Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

See How David’s New Priorities Bring Him Work-Life Balance

Chapter 7: Secure Your Identity Part 5

In the last post, I wrote about a Midwestern VP I called “David” whose company-first value system led to 100 hour weeks and a stroke before he was fifty.  And while David recovered fully from the stroke, he was laid off less than a year later.  “Maybe I don’t have it anymore,” he told me in a quiet voice.  I knew exactly what he meant, because at one time the value I gave myself came from my job.  And I also knew that if I hadn’t changed my life a few years earlier, it could have been me with the stroke.

One thing David did have was a strong family – a good marriage, and three kids, a daughter in college and two boys in high school.  To make a long story short, David used this experience to change his life, which is markedly different in the next job.  David reconnected with people first values.  In order of importance his priorities became:

  1. Personal Health
  2. Family
  3. Work

It’s not that work is unimportant to David, it is just not as important as his health or family.  And this translated directly into a different set of priorities and decisions. For example, David:

  • Took a spontaneous trip to see his daughter in college
  • Stops working at five because he wants to have time to cook dinner with the family.  Previously, he was on calls and email till eight, and would get off the phone starving and crabby, running out to Taco Bell for dinner.  Yes, power male VP loves to cook.
  • When traveling to the corporate headquarters, he goes to the gym instead of going early to the office.

None of these changes is earthshaking in and of themselves, but they all stem from a shift in his personal identity, and they are now the rule instead of the exception.

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The First Step To A Balanced Life Is a Two Minute Time Audit

My Corporate Idolatry Time Profile

Chapter 7:  Secure Your Identity Part 3

When I was working 90 hours a week, the last thing I had time to do was to reflect on my life. But if it had, it would have looked something like the pie chart to the left.

The time audit is a very simple way to bucket your time.  Our day can be divided into three categories: work, sleep and life (everything else). Time is a zero sum game.  When we spend time on one thing, it is time not spent on something else.  Here are three steps to conduct a two minute time audit for a single work day.

1. Calculate the number of hours you sleep. For the last week, what is the latest time you turned out the light? When did you turn on the light in the morning?  I say latest time because we tend to think if the ideal, not he specific.  Getting undressed, reading and brushing your teeth do not count as sleep time.  I count sex in this bucket because both are so wonderful, and both take place in bed.  Add in nap time.

2. Calculate the number of hours you work.  Commute time counts as work.  If you eat alone and think about work during meals, count 100% of that time as work.  If you ruminate about work when eating with other people, count 50% of that time towards work.  In fact, if you think about work, check email, or take a phone calls during an activity even once  count 50% of that time as work.

3. Calculate the life bucket using the following formula: 24 minus sleep minus work = life.   Our life bucket contains the basic activities of cooking, cleaning, running errands.

Jesus said “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[i]  Our greatest treasure is time. How we spend our time tells us what our real values are.  And because you are reading this, you are the type of person who wants to have a balanced life.  And  you can in less than a year.

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[i] Matthew 6:21

What Happens If Your Self-Worth Comes From Your Job?

Chapter 7: Secure Your Identity Part 1

When I finally resigned from the corporate world, I told everyone it was not because of the product, the company, or the people.  It was about my personal journey, to take care of the kids, and to figure out what to do next.  I was both lying and telling the truth.  In public, management was supportive, but in private it got nasty.  One person, pressuring me to work an additional two months, went so far as to say “You will never work in this field again if you leave the company in a difficult position.”  If I’d resigned to work for a competitor, they would have walked me out the door, and happily had a beer with me the following week.  But to turn my back on the system was heresy.

Leaving the corporate world was not the means to regain control of my life, it was the result of it.  I had been living with a reasonably healthy work life balance for a few years when I finally resigned.  A lot of it was about the circumstances of the position.  I was never going to be happy at that company, and needed space to figure out what to do next.

The change for me started when I recognized my corporate idolatry, that I was doing what was best for the company instead of what was best for people.

It came down to a fundamental question that I asked myself: Who are you?  I was a lot of people: a father, husband, son, friend, marketer and scientist.  But the one I thought of most, day to day, was the guy who worked for the genomics company.  I was the guy who was changing the world.  But on a deeper level, I was a guy whose self-worth came from the job.

I now understand that identity is not one thing, it is a choras.  And it is possible to consciously change the lead singer.

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