I went to bed, I decided enough was enough. Now, once I shut down my computer and leave the office, I become unreachable. Folks can call me but they will need to leave a voicemail. If I deem the situation urgent, I can call back. Otherwise, it will have to wait until the morning.
The same goes for vacation time. Last year, for the first time in four years, I decided to not work while on vacation. I was away for two weeks during a major project which I was leading. Before I left, I did my due diligence, leaving the right people in place to cover for me while I was away and did not look back. I came back refreshed and ready to go and found that the project had stayed beautifully on track.
The Bible says, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Eccl 3:1). There is a time to be at work and there is a time to be away from work. Do both with all your might!
We are all given 24 hours in a day and, sadly, many of us dedicate huge portions of that time to wasteful living. A simple re-calibration of our priorities and focusing on what matters most—whether at work or at home—are easy things we all can start doing to create better balance. Once that is established, then pursue those priorities with great focus and contentment. In time you will find that not only success will find you, new opportunities may come knocking as well. And then, you can be the one leaving the office on time.
– Led by the Book