Work-Life Integration is a Double Edged Sword

“Why are we able to answer emails on Sundays, but unable to go to the movies on Monday afternoons?” -Ricardo Semler

Picking up a lazy dinner from a suburban pizza shop one Friday night about 8pm, my phone rang. I glanced at the screen to see my boss was calling from Singapore and I remember thinking, “What did I forget to do before I left work?” Well, nothing, as it turns out.

My boss was calling for an update and requested I do a few more things before I left the office. “Ah, Cynthia, I’ve already left the for the day. I’m nearly home. I just stopped to get some dinner”. Silence. After a long pause she said, “Why aren’t you still at the office?” I said, “It’s 8pm on Friday night!” Cynthia sighed, let out a little chuckle and replied, “I’m so sorry. I forgot about the time difference”. I was in Sydney, some 3 hours ahead of my boss.

It was 2007 and this call highlighted the blurring boundaries between my work and home life. I wasn’t the only one with ambiguous office hours or location. In fact, many of my colleagues were starting to work from home and they had trouble switching off after work.

I recall Bill Gates was being bombarded with email around the same time and wrote that information overload was indeed a problem expedited by advances in technology. In Microsoft, ironically, Gates’ comments were circulated via email!

Dozens of my colleagues were so confused by email being accessible 24/7. Instead of it freeing them to check email when they had time, most of them thought they had to reply to incoming mail instantly. Managers, who had trouble sleeping, would send emails after midnight simply because they were awake, not because they expected a reply. Indeed, my conversations with several of these managers later confirmed my suspicion. None expected a reply before the next working day.

In his book, The Seven-Day Weekend, Ricardo Semler poses an important question and in doing so raises a fair point. “Why are we able to answer emails on Sundays, but unable to go to the movies on Monday afternoons?” After all, if we let work creep into our personal lives, isn’t it fair if our personal lives follow us to work?

Email was just the beginning. Technology has advanced significantly since 2007. Now we are trying to make sense of chaos in instant messaging, project management, collaboration, social media and even working with robots and AI -robots that never need to eat or sleep.

Christian Lous Lange, a political scientist who passed away in 1938 said, “Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master”. The speed at which technology has advanced and been adopted has multiplied since then but Lange’s quote is as true today as ever.

Work creeps into your home and personal life through technology, if you let it. If you want control of your time and your life, isn’t it time for you to start putting boundaries in place? Start training technology to respond to the way you want to work, not the other way around.

Smart entrepreneurs Play CARDDS

What’s the deal with DIY?

Perfect entrepreneurs know, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”. But there is no such thing as a perfect entrepreneur, even you mam or sir. You probably know this, if you’re a perfectionist yourself. Perfectionism is not just having high standards. Often it means setting impossible standards because of your fear of what it will mean to release something to the world that’s not perfect.

Smart entrepreneurs know that sometimes you need to get out of your own way and you can’t do that if you’re a control freak. Aka the perfect entrepreneur. Let’s face it… if you’re a perfectionist, you like to be in control. Consider successful entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey and Arianna Huffington. All extremely intelligent and capable people, who at some point had to get out of their own way and let someone else take control of something.

Busy bees, these entrepreneurs

Every week, I meet business owners who tell me they’re super busy. They know what they need to do for their business but they’re too busy working in it to step back and take care of the bigger picture. Often the more staff they hire, the busier they get. They’re probably even high achievers and excellent at what they do.

Sadly, I’ve seen so many businesses die, even though the owner is great at what they do. You can’t build a great business if you keep ignoring the big picture. Many of these clever, talented, high achieving people kill their businesses or even more tragically burn themselves out.

Anything but not everything

You might believe to your core that if you want something done right, you need to do it yourself. But you need to consider something else. You might be capable of doing anything but you can’t do everything. Time will not allow, no matter how competent you are. You need to decide what’s crucial for your success and learn to let go of the rest.

I don’t care how capable you are, how sophisticated, how organised, how anal -you will need to decide where to focus your time and energy. If you want your organisation to grow beyond you or if you want to build something that’s valuable long after you die, you will need to stop doing everything yourself and concentrate on the essentials.

You’re not Superman. You’re not Wonder Woman. Even wearing your undies on the outside of your pants won’t make it so. Sooner of later, you’re going to feel overwhelmed and be reminded you are human. In most cases, it’s physically impossible for you to do everything. In an extreme case, you might even burn out (most likely for high achievers).

So, you probably get the point I am trying to make by now. You can’t do everything yourself nor do you need to. Work out what’s essential for you to do and those other things you need to get off your plate. Once you clear your plate (metaphorical) of the non-essentials, you make room for what matters.

Stop. Before you start working on anything that lands in your desk, remember, smart entrepreneurs play CARDDS. CARDDS is an acronym that stands for Complete, Automate, Redirect, Delegate, Dismiss and Schedule. These are the CARDDS smart entrepreneurs play to help them win the day.

Clear your plate with CARDDS

CARDDS is an acronym to help you remember your options when dealing with anything incoming that lands on your desk, in your tray, in your email inbox or otherwise gets your attention as something that should be done.

Notice I used the phrase should be done, instead of needs to be done. Other people’s expectations can often be a trap when we’re deciding how to best prioritise our time. When you use the CARDDS acronym, remember to make these decisions based on your own priorities and needs, rather than someone else’s “shoulds” and expectations!

Complete

How long will it take you to complete this task?

If it’s important and can be completed in under 2 minutes, go ahead and do it. Make sure it’s not interrupting your most important work when you do it though. Don’t even give these things your attention until you have enough time to complete these small tasks and organise the bigger ones.

Automate

How often will you need to complete this same task?

Automate any action you will need to repeat frequently. Consider how long it will take each time you stop to repeat this task compared to automating it once. Unless you’re a robot, doing mindless repetitive tasks is not the best use of your time.

Redirect

Does fulfilling this request contribute to your core business?

Redirect anything that distracts you and your colleagues from fulfilling your core business. A simple and polite redirect is just a matter of pointing someone to a helpful source or someone who is better suited to help them, than you. You’re trying to be helpful but make it clear this is not your responsibility.

Important: Do not treat this as a recommendation or endorsement. If you recommend someone, you may end up being held partially responsible for your endorsement -even though you have no control over the outcome. So you might just subtly suggest by saying, “Have you tried…” and leave it at that.

Dismiss

What if no one else can help but this is still not your core business?

Nothing becomes your responsibility by default. It is not your fault or your problem if no one else can help, unless this request directly contributes to your core business. Sometimes you will need to say a polite but firm. “No”. Say no to anything that is unimportant. Remember your core business, your most important work and who you work for are paramount. Everything else detracts from this focus and should be dismissed.

Delegate

Is this your core business but not your own responsibility (or strength)?

Delegate anything that contributes to your core business but is not your personal responsibility (or strength). Ensure whoever you’re delegating to has the appropriate skills, confidence and authority to take care of the assigned task or project. Before you delegate, make sure you consider if this assignment will be the best use of this person’s time. Do not delegate anything if it will detract from this person’s contribution to your core business.

Schedule

Do you need to bite the bullet and do something yourself? If it is going to take longer than 2 minutes, remember, you may not need to do it right now. Schedule an appropriate time in your calendar and treat it as though you would any other commitment. Make sure you stick to it.

What’s the best use of your time?

Stop trying to be the perfect entrepreneur. Think of yourself as a conductor, curator or someone else who concerns themselves with the big picture. Your most important role as an entrepreneur is to make sure all of the parts of your business work well together. That’s essential if you want to make something great.

Next time an email hits your inbox, a piece of paper lands on your desk or a client makes a request, pause. You need to decide which of these incoming requests is the highest and most valuable use of your time.

Play your CARDDS to make sure you clear your plate of anything that distracts you. Remember there are many options to get back in control of your time and work on what’s most important.

Is ‘Hustle Culture’ killing entrepreneurs?

Is ‘hustle culture’ killing entrepreneurs? Ask any self employed person how they’re doing and you will usually get a reply, “I’ve been so busy”. If you were to go into their workplace for a day and observe them, you would probably find that’s true. Everyone is busy.

Culture of busyness and hustle
Hustle is the latest buzz word.

How many of those projects and tasks, that entrepreneurs busy themselves with, really propel the business forward? We have a new breed of gurus telling new entrepreneurs that the secret to success is hustle. So it seems success can then be measured by the long hours you spend in the office. Lack of sleep, poor physical and mental health and social isolation can now be warn like badges of honour.

There’s only one problem with this approach. It’s bullshit. Do you think the only difference between you and the billionaire, Richard Branson, is that you worked 12 hours each day and he worked 13? Do you think if you sleep less, skip exercise, eat fast food and stay late at the office you’re going to be successful?

High Achievers are Most at Risk

I know you probably think I’m talking about someone else. You’re an extremely capable person and you have got this covered. Well, if you’re driven and successful, I am talking to you. High achievers like to think they’re immune to burnout but in reality, they’re often the ones most at risk.

Look, a Unicorn!

In fact, many of us look at Silicon Valley only see the unicorns (privately held companies valued at over $1 Billion). But working in technology start-ups is not all beer and skittles. First, unicorns are the exception to the rule. More companies will fail than those that succeed. Second, many workers in these large tech companies report they are suffering extremely high rates of job burnout.

In fact, ‘Blind’, is an anonymous social app for tech employees. They conducted a survey with 11,487 participants, who were asked, “Are you currently suffering job burnout?” 65% of respondents from Expedia were. 60.4% at Snapchat, 60.16% at Lyft, 59.53% at Amazon, 57.94% at Airbnb and 57.46% at Apple, just to name a few. Yep, that’s right. The beer and skittles are just to keep people at work longer.

Burnout Among Entrepreneurs

Burnout is not just a problem in Silicon Valley. Researchers recently conducted a survey of 326 entrepreneurs (95.6% had fewer than 250 employees), who were members if Business Networking International (BNI). They wanted to find out what makes entrepreneurs burnout. 25% of those surveyed replied that they felt moderately burned out, 3% felt strongly burned out. So, over one quarter of entrepreneurs are burning out at some level. Those findings were published in Harvard Business Review.

If you’re an entrepreneur you need to ask yourself, “How long can my business keep running like it is? How long could my business survive without me?” They’re important questions. After all, what would happen to your business tomorrow if you suddenly had a heart attack? What would happen if your circumstances changed and you were required to take care of a sick family member? Who will carry on your important work tomorrow if you cannot?

Who Will Drive Your Business?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Looking after yourself is just good business. If you work alone, chances are you are the engine that drives your business. If you lead a team, good leadership needs to start with you. If you want your team to show up for work fresh, enthusiastic, focused, energetic and motivated -you need to lead the way.

What’s Your Highest Value Contribution?

Most entrepreneurs I know start a business because they have something uniquely valuable to offer. Do you? For an individual, I believe that’s where passion, ability and reward come together. I like to think of the point where they intersect as your ‘highest value contribution’. It’s the most valuable thing you can do with your time.

Daniel Priestley introduced me to the idea that every one of us has a unique backstory in his book, Key Person of Influence. We each have a unique set of skills and experiences. In other words, the thing that makes your business or your workplace so special is you… and “there’s no one you-er that you” (thanks YOUI).

Busyness is a Trap

So, what happens to your firm if you’re always busy, responding to incoming demands on your time? You might be failing to serve clients properly or provide the value you promised. If you’re not making deliberate decisions about how to invest your time, you might not be working on the right things. In short, you might not be making your ‘highest value contribution’.

Being busy can make you feel stressed, overwhelmed and put you at risk of burnout too. Welcome to the world of information overload, 24/7 contact, anxiety, technology induced attention deficit disorder and the drugs we can be subscribed to fix them all.

Burning Out

Carter (Psychology Today, 2013) listed the symptoms of physical and emotional burnout including chronic fatigue, insomnia, impaired concentration, physical symptoms, poor immune system, lost appetite, anxiety, depression and anger. If you are constantly ‘under the pump’ at work, you might already have some of these symptoms. It can happen slowly, over several years. It’s like a snowball, rolling down a hill, getting bigger as it goes.

Many of these symptoms are linked too. I know when I haven’t slept well, I eat poorly (to try and get some energy). I have a poor immune system when I get really fatigued. When I get really fatigued, I get in terrible moods. My wife can tell you!

Arianna Huffington wrote a brilliant book called The Sleep Revolution. I must admit, I wasn’t that excited by the title but the book was fascinating and I read it cover to cover. Huffington explores the science of sleep and details how it can enhance our mood, cognitive ability, immune system and energy levels. My key takeaway from this book was, if you want to make your best decisions, you need a good night’s sleep.

Intelligence and Success

I know what you’re thinking. “I can handle this. I’m a capable person.” But intelligence doesn’t make you immune to sleep deprivation or even burnout. Nor does success. Trust me. There’s a long list of extremely successful rock stars, actors, entrepreneurs, professionals, tradies and more who experience burnout.

In my own roles, I have shown extreme signs of burning out. In a previous corporate role I wasn’t sleeping enough, not spending any time with my family or friends, had a poor diet and wasn’t exercising. In the end, the most telling sign was me becoming angry for no particular reason.

I have seen signs of burnout in others too. From mild cases of stress or anxiety, through to people quitting their work they do or even taking their own life, even when they were at the top of their game. Sometimes, something can happen that’s not so extreme, like someone quitting their job or business.

Let’s Get Real

Pause for a moment and ask yourself a few questions, so we can put things in perspective:

  • How will I make great decisions if I’m always tired?
  • What if I never have a holiday again and I burnout?
  • What if I don’t take care of myself and I become too ill to work?
  • What does the future of my business look like without me?

Let’s not pretend you or your business are indestructible. In layman’s terms, if any of these things happened, your business or ‘side hustle’ would be up ship creek (yes, SHIP CREEK!). Unless of course, you have a great backup plan. And if you do, good for you -you can already afford to take a break.

Let’s Talk Work Life Sustainability

I believe we need to start talking about ‘work life sustainability’ because too many people view ‘work life balance’ in the extreme. Many employers shy away from the concept of balance because it sounds too much like leisure. What if we see this for what it is? If we don’t address this as entrepreneurs we might be risking our health, our sanity, our most valuable employees, our most important work, our income and indeed all of the rewards that come from doing what we love. We can’t keep going like that.

Are you a people pleaser?

Do you try to be everything, to everyone?

You can’t keep everyone happy

As 2018 began, I began to fall back into the trap of being a people pleaser. I was working full time, starting my side business and an active board member on Dubbo Chamber of Commerce. My fiancé and I got married and we started building our first new house in June the same year. I had so many great things in my life and no time to enjoy any of them.

When my wife and I boarded our plane to fly from Australia to Fiji, it dawned on me that perhaps I was trying too hard to make other people happy. Some days I had the energy levels of Superman and on other days I just felt like a clown who was trying to juggle too many eggs.

My morning routines so far consisted of walking, keeping a diary, writing a blog post and getting ready for work. I continued to read articles about why I should make my bed each morning, prepare a specific kind of herbal tea, perform a high intensity workout, plunge into an ice bath (yes, it’s a thing), listen to a podcast, read for 10 minutes, keep a journal, meditate for 10 and cook a high protein breakfast.

Would all of this keep someone happy? Would it make me happy? More to the point, when the **** would I find time for it all? I was already tired. I wondered if this was how a hamster felt in a wheel. Exhausted, frustrated and going nowhere!

“I do the best I know and the best I can every day. I love and approve of myself as I am, and other people’s opinion or validation of me is neither required nor needed” -Sara Fabian.

Not everyone will be happy

Let’s face it… some people are just shitheads quite negative and you will never keep them happy. Sometimes it’s more than that though. Here are a few reasons it’s impossible to please everyone:

  • You have limited time and energy
  • Other people move the goal posts
  • People expect different things
  • People expect more than you can give

Stop the runaway train

My friend persuaded me to stay on the chamber board in 2018. I felt compelled to say yes to this request. Probably because I had invested 1 year of my time on the board already. Maybe 2018 was the year I would recover some benefit. So much time and energy had gone into my role already. As a people pleaser, my tendency to say yes could be like a runaway train with no brakes.

A few days before our honeymoon, I came to the realisation that I wasn’t performing any of my roles to the best of my ability. My runaway train, aka Dubbo Chamber of Commerce, was consuming more and more of my time. Requests were coming in from every direction. Even though I was pushing back, this role drained attention, time and energy from my other roles as an employee, part-time business owner, husband and family man.

Who matters most in your life?

I believe it is important to make and keep commitments, to yourself and others. But my commitments to the chamber started like a drop and became a waterfall.

Perhaps I was seen as a people pleaser on the board but I wasn’t keeping the right people happy. I had to make my wife, my family and my paid work a higher priority than what it was.

Consider someone you know who is truly exceptional at what they do? How many roles do they perform at a high level? Chances are, they are better at some things than others. Think about a world class athlete, musician or mathematician. People can be gifted at so many things but without incredible focus and commitment to develop that skill, they will never be the best at what they do.

Unreasonably successful people

Richard Koch, who is an author, entrepreneur and investor, recently wrote a blog post called Saints Ancient and Modern. He is researching a new book, which talks of 19 “unreasonably successful” people. “Unreasonable” because the achieved much more than was ever expected of them and, in some cases, in despite of or because of marked character flaws.

Richard noted that many people who were extraordinary in their chosen field were somewhat duds in their personal life (okay, he didn’t quite put it like that!). Nelson Mandela, Richard points out, was known for being warm and friendly to strangers but very cold with his closest family.

My point is, no one is truly exceptional in every area of life. If you’re human, you will fail at some point. Be selective with what you can do well and eliminate the non essential.

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” Steve Jobs

Why do we keep saying YES to the wrong things?

I believe that once we have said yes to one request, it becomes more difficult to say no. As it turns out, this is not hogwash. There’s actually some psychological evidence to help explain my half baked theory.

When I was studying marketing, I learned a few things about consumer behaviour. One of the things I learned is that if someone says yes to a minor request, they are more likely to comply with further requests after that. For example, someone who donates $5 to a particular charity is more likely to say yes if the charity requests a follow up donation of $100. I won’t bore you with the detail of the theory but it’s still used as a common technique in sales today.

Rational decisions -not our forte

About 5 years ago, I read an interesting book about the pull of irrational behaviour called “Sway“. Authors Ori and Rom Brafman tell a few great stories to illustrate that people aren’t always rational or logical, as we would like to believe. In fact, more often than not, emotions play a big role in our decisions. I know it’s difficult to believe but as humans, we’re prone to error. We don’t always make decisions rationally or logically.

Perhaps that’s why you chased after the boy or girl you could never have. It might be why you argued a moot point or got in a fist fight to protect yourself or a loved one from a nasty insult. As if it would. Yes, we are emotional creatures and sometimes fools. Sometimes we make decisions with our ‘people pleaser’ hat on -in itself an emotional decision.

Ori and Rom tell one particular story of Captain Jacob Van Zanten, an accomplished pilot with a clean safety record. In fact, he was head of KLM’s safety program and one of the most experienced pilots in the world. He had a solid reputation of being punctual as well. While piloting KLM flight 4805, on a runway in Canary Islands, some diversions were in place causing chaos. It was likely all flights would be grounded, resulting in a chain reaction of delays to other KLM flights and the tarnishing of Jacob’s reputation for being on time. He was also aware that there was not enough local accommodation for his passengers and crew.

Emotional decisions -our default

A series of factors playing on Jacob’s mind, made him determined to take off that day. In his mind, he needed to make it happen before all planes were grounded on the runway. There was chaos at the airport, flight towers were understaffed, a blanket of fog was looming , Jacob’s was being second guessed by his co-pilot and they didn’t get the necessary take off clearance in all the confusion. He didn’t see the 747 parked at the end of the runway until the last minute. He pulled up the nose enough for it to clear parked jet, however, the fuselage on KLM 4805 collided with the parked plane causing a massive explosion. 584 people were killed as a result of the crash, including pilot, crew and all passengers of KLM 4805.

Captain Jacob Van Zanten was over-committed to getting his plane off the ground that day. We all need to be careful about becoming over-committed to a decision, even if we are not commercial pilots or we don’t have lives at stake.

At what point are we over-committed?

Absolutely. In my mind, there are 2 ways you can over-commit.

  1. Committing more attention, time, money or resources to a single role than you have available.
  2. Committing to more roles than you can perform well because you don’t have enough attention, time, money or resources.

Quitting for the short term is a bad idea

Some people say never quit but I disagree. As Seth Godin points out in his book, The Dip, “Quitting for the short term is a bad idea. Quitting for the long term is an excellent idea.” In other words, don’t quit something just because things are tough right now. Consider quitting only if the cost of continuing is more than the benefits of sticking it through to completion (or a future point in time).

Have you ever heard of sunk costs? Sunk costs are costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered. If you stay committed to something just because you have already lost too much time, money and energy, that’s a bad idea. What’s the most likely outcome of sticking with your commitment? Is the benefit of seeing through your commitment bigger than the cost of continuing? If not, that’s a good reason to stop.

Quitting for the long term is an excellent idea

Make sure you reach for something big. If you get there, it’s likely the benefit will be bigger than what it costs you to get there. Always keep the end in mind wen you’re deciding where to invest your time and energy. Make sure your goal is so exciting that it’s worth everything you’re going to put into it moving forward.

What happens if you’re a people pleaser? You probably have an inclination to say yes to other people’s requests. So, you never decide to take on a role or task based on a logical decision process. You decide because it keeps someone else happy. In doing so, you may help them get what they want but is that truly what you want?

“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much” – Jim Rohn.

Stop being a people pleaser

You will never be perfect in other people’s eyes. Stop trying to be a people pleaser. Instead of worrying about what someone else says you should do, decide what your musts are and go after them. Everything else is a distraction, so work on eliminating those distractions.

Think about what you have planned today. This week. Have you taken on too many roles? Are you committing too much attention, time, energy and money to unnecessary roles? Remember, what you decide to quit, may be just as important as what you decide to do.

“Listen, smile, agree, and then do whatever the f*** you were gonna do anyway” -Robert Downey Jr. 

Which roles will you stick at?

Careful you’re not quitting because something is getting difficult. Remember, that’s never a good reason to quit. Keep your goals in mind and even if working towards your number one goal is difficult, stick it out.

Here are the roles you should keep in your life:

  1. Roles that fulfil you;
  2. Which have the greatest future upside potential;
  3. Where you can be truly exceptional.

In summary, keep your eye on the end reward. Play the long game, not the short. Don’t take on too many roles and spread yourself too thin. Say no often to anything that gets in the way of what you want. Focus on being the best you can be, in the few roles that mean most to you. You will never keep everyone happy, as hard as you might try.

Stop trying to be a people pleaser and instead, do what fulfils you with the people who matter most to you.

 

Work Life Balance is Real

Work life balance is real. I’ve seen it.

Most people I know, think that I’m crazy. Those people believe work life balance is some mythical creature, like a unicorn or perhaps just an aspiration, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

If you want to be rich and happy, don’t go to school

When I was in school and working at McDonald’s part time, I picked up a book called “If you want to be rich and happy, don’t go to school,” by Robert Kiyosaki. Needless to say, as a boy who hated school at the time, this book really was appealing. Kiyosaki wrote a lot about how to escape the rat race.

Careful observation led me to adopt a similar view to Kiyosaki’s. Why is everyone working long hours and working so hard for little reward? How many people are delaying happiness for a day that might never come? Plenty, it seems.

What I learned from Maccas about systems

I didn’t realise it back then but working at McDonald’s was my introduction to effective business systems. Imagine a system where a bunch of teenagers can be left to serve customers, cook food, clean the store, plan parties and so one. Most parents of teenage children are probably asking the more pressing question, why can’t they cook and clean at home? I’m not a parent but I do have experience as a teenager!

My parent’s advice was to work hard and one day the boss would see this and promote me. In each of my roles, I would work when others would not. I did nights, weekends, holidays. No job was beneath me or too dirty. This work ethic carried on in each of my new roles.

Work life balance makes good business sense

About this time, I began studying my Bachelor of Commerce at university. Required reading was a book called “Maverick”, by Ricard Semler. Semler was the CEO of Semco, an advocate of work life balance but he was more than that; he was one of the first to show the world it made good business sense.

Productivity and work life balance seemed to work hand in hand at Semco. In fact, productivity under Ricardo’s lead was better than when the company had a rigid structure that did not favour balance. I would learn this lesson much later; productivity and work life balance can not only co-exist but thrive together.

Helping people work from home

In 2007, I started contract work for Microsoft. I loved it. My role was to help small and mid sized organisations set up, so their employees could work from home or remotely. Working from home, when few people could, was quite a perk. Of course, many challenges arose that we didn’t anticipate. Still, this was early days for a trend that would catch on in so many Australian businesses.

So many of my colleagues would take their work home. Some confessed they would sit up with their laptop in bed and work from late night into the early hours of the next morning. I was passionate about helping my colleagues live healthier lives and so began helping them set boundaries. One day, towards the end of my contract, a few full time employees were made redundant. Interestingly, when I think back, none of them were the employees who seemed to be living a balanced life.

Those who took long lunches, who played sport, spent more time making connections, spent less time on their computer and seemed happier all stayed in their jobs. Some hard workers stayed too but some were shown the door.

2008’s economic downturn was hardly the fault of Microsoft or the managers. Nor were the redundancies. Arguably, management did what they had to do. My point is, this experience reinforced my belief that no job is safe.  Keep learning, growing and developing your career. If you want to protect your livelihood, you need to be ready for what comes. Don’t invest your whole life in a job or a company that might not do the same for you. Live a little.

Work life balance is real

Today, I get mixed reactions when I mention work life balance. I recall being on local radio promoting a course I was running, titled work life management. On air, I was speaking to the host of the show, who asked, is there really such thing as work life balance? I replied there is and he gave me that look, like he thought I needed a straight jacket. Later, off air, he explained that it was impossible for him to find balance because his circumstances were unique.

If I only had a dollar for each time I heard that. People are only busy these days because it’s trendy. When someone asks how’s work or how’s your business, few people want to admit they have time to relax. Everyone says, I’m flat out. Some people truly believe they are.

I have met hundreds of managers who keep themselves busy. A handful of them are fired or move on. Most continue to struggle. I have met a few business owners who always seem rushed. Some of them, which appeared to be strong businesses from the outside, would close their doors and call in the liquidators a few days later.

In contrast, I have met a few lifestyle business owners who keep ticking along. They invest time with their family, take holidays and they make sure they work on the right things. Focus on productivity over busy-ness. Some of them have been living the life for many years.

Systems are the key to lifestyle business design

Systems are the key to lifestyle business design. Entrepreneurs repeat this wisdom often but very few seem to put this concept into practice. Could your employees run your business if you had to take a sick day? What about if you went on holidays? Most business owners can only step away from their business if they have systems in place to guide employees’ decisions. If you want to enjoy work life balance, you need to be able to step away from your business occasionally.

Work life balance is real. For everyone who tells me it’s not possible, I see another entrepreneur, manager or executive making it happen. Remember, you’re in the driver’s seat. You’re actually not on a train with no brakes. You’re driving the train. My advice, if you’re still searching for a better life, is to take ownership of your time.

Can you find work life balance as an entrepeneur?

Work life balance as an entrepreneur

Can you have a business and a life?

Can you find work life balance as an entreprenuer? Most entrepreneurs tell me no! I have often heard small business owners comment, “What work life balance?” Or more bluntly, “What life?” Most entrepreneurs won’t admit their struggles. Busyness and overwork seem to be the new badges of honour but they both take their toll in the long run.

Work life balance and boom

I first fell in love with the idea of work life balance while I was studying business at Charles Sturt Univeristy, Bathurst, in 1999. My lecturer, a Californian lady with some fantastic (and perhaps some true) stories, introduced us to a book called Maverick. Maverick was about a brazillian company which was built on the idea of democracy. Ricardo Semler, who took over as CEO, emphasised work life balance for his employees. Interestingly, Semco enjoyed massive success after this transformation.

Semler took over his father’s 27 year old business in 1980. Semco employed 100 workers and was turning over around $4 million at the time. Within 8 years, Semler had changed the culture of Semco from a bureaucracy to a democracy. Durind that same period, Semco grew to employ 800 people and turn over $37 million per year. Semler is still passionate about work life balance.

‘The Seven Day Weekend’, was Semler’s second book, which he began with 3 thought provoking questions:

  1. Why are we able to answer emails on Sundays but unable to go to the movies on Monday afternoons?
  2. If we can take work home, why can’t we take the kids to work?
  3. Why do we think the opposite of work is leisure, when in fact it is idleness?

I believe Semler’s point is that the nature of work has changed and so must we.

Work-work and busyness culture

In 2007, I experienced the same culture of busyness while I worked at Microsoft. Overwork seemed to be a badge of honour for entrepreneurs, managers and executives alike. I assisted dozens of people, including external business owners and managers, set up so they could work from home. I worked from home one day per week and I began encouraging my colleagues to do the same.

Technology made it possible for us to take our work everywhere, so some of my colleagues did. Most extreme, were my colleagues (yes, there was more than one) who used to take their laptops to bed. Imagine the impact this behaviour could have on their sleep, relationships and sanity. I often tried to pursuade my colleagues to leave work at work (or at the home office door). Working from home myself, I could see how easily the lines could be blurred between work and personal life.

Work life of entrepreneurs

In 2009, I started my technology consulting business, Hile Consulting. Most of the entrepreneurs I worked with had quit the corporate life (or lack of!) in favour of being their own boss. Even though they were now the boss, many were struggling to find time for family, relationships, exercise and leisure. Ironically, they spent most of their time working on their job and not their business.

Paul McCarthy, Founder of The Marketing Club, pointed this irony out to myself and a handful of other small business owners the same year. I remember Paul talking to the audience about the long hours most business owners worked. A room full of tired business owners were nodding their heads in agreement. Then he said, “Think back to when you first started your business? Is this why you started?”

Paul’s question hit a nerve with most people in that room. Most of them, including myself, agreed they had no idea how much work was involved in running a business when they first started. I sat there answering Paul’s question in my own mind. I wondered if it was possible to be more in control of my own time again.

Setting up successful systems

I thought back to when I was working at McDonald’s. Every task had a procedure or checklist. When they found something that worked, they would write a procedure. McDonald’s had systems that allowed the same success story to be copied anywhere in the world. Standardisation is why McDonald’s works. If you find a successful store, chances are they are sticking close to the winning formula.

As I was running my own business, I joined Business Networking International (BNI) and was later chosen as Chapter President. BNI meetings literally ran like clockwork. We had scripts, rules, handbooks, role descriptions and more. If we were in doubt about what to do next, we just needed to open our books. BNI was a great system to be part of. We were successful in growing our chapter because we followed a system.

Inspired by two great organisations, I set up a few systems in in my own business. My email management was mostly automated. I set up workflows, so I could easily manage routine processes. Most of my data protection and backup was either automated or outsourced. I set up systems for any repeatable function in my business. I wanted to invest my time running my business, rather than running around in my business.

Losing control of my time

My career took a turn in late 2011, when I decided to pursue a life long dream and join the NSW Police Force as a Constable. After 2 years, I was burning out. Shift work, 12 hour shifts, unpaid overtime, working on days off, constant conflict and hyper-criticism of my work all took a heavy toll. I wasn’t alone but at times it felt like I was. Exercise was an afterthought. My relationships were under strain. As a police officer (at the time) it was hard to admit I wasn’t in control… but it was true.

My partner and I took a relaxing holiday, where I was fortunate to do some reading and some soul searching. I realised I was no longer heading towards my goals. Nor was I in control of my time. How was I supposed to have a career and a life if I felt like I didn’t control my own time? That was the nature of police work.

Some people told me it was the same in every job. Obviously they were overlooking the fact I worked a variety of jobs for 15 years before I joined the police force. The nature of police work is stressful. For those outside the job who say it is not, to put it bluntly, they have no idea.

In 2014, I resigned from the NSW Police Force and returned to business.

Famous entrepreneurs who found work life balance

Popular opinion among executives and small business owners, at least in my circles, was that work life balance could not exist. Then along came Tim Ferriss, an Entrepreneur and Angel Investor, who wrote the 4 Hour Work Week and changed some perceptions. Then Richard Koch, a well respected Management Consultant, who wrote The 80/20 Manager. Arianna Huffington, Entrepreneur and Founder of The Huffington Post, who wrote The Sleep Revolution following her own collapse. The list goes on.

Robert Kiyosaki wrote a book called Rich Dad Poor Dad. Kiyosaki famously came up with something he calls the cash flow quadrant. He explained there are four roles you can play to make money:

  1. Employee
  2. Self employed
  3. Business owner
  4. Investor

Kiyosaki makes the point that if you ware self employed, you don’t have a business. You have a job. It’s important to make that distinction here. If you can’t take a step back from your job to run your business, then you will always have a job.

Finding balance again

It’s not just famous authors who have helped me. Fortunately I have met some inspiring small business owners, who love their work but still manage to find time for relationships, family, exercise and all the good things in life. A few have told me their stories of burnout in the corporate world. Some made the move to regional cities, so they could enjoy the more relaxed lifestyle.

Returning to a 9-5 job, I read every book I could find about time management, productivity and work life balance. I didn’t just read, I experimented. Adopting what worked and discarding whatever did not. I started writing blog articles about what I had learned through my own challenges. Then I wrote and published my book, in my own time before work, in 8 months.

I am living a balanced life despite wearing many hats. I manage to balance my full time job, my part time business, my role on the board of Dubbo Chamber of Commerce and still find time for date night (and a bit of rest on the weekends). At times, when I find my life getting out of balance, I realise it’s my fault.

Something is wrong if you’re an entrepreneur and you don’t feel like you’re in control of your own time. If not you, then who? Starting and growing a business is hard work. Good planning and organisation can help you make sure you are working on the right things. If you hear someone say, “What work life balance?”, don’t worry. It exists. They just haven’t found their own work life balance yet.

 

 

Are you busy?

Culture of busyness and hustleAre you busy? I recently watched an online video posted by a popular entrepreneur and social media expert, who I will not name.

In his video, the social media guru is walking around in his usual hyper state (think a powered bunny, in a battery ad,  full of cocaine).

One of his fans asked him the secret of success and he replied, “You need to hustle man”. His groupies all paused and began nodding their head, as if that’s the answer they expected. The guru went on to say something like, “If you’re working 12 hour days, you need to be working 20”.

“The greatest enemy of good thinking is busyness” -John C. Maxwell; Leadership Expert, Speaker and Author.

I want you to pause for a minute and think of someone who you consider to be very successful. Perhaps it is a mentor or someone who plays in your particular niche. Perhaps it is someone in another industry and you admire their traits or you want their definition of success.

Do you honestly think, the only difference between you and that person is they worked more hours than you? Look around you. We live in a culture of busyness. Everyone is working hard and everyone thinks they’re hustling harder than the next person. Walk up to one of your colleagues and ask, “are you busy?” 99 percent of the time they will tell you they are.

Do you believe Warren Buffett is successful because he works long hours? Sure, putting is probably critical for his success. If you think that you are probably selling him short for the knowledge, skills and connections he has accumulated over the years. In fact, Buffett mostly keeps his calendar empty and invests 80 percent of most days reading.

Do you honestly think Richard Branson is as successful as he is just because of a solid work ethic? Sure, it may have played a part. Branson is persistent (even after selling his company due to financial struggles in 1992), a visionary, a fun likeable guy and a one man personal brand. He knows how to find a problem in a market, build a team, fix the problem and publicise his solution.

I remember the resurgence of the term ‘rat race’ in the 1990’s, which described the constant struggle and busyness of everyday life in the corporate world. While the term ‘rat race’ may no longer be popular, our unrelenting ambition for more money (at any cost) and the revived term ‘hustle’ mean the same thing. If you are in business, even for yourself, it is likely you are still part of the rat race. Now there are more rats than ever before!

“It requires more toughness to resist the world than to join in the rat-race” -Sir James Darling, former Headmaster of Geelong Grammar School and former Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Here’s the catch. You need to make sure you are doing the right things before you start doing them right. You need to be effective at setting and taking steps towards your goals. It doesn’t matter how efficient you are or how hard you work. If you are not working towards your goals, you will never enjoy your definition of success.

I would suggest the busyness bug or the perceived need to hustle constantly are a symptom of modern society, rather than a requirement of success. People who are wired or connected to technology 24/7 aren’t getting a buzz because they’re being productive. Technology keeps our brains in an over-stimulated state so, when we use technology, we get a buzz from our brain releasing more dopamine.

We have an addiction to busyness, not productivity. Pause every now and then and think, are you busy? Are you being productive and working towards your goals or just filling in time?

“If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play” -John Cleese, English Actor, Comedian and Writer.

Which would you rather be? Busy or Effective? In order to be effective, we need to take a step back from our lives of constant stimulation and give ourselves time to think. We need original thought, rather than recycled ideas from the internet. We need time to pause, reflect and carefully contemplate our next decision.

Sometimes taking a step back and giving yourself time to think is better than continuing to hustle but ultimately, you still need to act on your decision. Ask yourself today, are you busy? Or are you productive?

How to turn off after a long workday

How to turn off after work

How to turn off after workOne of the challenges of working from home is finding how to turn off after work. Lines between work and personal life have become blurred, thanks to technology, globalisation and a culture of busyness (being busy for the sake of it). Busyness is not essential, it’s fashionable.

I know business owners who obsess constantly, freelancers who never seem to finish work, employees who think they will lose their job if they’re not working well into the night. I’m not opposed to working hard, however, the fallacy that no one ever died from hard work is just that; a myth.

“The greatest enemy of good thinking is busyness.” -John C. Maxwell, Leadership expert, speaker and author.

In fact, in China, local media estimates 1,600 people are dying every day from working too hard [1]. At least some of these are white collar workers. According to the same article, death from overwork is a badge of honour in China. This problem is not limited to China. Korea and Japan are also on the list of countries where overwork is a serious problem.

Workers in some western countries, like the US, also suffer poor health due to overwork. In some cases this leads to burnout or complete exhaustion.

7 ways to relax after work

I have discovered, through trial and error, how to turn off after work. This is general advice and while these things worked for me, they might not work for you.

I have worked in my own business and worked for others from my home. I choose to wake up early and then keep my evenings for leisure time. It’s up to you when you work, however, you need to allow time to switch off, relax and go to sleep

Set clear rules for when and how to turn off

I used to blur the lines between work and personal life until it seemed like I had no personal life. I think it’s fair to limit how much your personal life impacts your work… but in return it’s also fair to limit the amount work encroaches on your home life.

How to turn off sleep supressants before bed

According to an article from Harvard Health Publications, computers and phones emit a blue light, which supresses sleep and throws off your circadian rhythms. Research cited in this article suggests that exposure to blue light at night has other health implications too. Limit your screen time after hours.]

How to turn off stimulants before bed

Caffeine is a stimulant, which can give you a boost of energy but might also keep you awake at night. I have found, when I limit my caffeine intake to the first half of the day, I get a better night’s sleep. While this may seem obvious to some, there is some research to back it up.

Why you need to eat early and eat healthy

I occasionally wake up in the middle of the night with acid reflux, which is quite uncomfortable. After I did some research on some possible causes of acid reflux, I found a few minor changes stopped this problem for me. I eat less junk now, eat earlier in the evening and skip the caffeine several hours before bed. Acid reflux can be quite serious; so if this is an ongoing problem for you, see your doctor.

How to turn off your over-active brain

I often keep a notepad beside my bed, so I can do a bit of a brain dump before I go to bed. I write down my thoughts, my worries and my ideas. Sometimes I draft a quick plan for the following day. I think it’s a kind of therapy. It frees up my brain, so I can just relax. Amazingly, sometimes my brain fills in the blanks or evolves my idea into something better while I sleep.

Drink relaxing caffeine free tea before bed

I experimented by drinking a few different types of tea before bed. In doing so, I stumbled upon Sleep Tight Tea from T2™. Unlike black tea, it really helps me relax. I have tried a few chamomile teas, green teas etc. but Sleep Tight is the only one that puts me out like a light!

How to turn off your phone and turn your partner on!

Bedrooms are for sleep and sex, not social media. If you want more sleep or more sex, ditch the devices. I have already mentioned that smartphones emit a blue light, which keeps you awake longer. Smartphones are also a constant source of distraction because they beep, buzz and vibrate every time one of your ‘friends’ moves on social media.

Your team needs to recharge, so share these tips for how to turn off

If you’re a leader and you want to get the best out of your team at work, maybe you should share this advice with them. Make sure your team switches off early and have enough time to recharge for the next day.

If you are reading this because you feel overwhelmed or can’t relax and fall asleep at night, it’s a good start. Don’t just read ‘How to turn off after work’, try my tips out. If you find something else has helped you relax, please share that with me in the comments. Thanks for reading.

 

Reference

[1] “In China, 1,600 People Die Every Day From Working Too Hard”, Bloomberg, accessed at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-07-03/in-china-white-collar-workers-are-dying-from-overwork on June 30, 2017. 

 

Best time management books

What are the best time management books?

While writing my book, Time to Start, I read dozens of so called best time management books. I have to be honest though. Some of those books are worth taking the time to read and others are not.

There were a select few, however, which were worth the time and worth their weight in gold. I would have liked to include more but I have narrowed it down to my 5 best time management books.

I believe if you read these books and out what they teach into practice, you will be well on your way to mastering your productivity and your own time management skills.

“The question you should be asking isn’t, “What do I want?” or “What are my goals?” but “What would excite me?”
― Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek   

The 4 Hour Work Week

The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss: Tim challenges conventional time management wisdom. He makes you question everything you know about productivity. If you’re working 9-5 and want to escape the rat race, I suggest you start with this book. Tim’s book is a cheat guide of sorts, for the modern executive or entrepreneur.

The Seven Day Weekend

The Seven Day Weekend by Ricardo Semler: I remember first reading about Ricardo Semler and his company, Semco, while I was studying business. Ricardo was a pioneer in creating a true democracy in his company. He is extremely passionate about achieving the work life balance and helping his employees do the same. There are those who say work life balance can’t be achieved and then there’s people like Ricardo Semler, who continue to show the world it can be done.

The 5 Choices

The 5 Choices by Kory Kogon, Adam Merrill and Leena Rinne: The 5 Choices is a simple book, which gives you a clear framework, so you can get back in control of your time. The authors do a great job of explaining concepts borrowed from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and apply them to emerging challenges around technology and information overload.

The 80/20 Manager

The 80/20 Manager by Richard Koch: This book is a follow on from The 80/20 Principle and is extremely well written. In this book, Koch uses some great examples of where most managers and executives invest their time. Koch explains that around 80 percent of their efforts show very few results. He goes on to outline 10 ways managers (and leaders) can be more effective by focusing on the 20 percent of efforts that deliver 80 percent of results.

The Power of Less

The Power of Less by Leo Babauta: Babauta’s book teaches the art of simplicity. Babauta is a minimalist. His book will teach you how to limit yourself to the essential in business and in life. While some aspects of minimalism are a bit extreme for me, I have certainly borrowed and applied plenty of ideas from this book. Worth a read.

For some people, the idea of taking the time to read is counterintuitive to time management. I have given you my tips for the best time management books. I honestly believe, if you read them and put what they teach into practice, you will get more out of your time and more out of life.

American billionaires talk about the rich life

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XTM9WV_o-c

What’s it really like for two American billionaires living the rich life?

I stumbled on this interview by Charlie Rose, during which he talks to American billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett about what it really means to have a rich life.

I have been teaching the importance of being careful with your time. More specifically; not scheduling back to back meetings, not filling your calendar with junk meetings and allowing time to make decisions or work on your most important tasks.

What do you need to have a rich life?

American billionaires discuss the rich life
American billionaires, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates talk about the rich life and the value of time.

It may surprise you to hear, not one but two, self made American billionaires discuss the rich life in terms of time. In a world where we constantly talk about productivity, busyness, working long hours and ‘hustle’, it’s refreshing to hear Warren Buffett talk about the value of time. During this interview Buffett said: “I can buy anything I want, basically, but I can’t buy time.”

“I can buy anything I want, basically, but I can’t buy time” -Warren Buffett.

Warren Buffett’s diary

Buffett’s insight came after Charlie was flicking through his pocket sized paper diary, which the three joked was particularly empty. He has days without an appointment or meeting at all. On looking forward, the interviewer mentioned there was a week with only three appointments.

Buffett joked: “Yeah. There will be four maybe by April.”

What Gates learned from Buffett about the rich life

Interviewer Rose turned his attention to Bill Gates and asked, “So that taught you what? Not to crowd yourself too much and give yourself time to read and think and…”

Gates replied, “Right. That you control your time and that sitting and thinking may be a much higher priority than a normal CEO who, you know there’s all this demand and you feel like you need to go and see all these people…”

“It’s not a proxy of your seriousness that you fill every minute of your schedule” -Bill Gates.

Buffett cut in, agreeing with Gates, “People are going to want your time and it’s the only thing you can’t buy.” Then he goes on to say, “I better be careful with it. There’s no way I will be able to buy more time.”

What you can learn about the rich life

Do you have back to back meetings at your work? Maybe it’s time to learn from these two wildly successful individuals. Maybe you have been pursuing more wealth, so you can have a rich life. Don’t get me wrong. Money can set you up for a comfortable life.

Many of us forget about the value of time in pursuit of the rich life but if we listen to these two famous American billionaires, maybe that’s just what the rich life is… more time.