Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

The 5 Biggest Mistakes Overworked People Make

woman in a hurry on emailMore than one in three people say that they are chronically overworked. And more than 30% of both men and women would take a pay cut to spend more time with their children. Here are some of the most common mistakes overworked people make when trying to achieve a balanced life.

 

Mistake Number 1: Not Having a Plan

Few of us get into an overworked lifestyle overnight. Usually it is something that builds up over time. We have to change the habits of overwork, and that all can’t happen overnight. Instead of trying to change everything at once, pick one area to make a change. Stopping work earlier at night to get more sleep is a good place to start.

Mistake Number 2: Not recognizing your true values and priorities

There was a time when I was working 90 hours a week. If you asked me, I would have told you that I was a family first person. In reality though, I couldn’t be family first when I was working so much. I was a work first person. Our values are demonstrated by what we do, not what we think. To work less, we need to recognize that we have made work our highest priority.

Mistake #3: Not taking stock of who you really are

All of us are many people. I have a career identity, and I am a father, son, friend, husband, soccer coach, football fan… When I was working 90 hours a week, my identity revolved around my job and career. Working fewer hours involved cultivating my other identities, which led to different decisions over time.

Mistake #4: Not enlisting help

An identity as a people-first person can help make changes in the short run. But without a community of people to support our changes, we will gradually fall back into our old habits. A good place to start is with a spouse or significant other. How can they support you to make a change? Friends, parents, and siblings are also great places for support.

Mistake #5: Not letting go

For many people, success to a certain point has come from hard work trying to keep all the balls in the air. But there are an infinite number of things that we can’t control. And in reality, we control far fewer things that we think we do. Realizing that busyness is not the same as effectiveness can be painful. “You mean that all this time I’m putting in has no impact?” That is exactly what I’m saying. I had more impact when I was working 60 hours than when I was working 90 hours. And I was more effective working less than 50 hours when I was working 60 hours.

Knowing these common mistakes and how to avoid them will surely change the way you look at your life balance. But it’s not enough.

Not only do you have to know what NOT to do, but you also have to make some positive changes to really cut back your work hours. After all, if having a balanced life were that easy, everyone would have more time for the people they really care about.

Is the Era of Work Over People Coming To An End?

Chapter 10: The People-First Life Part 16 (Conclusion)

Busting Your Corporate Idol (Conclusion)

I’m incredibly optimistic that the era of busting corporate idols is upon us. Look to the millennial generation – they grew up watching their parents work all the time, and want something better for themselves.

And more and more, those of us in middle or the end of our careers want a better life too. Even senior executives are starting to publicly admit that it doesn’t have to be this way. Ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable that an executive from Goldman Sachs would condemn the company’s values in a public resignation letter. But that is exactly what Greg Smith did a year ago.

In 2007, it would have been unthinkable that Erin Callan, then CFO of Lehman Brothers, would one day write about the regret she feels for putting the company first. Yet that is exactly what she did last week. Callan wrote

“I didn’t have to be on my BlackBerry from my first moment in the morning to my last moment at night. I didn’t have to eat the majority of my meals at my desk. I didn’t have to fly overnight to a meeting in Europe on my birthday. I now believe that I could have made it to a similar place [CFO] with at least some better version of a personal life. Not without sacrifice — I don’t think I could have “had it all” — but with somewhat more harmony.”

None of us can have it all, but we all can have people who love us. It’s just a matter of values and priorities.

Wherever you are in your life, whatever you have done in the past, it is never too late to shift your focus, to bust your corporate idol, and to start putting people first.

The people are there, waiting for you with open arms.

Is a Day Without Work Too Much To Ask?

Chapter 10: The People-First Life Part 13

Now that you are saying no to your boss, I suggest that you work towards a six day work week. One day with no email and no phone calls. I know, there is a perception that we are all expected to be on call all the time. Sometimes this is reality, but more often it is merely perception.

When I was interviewing people for the book, I sometimes pushed to understand why someone was working every day. Some people said “Don’t blame the company, I’m choosing to do this.”  I would smile and nod, but I wanted to scream “Yes, that proves my point! You are choosing to work all the time!” The other common answer went something like this “The more senior you are, the more there is an expectation that you need to be available 24/7.” Again I nodded, but inside I was thinking of the CEOs and senior VPs I interviewed who said that they felt a day away from work was critical to their success.

I’ve defined corporate idolatry as a company-first or work-first value system. And people who are caught up in corporate idolatry create illusions that support he company-first lifestyle. I think both of the arguments above are indicators of corporate idolatry.

Way back in Chapter 2, I pointed out that the first two of the Ten Commandments are prohibitions against idolatry. The Fourth Commandment instructs us to “Keep the Sabbath,” a day without work. Did you know that some Rabbis argue that the most important holiday in Judaism is the Sabbath? Yes, we are commanded to take a holiday every week. It was heresy in the pagan world.

For example, the Greeks and Romans criticized the Jews for the Sabbath, because leisure was something for the upper classes only, not to be shared with common workers. In an ironic twist, the corporate idolators of today think that the more senior are expected to work more than junior employees.

Is there a competitive advantage for a business that has people working seven days a week?

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The Corporate Ladder Or Jacob’s Ladder?

Chapter 10: The People First Life Part 10

Which is more important to you, getting promoted or living a good life? In the last post, I wrote that Marissa Mayer’s top three priorities are God, family, and Yahoo.  My top priorities are health, family, and my book.

I won’t pretend that it isn’t hard for me to keep the book from creeping ahead of the other two. One thing that helps me remember my priorities is the story of Jacob’s Ladder from the Bible, which ultimately is about values and priorities.

Jacob, (grandson of Abraham,) dreams of a ladder connecting heaven and earth. He sees angels going up and down the ladder, hears the voice of God, and awakens to say “surely the Lord is in this place.”[i]  I interpret this story to mean that God is not just up in heaven but resides down on earth as well. As I argued in Chapter 2, in Judaism God’s teachings can be summarized by the Golden Rule, which itself is a universal value that transcends religion or the belief in God. The Jewish version of the GR reads “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another.”

Jacob’s Ladder is the story of a man who changes his priorities to put other people ahead of his own needs. When he went to sleep, Jacob was a selfish young man, fleeing after stealing his older brother’s birthright. After the dream, he quite literally fathers the Hebrew nation.

So for me, life on Jacob’s Ladder means a life where people are the highest priority – in this world and at this time. Why wait for heaven to be happy? Life on Jacob’s Ladder will bring greater happiness today. For example, in Paula Davis-Laack’s article “10 Things Happy People Do Differently“, three of those things prioritize people and NONE suggest material gain as a strategy.

This doesn’t mean that that climbing the corporate ladder is a bad thing, only that people should be a higher priority if you want to be happy. And putting people first doesn’t mean that you won’t be successful. In fact, Jacob becomes very prosperous, with “large flocks, [servants,] and camels and donkeys.”

Father of a people, and a large flock?  It didn’t get much better than that in the ancient world. And it started when Jacob put his priorities in order.

Have you ever had a dream that influenced your life?

Marissa Mayer, Yahoo, and Idolatry

Chapter 10: The People-First Life Part 9

Busting Your Corporate Idol challenges each of us to make people a higher priority than the company.  The mishandled change to Yahoo’s telecommuting policy and the resulting backlash have a lot to teach about idolatry.

Was it Corporate Idolatry to remove the working from home benefit?

No.  Marissa Mayer, the Yahoo board, and many outside analysists perceive that radical change is needed to save the company.  While insensitively communiated to employees, more employees would be hurt if the company cannot turn around the trend of declining revenues.

Was it Corporate Idolatry for Marissa Mayer to build a nursery next to her office?

No.  Mayer was not doing what is best for the company, but rather was taking care of her own needs. In fact, Mayer has stated that her priorities are ‘God, family, and Yahoo! – in that order.’

CEOs always have extra perks. Mayer chose to use her perks to keep her son close to her. To me, this falls under the Rule of Self Preservation.

Mayer did, however, forget one of the leadership lessons shared by Robert Sutton in his book Good Boss, Bad Boss.  Namely, a good leader understands that everything they do comes under scrutiny. She’ll learn.

How about us?  Did we create an idol of Marissa Mayer?

Yes.  I think it was we who are guilty if idolatry, both when it comes to Mayer and Yahoo. Elissa Freeman captured it well in The Broad Side when she wrote “The decision to make Mayer the new face of feminism was ours, not hers. Yet, since her hiring, women have not been kind to Mayer.”

The anger and frustration with Mayer speak to the incredible longing for a better worklife balance among so many people. It speaks to the very real conflict experienced by many working woman who feel torn between career and family.  These normal and natural feelings become idolatry when we expect other people to solve these problems for us.

And in my opinion, we can’t expect the business world to solve a social problem.

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