Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

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

Why Work More Than 50 Hours Per Week?

In a recent post, Passover, Work, and Corporate Idolatry, I touched on the year I went from working 90 hours to 60 hours a week. Six months later, I was working 50 hours a week. For me, the change came after I recognized my Corporate Idolatry.  I realized that I had made my company an Idol.  It was the most important thing in my life, and my identity revolved around doing what is best for the company.

Amazingly, no one at work noticed when I worked 40 fewer hours.

That raised a question for me: what is the ideal number of hours to work per week for a healthy work life balance?  It is tempting to call this a personal decision.  Many people I interviewed told me they worked long hours because they love their job, or feel compelled to do as well as they possibly can on every presentation, even if it means staying up till 2 to get it done.  “Don’t blame the company – I am choosing to do this.”  Granted it is a choice.

But I would argue that there is objective data that working more than 40 hours per week is counterproductive.  Henry Ford cut the number of hours his employees worked to 40 hours because it increased safety, reduced costs, and did not impact  the number of cars manufactured.  Yes, a six day week produced as many cars as a five day workweek  (For more, see this great article at  “150 years of research proves that long hours at work kill profits, productivity and employees.”  Much of that research was conducted studying industrial workers, but it is clear that rest is even more important for today’s workers that rely on creativity and productivity.

 How Many Hours Do Executives and Managers Work?

It is amazingly hard to find statistics on how

28% work more than 60 hours per week

many hours per week executives work.  So, I started my own non-scientific poll on LinkedIn.  290 people responded, and here is what I found:  28% of people work more than 60 hours per week.  This is consistent with other reports I have seen that say that one third of Americans report being chronically overworked.

90-hour weeks – a symptom of Corporate Idolatry

Here is a time profile of a 90 hour workweek.  It requires

90 Hour Week – Symptom of Corporate Idolatry

  • 14 hr workdays (10 Sat & Sunday)
  • 5 hours sleep each night (7 Sat & Sunday)
  • 5 hours for everything else (food, family, exercise, sex)

Executives get the same pay for 90 hours as they do for 50 hours?  So why do it?  Its not money, and I would argue that in some cases it is misplaced devotion.  The graph doesn’t lie – there just are not enough hours to work 90 hours per week and to get enough sleep and maintain relationships with family and/or community.  So someone working 90 hour weeks is putting the company first.

A 50-hour work week allows people to come first

Here is a time profile for a 50-hour week.

  • 10 hr workdays (zero on weekend)
  • 7 hours of sleep every day
  • 7 hours for everything else during the week, and 17 a day on weekends

Here, you can have a life, and still have a productive career.  (Research says anything above 40 hours per week drops productivity, but even Europe has a 48 hour week by law these days.)

A question of values and priorities

Only 2% of respondents work 90 hour weeks, and only 31% work fewer than 50.  Somewhere between 50 and 90 hours a week, a boundary gets crossed, and  the company becomes more important than people. One person left a comment on the poll: “I’m surprised that there is hardly any[one] working over 60 hours a week!! Am I the only one!!”   No, but 70% of your peers are working fewer hours. The demographics and job titles tell an interesting tale – they appear similar at just about every time interval, which is good news for you – even VPs work less than 50 hour weeks, so you can too.

How to cut back?  I’ll leave a few ideas in the comments.  Please share what has worked for you!

Do You Practice Corporate Idolatry? Look where you spend your time.


Which is more important to you?

Things or people?
Your company or your family?
Your status or your health?
Before you answer, think about where you spend your time.


Each day, your time goes into one of 3 categories: sleep, work, or life (which is everything that isn’t either sleep or work).  I’ve created a graph for my Time Profile as it was a few years ago. I worked 14 hours a day.  I didn’t get enough sleep. I was out of shape and overweight.  I was stressed and irritable.

If you asked me the questions above, I would have said my family was the most important thing to me, and my health was more important than status.  But I spent all my time working or thinking about work.  The numbers don’t lie – the company was the most important thing to me in my life.

And objectively, the decisions I made were in favor of the company over my family.  The most egregious example came on the 4th of July in 2005, when I spent several hours on a conference call. Even worse, I was at a resort for a family reunion.

What kind of an asshole schedules a conference call for the 4th of July?  That would be me. I was leading the project, and we needed to make an October launch date.  We were going to revolutionize medicine.  We needed to beat the competition to market, and we needed to make the revenue number.  And I wanted to be promoted.  (For those of you keeping score, we made the launch date, we missed the number, and I was not promoted.)

One definition of idolatry is excessive devotion or blind obedience.  I define Corporate Idolatry as excessive devotion or blind obedience to one’s corporate employer. My actions met both definitions.

Idolatry is a really big deal in a religious context, but it matters even more in the secular context.  The details of why is the subject of a future post.  Here’s the short version:  Idolatry puts things in front of people, and that is a recipe for a shorter and less happy life.