Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Google Lost Its CFO to Poor Work Life Balance

Back from a wonderful four day weekend in Hawaii, the annual maintenance trip my wife and I take to Kona to look after our condo. We hadn’t been in over a year, and wanted to see the new tile that replaced the awful carpet. The tile looked great, and other than some missing vertical blinds, the place was in really nice shape! We shopped for art, and did a few things here and there. Oh yah, we snorkeled a lot, including a romp with dolphins. What is interesting is that because we didn’t need to work much on the condo, we had an opportunity to work on our marriage.
We have a really good marriage, yet we have very little time to just be together and talk. We covered all kinds of ground, about things big and small. We discussed whether we wanted to sell the condo too, which was a foil to discuss what is really important to us. Do we want to recover the time it takes to manage the rentals every week, and save money, or would we prefer to have this special getaway? If we didn’t have the condo, I doubt we would have as many weekends away together.
Patrick Pichette Google CFO The topic is timely: This week Patrick Pachette, CFO of Google announced that he would be retiring to spend more time with his wife. He shared that after 25 years of non-stop work that took away from his family life, it was time to stop and really live. Pachette was candid that while he loved his job, it was being an Insecure Overachiever that drove him to work so much.
I so very much applaud his decision to step back and enjoy the time with his wife. (His kids have already left home.) But it didn’t need to be this way. He could have enjoyed his job and success for so many years without sacrificing so much on the home front. He felt that Google needed him to be on all the time. Yet now Google has lost a fantastic CFO. Maybe if he was off some of the time over the last 25 years, he would be spending another ten years as CFO. For a company like Google that doesn’t give short term guidance to Wall Street so they can plan on a long time horizon, it seems like they fell short when it came to their people.
I think Google lost its CFO to poor work life balance. What do you think?
If you’d like to learn more about insecure overachievers, here is a post I wrote a few years ago.

Lessons From Overworked Teens

Overworked teens

Overworked teens

Last night in a mini-Torah study, we discussed the story of the binding of Isaac. As you may recall, God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. At the very last minute, when the knife is in the air, God sends an Angel to tell Abraham that he passed the test, and he doesn’t need to actually harm the boy. We argued whether despite appearances, Abraham was being a good parent by following God’s commands.

So what does this have to do with overworked teens today? For me, this is a story of power relationships. Abraham felt powerless to refuse God’s commands, just as Isaac felt powerless to try to prevent his impending death. Today’s teens are unbelievably over-scheduled, which is why teen anxiety and depression are at record high levels. They are kids, and it doesn’t occur to them that they can say no to activities, especially when the activities are fun. On top of that, they are told they need to be in the hardest classes, and “stand out” to get into the top schools. And without the top schools, they will be at a significant disadvantage in the working world. The data do not support these myths. Sadly, many of these messages come directly or indirectly from parents and teachers.
My views on teen overwork are radical. I see it as a social justice issue. These kids are put in a position where their health is at risk for a perceived gain that isn’t real. As parents and citizens, we have a duty to protect our kids from our own anxiety about the future. And one way to do this is to model good behavior when it comes to the number of hours we work. The kids are aping the behavior they see in the overworked adults all around them. While they can’t choose, we can.
The next time you hear someone recognized for outstanding work because they “sacrificed family time” for a work project, think back to the story of Isaac. Is the sacrifice really needed to meet the objective, or is it a test of loyalty?
To help cut back your own hours, try the list of 5 things with an accountability partner.
Be sure to include a rock solid stop time. It will motivate you to do the important things, and not to let them slide because you can always sacrifice the home time to get everything done.

The Secret Flaw In Work Life Balance

work like effectiveness by Mike Kline via Flickr ccI’ve never liked the phrase work/life balance. I’m just not comfortable saying it. I like the sentiment, but the phrase is somehow wrong. I now understand why, but it will take me a while to get there.

Cali Williams Yost makes a significant improvement when she writes about work+life fit. In her book Tweak It, Yost explains the origin of the idea. She was meeting with a senior executive, explaining the benefits to the company of offering employees better work/life balance. But as soon as she said “work/life balance”, his eyes glazed over. Yost asked him to explain why.

“Every time you [Cali] say work-life balance all I hear is work less, and we have so much to do. I need everyone to do more. Plus, I don’t have any kind of work/life balance myself. How can I support something I don’t have?”[i]

Yost explained that is wasn’t about working less, but about having the flexibility to choose when and where you work. Yost invented the phrase “work+life fit” on the spot. The executive got it immediately, recounting how he plays tennis twice a week, and tries to fit his son’s soccer games into his overall schedule. Work+life fit is about giving individuals the flexibility to make work fit into their unique circumstances.[ii] For Yost, this was a key breakthrough that has enabled her to open dialog with business leaders about increasing workplace flexibility.

I loved work+life fit when I first heard about it. It made sense to me, because flexibility is a significant improvement over inflexible work hours.  People are happier and less stressed if they have flexibility.

But, there remained a niggling doubt in my gut, which is captured by the image I chose for the post. Our heroine has work+life fit of a sort, but it is not a happy picture. Flexibility is a plus, but if one it merely moving around the ninety hours, there still is not enough time to have a balanced life.

The problem I am trying to solve is chronic overwork, and increased flexibility doesn’t help if the overall hours remain the same.

Continued … the Real Goal Is Life Balance

[i] Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day by Cali Williams Yost. p xiv More

[ii] Ibid p xiv-xv


Lessons From Jason Collins: Coming Out As a Parent in the Office

Mother With Child by Mzacha via rgbphoto Face hidden to protect her career?

Mother With Child by Mzacha via rgbphoto
Face hidden to protect her career?

Jason Collins article is the first active professional male athlete to come out. Collins wrote a first person account of his life before coming out, and how he feels now. He stayed in the closet for fear of consequences to his professional life, and as a result “endured years of misery.” Now, Collins is looking forward to living an authentic life. The feared backlash is no where near what it might have been, and the majority of the feedback, at least in public, has been positive.

As I read Collin’s article, I was reminded of how hard it can be to tell the truth in the corporate world. And I don’t mean telling the truth to your boss or to customers about a work issue. I mean telling the truth about yourself.

Where I live, in Silicon Valley, it is common to have openly gay coworkers. But there are many people who are living in the closet, hiding their authentic selves at work for fear that it will impact there career. What closet are they in? The parenting closet.

For example, for many years, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg secretly left at 5:30 to pick up her kids because she was concerned about the impact of being perceived as a “working mom” on her career. In the words of Collins, “It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret.” Granted, Sandberg’s secret was not as big as Collins, but it must have been a drain on her.

Corporate executive Karin Hurt wrote on her blog, Let’s Grow Leaders, about the difficulty of keeping her divorce secret. She had just been promoted to a major leadership position in a fluid post merger environment. Plus, her new position required frequent travel to another city.

Hurt wrote “I had been very deliberate about keeping that hidden. Even my new boss did not know what I was going through. I had heard enough discussion about the concept of “single moms” needing extra care and support so they could come to work on time and not call in sick when their kids were sick. I thought, I’m not like that. I’m a different kind of single mom… I’m an executive. I’d better just keep all this to myself.”

Collins wrote:
“By its nature, my double life has kept me from getting close to any of my teammates. Early in my career I worked hard at acting straight, but as I got more comfortable in my straight mask it required less effort.”

Hurt wrote that when she was discovered as a single mom, there was a backlash.

“You lead all these meetings where we work on programs to make it easier for single moms… and NOT ONE TIME… do you mention that you are one. What else aren’t you sharing?” Another teammate of Karin’s told her “we are starting to wonder about you. You know all about us, but we know nothing about you.”

Collins wrote “A good teammate supports you no matter what. In professional sports, it really is all about teamwork.”

We talk about teamwork in the corporate world. In a thriving workplace, people have a shared sense of mission, and e support each other. There is one little drawback – in my experience, you will be supported as long as you act a certain way. A corporation can breed a sameness, an unwritten code of conduct about how to act and even how to dress. Try showing up at Google wearing a suit and tie. You wouldn’t feel comfortable, and you wouldn’t fit in.

So it was a logical act for self-preservation for Collins, Sandberg and Hurt to keep part of their lives hidden. Attitudes have changed dramatically over the last few years about being gay, and it is wonderful that Collins has enough support to feel he can be successful as a gay athlete.

And with leaders like Sandberg and Hurt, now is the time for women not only to Lean In, but to come out as their authentic selves.

Stress Keeping You Up At Night? Eleven Tips To Help You Sleep

Young Couple Sleeping by via Flickr CC

Young Couple Sleeping by via Flickr CC

I have been a terrible sleeper since I was a baby. (And my dad never lets me forget it.) I should say I was a terrible sleeper, until a few years ago when I learned to sleep well.

The standard sleep hygene tips?  They all help, but I resisted trying them for many years. It was a combination of pride and my work-first priorities that held me back. In fact, ever since college if I had a deadline to make, I couldn’t sleep. I was so alert that I could use the time to study. It was my secret weapon.

Unfortunately, as I got older, the sleeplessness remained but I was no longer awake enough to function.

As with many of the changes in my life, I got serious about sleeping after I realigned my values to make people and not work the most important thing in my life. The most important people first value is my own health. But how could health be the top priority if I was working till 11 at night, and getting up at 5 to work some more?

Eleven things I have learned to help me sleep.

  1. Ambien helps, but wasn’t effective if I was working right up until the second I took it. Sleep was fitful, and I was prone to waking up after a few hours because my body never had time to unwind. Therefore I instituted some firm rules and boundaries. 
  2. Lights out at 11, every night including weekends.
  3. Work stops at 9, to give me time to unwind.
  4. The computer, tablet, and phone are shut off at 9. These are stimulating, and too work-like. I can’t help but think about work if the computer is open. The temptation to look at email is too great, and I can easily get sucked into things.
  5. Lights for the kids go out at 9. My wife and I need time to be together without the kids.
  6. I look for ways to enjoy the time between 9 and 11. Ok, in my life some of the time is spent cleaning the kitchen and scooping cat litter, but usually by 9:30 we’re ready to move on to another activity. It is important that this time isn’t all chores – the object is to find some enjoyment to help you relax before bed. Reading, tv, movies, sex, exercise, and music are all good options.
  7. No work until 6 AM. Stress can make me wake up, and if I work it re-enforces the habit of waking up. If I know I can’t work no matter what, it is easier for me to get back to sleep. If necessary, I’ll jot down a few notes to clear my head, knowing I won’t forget the supposedly important thing rambling around in my head.
  8. The bedroom a sacred space: No working, no devices. Sleep, sex, relaxing only! Yes, this means you should stop reading email on your Droid before getting out of bed. Seriously. If this is a habit, put a shoe box outside your bedroom, and drop the phone in before you enter. If you really need to check something, walk out into the hall.
  9. If I wake up at 3 AM and am hungry, I have a cup of ginger tea. It settles my stomach without giving me a sugar fix. The sugar fix rewards waking up. I try to keep it boring.
  10. I have a comfort ritual to help me get back to sleep. If it is 3 or 4, I go downstairs and sleep in the lazy boy in the living room. I put on my favorite original Star Trek episode (The Doomsday Machine), cover myself with my favorite throw, turn out the lights, put on an old pair of sunglasses (to cut down on glare from the tv), close my eyes, and just listen. I am comforted by the familiarity, and am usually asleep within ten minutes. And I know the episode so well I can always tell if I have fallen asleep, because suddenly the chronicle will jump to something 30 minutes later. This totally cuts off the frustration of feeling like you haven’t slept, because I know that I was asleep. This helps me get right back to sleep.
  11. The thing that put me over the top was a guided meditation CD called “Just Relax.” It changed my life. Just Relax describes itself as “dull, boring, and effective.” It delivers big time. I tried it in desperation one night at 5 AM after a week of sleepless nights. . It was a weekend and I slept on the couch till 9:30. The kids were up, around, and I’m told very noisy. I slept through it all, and felt more refreshed than I ever had. I used Just Relax pretty regularly for a while, and now I can play the sounds in my head to help me go to sleep.

Pretty standard sleep hygene on the list. I thought these things were so hokey that I wouldn’t even look at them until a few years ago.  The hokey feeling? A rationalization to prevent me from trying something to help myself. Maybe I was too proud. Whatever the case, I’m glad I got over it.

What is your experience with sleep? Are you a natural sleeper? If not, what has worked for you?