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.

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.

 

 

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. 

 

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.

Work life balance success

Ricardo Semler's work life balance
Source: http://howtosavetheworld.ca/images/RicardoSemler.jpg

Work life balance is real. As I write these words, I can almost hear the chorus of people repeating, “work life balance is dead.” They’ve heard it so many times, it must be true. Right?

Others are adamant that success comes at a price. “You can either have success or work life balance but you can’t have both.”

Bullshit! Allow me introduce you to Ricardo Semler, who took over Semco, his family business in Brazil (the guy in the photo on the left).

I was encouraged to read his book, Maverick, while I was studying management at university. I remember reading about his laissez faire (live and let live) style of leadership. His first order of business was to relax the rules and create a democracy. Since then he has found his work life balance and helped his employees do the same.

I know what you’re thinking. Was he successful? Semco launched into 14 years of consecutive double digit growth after they changed the rules, so I would argue yes.

I believe the most valuable lesson I learned from reading Ricardo’s book was that he would often pause before any action and ask why? He would do this three times. If he could not come up with a sensible answer three times in a row, he would abandon that activity.

Now, let me introduce you to Tim Ferriss. Tim, for those of you who don’t know, is an entrepreneur, investor and three time best selling author. I read Tim’s first book, ‘The Four Hour Work Week’ and have been a fan ever since.

I’m sure everyone gets something different from Tim’s books but for me I learned a lot about resourcefulness. We live in a connected world and there are few barriers to getting what we want.

In ‘The Four Hour Work Week’, Tim made a point that particularly resonated with me. He asked, “How much is enough?” He goes on to suggest many people have a desire to be rich but usually they want the money to buy something. I agree we should pause and ask, “How much money is enough?” You should know what you’re working towards and when you get there. Life is not about preparing to live.

Last but not least, you should know about Arainna Huffington. She is the founder of The Huffington Post. Arianna learned the hard way that success is not just about money, power and the constant theme of busyness. While she was working she collapsed from complete exhaustion, which broke he cheek bone and cut her face. She had a scare that caused her to redefine her own success.

Arianna now teaches people about the importance of downtime and sleep to our health. She’s written her own book, called Thrive, which is about creating a life of wellbeing. Just another example of a successful person who managed to find her work life balance. In fact, it’s more evidence that work life balance is not a luxury but rather it is essential.

I have given the examples above because they’re quite famous and there’s a chance you know them. I know plenty of people who aren’t famous, who still find time for what’s important to them. If you want to find your own work life balance, you should start by defining what success means to you.