Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

A Step You Can Take Today To Relieve Chronic Overwork

Chapter 7: Secure Your Identity Part 8

If you are hoping for dramatic change in your life overnight, it isn’t going to happen unless there is a crisis.  The David model from the last few posts is a perfect example of this.  But if you’d like to change before you have a stroke or run screaming from the building hope is the best answer.  As I’ve written before, I went from working 90 hours a week to 60 hours a week in less than a year without changing jobs, and without anyone at work noticing.  Here are three steps to help you do the same.

  1. Remind yourself that you are the type of person who puts people first, and the company second.   As you make decisions, try not to think about the consequences of your actions – think only about what a person who puts people first would do.  (See this post on the Time Audit too.)
  2. Secure a goods night’s sleep every night by stopping work 1-2 hours before bed time.  When I made this change, my internal dialog went something like this.  My health is more important than work, so I will not check email after 9 PM to give me time to wind down before bed.  Keep this rule no matter what.  People at work will adjust, assuming they even notice.  And focus on the positive, the benefits of sleep.  You will feel the difference right away.
  3. Make people the priority in the moment.  For example, if it is story time, or you are having a drink after work with a friend, don’t answer your phone or listen to the message until much later. Imagine being on a date with someone, who says “It’s my boss calling, but you are more important to me, so I’ll listen to the message in the morning.”

Think about your life, and look for an easy win, the smaller the better.    All you need to do is show the elephant that change is possible, and it will start to move on its own.  Start with one change only!

What is one rule that you could put in place that would prioritize people over the company?  Post it here, to get the support of our community.

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You May Be Closer To Work-Life Balance Than You Realize

Chapter 7: Secure Your Identity Part 7

If you asked David before his stroke if it was healthy for someone to work 100 hours a week, I think he would have said “of course not.”  But I doubt if he  perceived himself at risk.  This is one of those positive illusions we discussed in Chapter 5.  People are not very good at evaluating themselves.  For example, most people think they are above average drivers, and “25% of people believe they are in the top 1% in their ability to get along with others.”[i] Larry Holmes, the former heavyweight boxing champion was asked if he was concerned about injury during a comeback in his 40s.  His answer: “You always think it will be the other guy who is hurt, not you.”

So I won’t bore you with statistics about the dangers of sleep deprivation and stress.  But I will let you know why learning the statistics have so little impact on behavior:  We are not of one mind.  While scholars like Plato and Freud have written about the different properties of the mind for thousands of years, the metaphor I like best is the Rider on an Elephant.[ii] The Rider is the rational, conscious mind, and the Elephant is the unconscious (emotional) mind.  The Rider can point the Elephant in a certain direction, but if the Elephant doesn’t want to go, it won’t.

At the end of the day, our emotions are in control.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t change them.  David’s stroke was an emotional jolt that led to rapid life change – he recognized how precious life was, and started to put people first. The moment I recognized my corporate idolatry changed me at the emotional level, which led to steady changes in my life as well.  And here’s the really good news: you don’t need to have a health crisis or a religious experience to change the elephant – a positive emotional carrot can be just as effective.

If you are reading this book, or even this post, you have already begun the process of reorienting yourself towards people first values.  There can only be one top priority, and consciously deciding that people, yourself, your friends, and your family come before the company is a critical step on the path.

What are things you have done to put people first?

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[i] Switch: How To Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.  Broadway Books (2010) p 114. Amazon

[ii] The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt.  Online PDF p. 4 retrieved November 12, 2012