In a recent Dilbert cartoon, Dogbert welcomed employees to his work-life balance seminar. He first reviewed the employees’ priorities: family, job, exercise, vacations, must-do’s, medical, eating, hygiene, sleep, romance and holidays. In the last frame of the cartoon he told them that they had time for three things and that work and holidays were two of them. “You get to pick the third.”
Sometimes we feel that we are living in a Dogbert world. Work leaves little time for family and friends, recreation, our spiritual life and physical needs.
Intellectually, we know that we need to take care of our bodies, pursue hobbies and recreation, nurture our relationships with family and friends and foster our spiritual and mental development. However, we often have difficulty in finding the time in our busy lives.
Work, work, work — and then more work
Americans work more hours than workers in other industrialized countries, with the possible exception of some of the countries with emerging economies. We also have more two-income families than other industrialized countries, adding to the complexity of life-work balance.
I find it interesting that in primitive cultures the average work week was 20 hours or so. The remaining time was spent in religious ceremonies, socializing, rest and recreation. Our 40-hour work week evolved as a reaction to the long factory hours of the industrial revolution. Most white-collar workers today consider 40 hours to be the minimum. Fifty or 60 hours are not uncommon if you want to advance in your career.
The problem with too many hours of work is that other important facets of your life are neglected. Too many hours of work can translate into a lot of energy spent in a whirl-wind of activity and limited production. All of us know persons who can produce more in an eight-hour day than his colleagues can produce in 10 hours. It is not the number of hours worked but the efficiency and effectiveness of your work. Having a balance in your life-work can help you become more efficient and effective at work.
Balance in our life-work is different for the stages of our career and life itself. Young adults who have not yet begun their own family life need more time to socialize with other young people. Young families need additional time for children. The decades of the 30s and early 40s require more time spent in building careers. Middle-age adults, who have had a successful career, may need more time for physical health, recreation, socializing or spiritual needs. It remains important that some time and energy be devoted to all of these aspects of life.
It is very sad to talk with someone who has completed his career and neglected the other aspects of life. The last stages of their life are not fulfilling.
Sometimes we have to make some changes to obtain a better balance.
As a young adult, I loved golf. As golfers know, golf is a very time-consuming recreation. On a crowded golf course on the weekends, a half-day of time was the minimum for a round of golf and few persons can become a good golfer without playing several times a week. The time demands were too great for a young family man in the early stages of his career so I quit golf but added running and tennis. These recreational activities took much less time, less scheduling and were better physical activities.
Small changes, big results
Carve out small blocks of time to create more balance. Meet your spouse and children for lunch if you are working on a weekend. Take a walk on your lunch break. Go to the gym before going to work. Attend a prayer breakfast on your way to work.
Read a chapter of a good book on your coffee break. Schedule lunch with an old friend. Work on Saturday so that you can take a Friday off for your child’s soccer tournament. Schedule a few minutes of quality time to talk with your spouse each day.
Remember, balance isn’t a 50-50 balance of time. It is not neglecting any important aspect of living. Unlike Dogbert’s seminar, you can choose more than one.
Archie King, LPC, writes regularly for the Mississippi Business Journal. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.