|"Work-Life Balance" by Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, President & CEO|
August 1st, 2013 - The blurring of boundaries between work and life is real. It’s not going away.
Much has been written over the years about “work-life balance,” but the challenges are even greater now in the digital age where we can be online and accessible 24/7.
Prior to the information age with digital-everything, work and home life were much easier to separate. Now many folks work at home full time or bring work home regularly. Others bring their home concerns to work. This comingling creates both opportunities and risks.
Work-life balance doesn’t mean an equal 50/50 split. In fact, studies completed years ago by the Federal Reserve show we spend more time with our work colleagues than we do with our immediate family. (And this was a pre-digital study done before we all had handheld devices.)
A work-life balance varies day by day, month by month, and year by year. Before school age (with school being the operative equivalent of work), we spend most of our time with our immediate family. Gradually school takes a larger and larger role. After graduation from high school, college, or graduate school, paid employment enters our lives if all is progressing conventionally.
Later in life, as our careers wind down, the reverse happens. We spend less time at work and more time relaxing with family and friends. This change also requires an adjustment as the first year of retirement can be as high a risk for problems as the first year of life.
There is no right or wrong way to go about seeking the twin goals of achievement and enjoyment. “Meaningful daily achievement and enjoyment” are themes that came from a recent discussion with the NCH Medical Staff led by Dr. Gregory Poland, MD, who is the Mary Lowell Leary Professor of Medicine at Mayo Clinic, and his daughter Caroline, who is a counselor at the Mental Health Counseling Center at Taylor University.
Family, work, spirituality, hobbies, community involvement, self-care/exercise, friends, colleagues, future plans and projects all come into play as this important life balance is nurtured. Genuine success rests on pursuing “the right amount of time, energy and skill,” to each of these important and interconnected spheres so that no area is neglected. Overdoing one area may mean short-circuiting another.
People who are successful manage stress. There is a curve which has stress and performance as its determinants. Up to a point performance improves with appropriate amounts of stress. When stress exceeds this optimal level, then performance drops off rapidly. Understanding the need for the right amount of motivation is important because either no stress or too much stress results in the same poor outcome.
Practical behaviors for a better work-life balance are relatively simple and are clearly based in common sense. But a review is always worthwhile.
- Track your time. Try keeping a two-week log by 15-minute intervals to actually see what you are doing. Very quickly a pattern will develop. Then you can decide if you are happy with your current situation.
- Explore options. Can you change your work or home life? Can you change chores around so that you can be home at critical times (such as early evening) to be with the family or spouse at dinner? Postponing some work until later can be very effective. Working at home at night may mean fewer interruptions.
- Learn to say “No.” That can be difficult if you are one of those highly motivated over-achievers. Guilt and being overly conscientious are tough characteristics to control, particularly if they were baked into our personalities during our formative years. But, saying “no” means you can concentrate on activities which need full-time attention.
- Manage your time. This can make a world of difference in life enjoyment and achievement. Directing yourself to worthwhile projects is a good time management tool. So is not being caught up with background noise.
- Develop a support system. Having friends and colleagues who help and trust you—as well as your helping them—is the basis of teamwork. Life is a team sport. Learning this early on is a wonderful side benefit of playing team sports.
- Nurture yourself. You are given only one body. Care for it well. The better you eat, sleep, rest, exercise and prevent illness, the longer, happier, and healthier life you will enjoy.
- Know when to say when. Getting help, resting, or just “chilling out,” are all reasonable at the appropriate times. It’s true that with any good learning experience, there is always a certain amount of failure. That is how we learn. The trick is to not be permanently hurt when we fail. These learning experiences are not errors or mistakes but opportunities to learn.
Balancing work and life is a long and continuous journey. Success is sweet and so important in order to be happy, fulfilled, accomplished, and satisfied.
Good luck on your own journey.
Past Health Advice Articles
Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.