Achieving A Work Life Balance – Real, Actionable Ideas

A work life balance is crucial to a healthy and happy life. Many of us however are not mindful of our own personal balance. It’s only when we feel so off-balance that we take notice and decide to actually do something.

This article is about learning what to do when you reach this point. It’s about not only getting back on course but staying there.

I’ve worked for both good and not-so-good companies and draw on my 15 years experience as a software developer in writing this.  Naturally, this article will discuss office work situations. If you come from a different industry you can still benefit from the tips here by making some tweaks.

DISCLAIMER: Some of the ideas in this article might be outside your comfort zone. The title says “Real, Actionable ideas” and I mean it.  Ultimately you, the reader, need to keep an open mind and take responsibility for your actions. I’m not telling you to do everything you’re about to read.

 

What Is A “Work Life Balance”?

You can probably answer this question without my help but I think it’s important to get on the same page before we dig deeper.

A work life balance is: A recognition that we need time to devote to the non-work aspects of our lives as they are what make life worth living.

The term “Work life balance” is actually a bit of a misnomer. Although work occupies a big chunk of a typical weekday, it isn’t a tug-o-war between just work and your private life. It’s all the aspects of your life competing for your time. You’re actually getting pulled in five directions, not just two.

When you come to realize this you’ll also learn that time is not only precious but the most valuable resource any person can have. Nobody wishes there were 30 hours in a day more than me. But we only get a measly 24 so being mindful of how we use them is important.

I believe that in order to be well balanced we have to respect not only the value of our own private time but that of others as well and even the value of work time. It’s a case of give and take amongst equals and striving to be reasonable.

Know Your Basic Balance

So how do you know if you’re well balanced or not? And if not, by how much?

It’s hard to know what we don’t measure, let alone improve it, so let’s begin with an easy exercise. Download and print this sample 24 hour radial template (PDF document).  In the left radial write down your ideal Monday and in the right one fill in your real Monday. You don’t have to show this to anybody. It’s just for you so really be honest with yourself.

Time management (24 hours radial)

Quick tips for filling out your radial:

  • It helps to assign different colors to different aspects of your life so you can compare them at a glance.
  • Keep it simple, you don’t have to write everything. Just mention anything that takes at least 30 minutes of your time.

Obviously I can’t see your radial so let’s take a look at mine.

Time management exercise (24 hours radial)

Note: My radial on the right actually represents how my Mondays used to look before I became self employed. I’m using it here because it serves as a better example of an off-balance Monday.

Just by looking at your finished radials you can immediately see 2 things:

  1. Which areas you feel you’re spending not enough or too much time on.
  2. The times of the day you’d prefer doing something are not the times you really do them.

For me, the biggest issues were:

  • The whopping 4.5 hours of commuting I used to embark on.
  • Not being able to have dinner with my family.
  • The sleep I was missing.
The gaps you see in your real and ideal Monday (and every other day) are what you’ll need to address going forward.

How Did I Lose My Balance?

falling.jpg

I promised to give ideas about how to regain your balance but I first have to talk about avoiding the reason you fell off in the first place so you don’t do it again.

Half of the answer, as I alluded to in the beginning, is mindfulness. In this case the lack of it.

I can think of at least 2 ways in which we are not mindful:

  1. Where each hour is actually going.
  2. Who the boss of each hour is.

In the radial exercise above, you had to think about where each hour was going. You’re probably not used to looking at it this way. It takes a while to see time as minute windows of opportunity rather than something that just flows in one direction.

Understanding this brings us to the next question: Who decides how each hour of your life is spent? The answer should be you, at least on some level. Your job may take 8 hours each weekday but you choose your employer so you have some say in the matter. As for the other hours, you’re the captain! You decide when to shop, run errands, watch movies etc…

Being the boss really boils down to learning how to say “NO”. When Avatar is on TV at 11pm you hit the record button and say “NO” to watching it because 11pm is sleeping time. When your coworker books a meeting with you at 12pm you say “NO” and hit the Decline button because 12pm is when you take your lunch break.

It’s actually this simple. If you don’t control your day your day will control you.

What Happens If I Don’t Get Rebalanced?

Your body is an amazing machine and is constantly giving off a variety of signals telling you how good/bad a steward you are.  Some signs are more obvious than others, like the sudden pain you feel when you put your hand in a burning flame.

Similarly, when you push yourself too hard your body sends other more subtle signals telling you to slow down. These take the form of feeling tired or having headaches or other ailments.

You can pretend like nothing is wrong by downing an energy drink or popping a tylenol but you’ll only push aside the symptoms for a few hours. Instead you should address the cause by… you guessed it… listening to your body. If you’re tired, it probably means you haven’t had enough rest. If you have a headache you have probably been using your brain too much.

Failing to listen to your body can lead to a list of debilitating physical and mental problems that could fill a book. Damaging yourself to this degree can be both taxing and permanent so I don’t recommend it.

Ideas for Optimizing Your Private Time

On to some real ideas!  As I mentioned earlier, work is just one aspect of your life competing for your time.

Your private time is a great place to begin practicing the skills you’ll need to later control your work day. You’re the boss of these aspects of your life so you have a great deal of flexibility here. Below I share some simple and effective ideas that can be applied by just about anybody.

Reducing Your Commute By Moving Closer To Work

You’re commuting /for your work/ but you don’t get paid for it so it falls under your private time. You have the choice of spending less time going from A to B by bringing A and B closer together. If living closer to work is not possible or you really prefer living far away you can perhaps repurpose your commute. For instance, if you are not tired and you ride a train or bus, you can use your commute for reading time.

Another idea is to commute fewer times per week. Some work places allow for working 10 hours per day, 4 days a week. The amount of time worked remains the same but the savings in commute time are 20%. This works even if you drive your own vehicle to work. Ask your employer if this idea piques your interest.

Shopping Online

Sign up for a grocery delivery service and witness how much time you save. Somebody will deliver to you instead of you driving to the supermarket, standing in a long check-out line and driving back. The price is usually competitive with the supermarket as well so this is a no-brainer.

My wife and I signed up with an online delivery service and we found that we save more money now because we don’t get lured anymore by strategically placed items in the supermarket aisles. Now we shop with a plan and stick to it.

Those odd times when we do need to pick up some last minutes items at the store we try to go on weekdays when it’s less crowded.

Internet Banking

If your bank allows for internet access, sign up for it. Pay all your bills online and when possible use your credit card to buy nearly everything (You have to be disciplined and pay everything off as soon as it shows up online to avoid paying interest). If you do this you’ll seldom need to withdraw cash from ATMs or the actual bank which also saves you transaction fees to boot.

Cooking / Eating

Healthy home cooking is one of those things people should actually set aside more time for. Eating is a time to slow down both physically and mentally. But when you’re stretched for time and can’t cook yourself a deluxe dinner try just throwing together a giant salad. It takes all of 5 minutes to prepare and another 5 minutes to eat.

Years ago I was putting on too much weight and getting home after 9pm every night. I made a salad every single night and I lost about 10lbs (~5kgs) in just under 2 months. It’s economical, tasty, healthy, and fast, letting you get back to you want to do.

Errands

How close do you live to your bank and post office? If not within walking distance is there a bank or post office near your work? Don’t throw away your whole Saturday morning driving around to do these menial tasks. Do a bit every weekday instead. Maybe during your lunch hour.

Use Alarms / Reminders

People tend to think of alarms as something just for waking up. Use them as coaches to help you box your time effectively.  Just remember to resist hitting the devilishly convenient snooze button.

Watch Recorded TV

Let’s face it, TV is a giant time sink. Yet, we’re all guilty of needing to watch a few shows every week.

The best way to watch TV is when it’s recorded. The commercials can easily eat up to 10-15 minutes of time that you can’t fast forward over. Skip those ads by recording your favorite TV shows instead. If you don’t have coworkers who spoil the latest episode of 24 for you, try to catch up on the weekend when you’re resting up.

Another time saver is to get your news from the internet or a newspaper instead of TV. You can quickly scan your favorite news site and pick the topics you want to read more about. And when you want to know the weather, just use an app. Why wait 15 minutes for the TV news to tell you today is going to be sunny?

When it comes to watching movies, try to rent via iTunes, or watch it on Netflix or HULU or other such service so you needn’t go out and fetch (not to mention return) a physical disc. Failing that, if your hopefully-nearby supermarket has a Redbox kiosk rent it on your way out.

Exercise

Unless you go to the gym for serious muscle training and need direct access to the specialized equipment, why not incorporate exercise into what you do every day?

For instance, mountain biking is a low-impact way of working almost every muscle from your shoulders down to your calves and it even takes you where you want to go faster than walking. Climbing stairs is also a good way to stay fit and not much of a time sink if you’re just going up 3 floors or so.

It’s bewildering how the type of people who drive 2 blocks to their corner store are also the type who pay for a gym membership to lose those pounds. It’s like intentionally getting a sunburn everyday and stocking up on aloe vera to undo the damage. I prefer the term “lack of mindfulness” rather than “mindlessness” but in this case I think it’s warranted. Put moderate exercise into everything you do, save a ton of time and make yourself richer, not the gym.

Getting Quality Sleep

Doctors all agree that we need 7-8 hours of sleep each night.  It’s also proven that sleep restores our memory so we perform even better when awake.

If you have to be awake at 7am then you go to bed absolutely no later than midnight. To make falling asleep easier you need a minimum of 30 minutes of mental downtime beforehand so by 11:30pm head to bed, lower the lights a bit and find some light reading.

Some things to avoid around bed time:

  • Using your smartphone. Don’t check your email and Facebook before going to bed.
  • Alcohol. Sure, it’ll make you drowsy at first but it’ll wake you up in the middle of the night.
  • Coffee. Do I really need to explain why?
  • Lights and noise. Make your room as dark and as quiet as you can get it. Ditch any electronics that hum at night.

Parenting

Raising kids is a major time commitment. Ask any soccer mom.

Of course, I’m not saying don’t have kids. They are truly wondrous and spending time with them can help you regain the magic of your own childhood. In terms of managing your time, having kids means you’ll have to be extra flexible. Kids won’t always understand your newfound fondness for time management.

People who enjoy the company of kids naturally see spending time with them as something enjoyable. But the time is not free and has to come at the expense of another activities. By taking time to play with kids you can practice what I said about combining exercise with your everyday actions. And if you want to learn how to fall asleep at the drop of a hat, having kids will easily accomplish that.

Dropping your kid in front of a TV, despite the payoff to your own concentration, is not the hallmark of good parenting and actually will backfire on you in the long run. Your kid will learn to expect constant stimulus while not doing anything and when the TV gets boring you’ll be the new source of stimulus. Instead, if you need some time have your kid pursue an activity like drawing or block building which will teach him/her the value of creating their own fun.

Giving Up

You just finished a busy day at the office, picked up the tickets to next month’s concert and returned the overdue DVDs from last week and now can barely muster the energy to do the laundry. Can’t it wait until tomorrow? Sometimes the best way to free up an hour is to choose to do absolutely nothing. Always ask yourself: “Will the world end if this doesn’t get done right now?” More often than not it won’t.

Hiring Help

When you feel overwhelmed and don’t have the time to even think it might be time to call for help. Hiring somebody to run errands or pick up and watch the kids after school can free up a lot of time. It’s like having another you who can attend to all the things you don’t have time for. If you don’t have the budget or prefer a degree of privacy an alternative is to live close to family and ask for occasional help with buying groceries etc…

 

Ideas for Optimizing Work Time

Work. Those 8 hours you trade every weekday for a pay cheque. Or is it 10+ hours and Saturday too? Unless you sport a top hat and monocle, and live on passive income you’re probably working like the other 99% of the world.

The below techniques are about keeping your work time sandboxed and when possible I recommend trying to work hand-in-hand with your company towards this goal. That respect for your private time I mentioned at the beginning is what we’re after. It pays dividends for your company too because you’ll be more alert and energetic each and every day.

After you’ve found ways to incorporate the previous techniques of optimizing your own private time try these below ideas and get the most out of each work day.

Staying Organized

Managing your work time starts with you and includes knowing just how much work is on your plate and how much you can chew each day. If you’re not already using GTD software you need to start now. I personally use and wholeheartedly recommend Trello  a free simple browser-based project management service modeled on the Kanban system popularized by Toyota. Using such software lets you offload the mental burden of managing large projects so you can focus on the task at hand.

If your company is interested in incorporating GTD into its workflow and can spring for something more expensive, JIRA by Atlassian is another great browser-based management system with even more features.

Whenever possible avoid calendars as management tools. Calendars are good for one thing: telling you what day it is.  Work almost never progresses according to a calendar and it’s a wonder why people still use it as a tool. At the end of the day it is the workers of the world who make things and they use modern GTD tools because they more closely models their workflow of handling tasks one-by-one.

I’d love to talk more about GTD and I could write a treatise on the topic but thankfully somebody else has saved me the time.  If GTD interests you, you simply have to buy David Allen’s seminal book Getting Things Done.

Avoiding Overtime

Overtime is the easiest example of work spilling onto your private time and is something you should be careful about compromising on. I’m not telling you to take a zero-overtime-forever stance in life. Overtime is appropriate for dealing with unforeseen losses in productivity. You should tolerate it so long as it remains the exception and not the rule. After all, your company tolerates those times your private life spills onto your work time, as long as it stays the exception.

Having said this, if you are working overtime more than 2 days per week there is a problem. Like a weed that spreads to engulf an entire lawn, overtime can grow to the point where you’re doing it every night and then working on weekends too. In the long run, overtime will hurt both you and your company so you need to nip this problem quickly by identifying its causes. It might be the way you work, distractions in the workplace, or something else entirely.

One way to find out is to simply look around you just before you leave work. Are others in the workplace putting in as much overtime as you?

If so, the problem is likely in the process and/or company, and not you personally. Each company has its own culture.  How much you can tweak this culture so that you can go home on time is something you’ll need to experiment with.

This is a large subject and some of the ideas below touch on the topic of reducing wasted time so that overtime needn’t happen.

Avoiding Pointless Meetings meetings-the-practical-alternative-to-work.jpg

I don’t know about you but most of the meetings I’ve ever attended only served to benefit one or two people, at the expense of everybody else’s productivity. As a software developer I also can’t remember a single meeting that didn’t veer off topic to discuss some obscure implementation detail. I wish I could say differently but it’s the truth. It’s no wonder meetings have been called ineffective and even toxic.

Unless your job is to conduct meetings, every minute you’re in one is a minute you’re not doing real work.

Some employers forget this and expect you to make up for any lost productivity. It’s as if the company expects you to win the Formula One but insists that you do it with the brake applied every other lap. If this sounds familiar to you it’s time to speak up.

There are a variety of solutions to productivity destroying meetings:

  1. Unless it’s a brainstorming meeting, invite fewer people. Each person participating in a discussion reduces the meeting’s effectiveness.
  2. Enforce a strict time limit to keep people on topic.
  3. Use GDT tools for communication medium instead of meetings.
  4. Skip meetings if 1, 2 and 3 fail.

About #4, if your department doesn’t see reason to fix this problem you might consider personally skipping any meeting that gets in the way of your real work. The best justification for missing a meeting is “I’d love to attend but I’m falling slightly behind in my work“. Managers are accountable to people too and I’ve never met one who would risk further delays to a project just to fill one more seat.

Working Alone

The mistake of every rookie manager is to assume that adding additional members to a project will reduce the time to completion. Maybe you’ve heard of the saying “Nine women can’t give birth to a baby in one month“?  I wish more of the managers I’ve worked with had.

While there are merits to working with others at certain stages of a project there are also cases where working with others can really slow you down. What ensues is the classic three-legged race.

If you and Usain Bolt were tied at one ankle and asked to sprint 100m together the two of you would only run as fast as the slowest of you, and guess who that is. Actually, you’d both run even slower because of foot movement coordination and all.

Now imagine you’re 1 week into a 4 week project and your boss brings in Tom, the eager yet inexperienced helper to join you. You first have to bring Tom up to speed on the project’s vision and the work you’ve done thus far. After you’ve accomplished that the two of you will have to communicate with each other constantly as you go along.

This invariably slows you down and leads to more meetings and working overtime to make up for it. We wouldn’t want to make your boss look bad after all, right? He predicted the four weeks you originally needed could be halved to two thanks to Magic Tom! Your boss has never been in a three-legged race before so surely it’s not his fault he doesn’t understand that the project now actually requires five weeks to complete.

It can be a tough sell but when faced with such a scenario you have to try to talk your boss out of bringing Tom on board. Failing that you need to find ways to decouple the work you and Tom perform so you don’t need to have constant meetings with each other and whatever meetings you do have should be kept under 5 minutes each. If Tom can’t keep up tell him the boss expects this done in 2 weeks and you don’t have any more time to spare.

It’s not Kumbaya Teamwork per se but remember, you’re paid to get the job done and on schedule. Most species of ants don’t team up to carry heavy objects like twigs and leaves, they break a heavy load down to a carry-able amount and divvy the work up. You’re not an ant but the point is the same, work happens faster when everybody breaks off a chunk of the work and goes at their own pace. If your boss doesn’t understand this, throws a wrench into your productivity and won’t be held accountable for it you’ll need to compensate on your end so you can complete the work on time. It’s a scene straight out of a Dilbert cartoon and isn’t fair but that’s why they call it “office politics”.

Who knows, maybe next time you’ll be luckier. Maybe your next project will involve Rachel instead of Tom and maybe she absorbs information in a flash and doesn’t require any hand holding. Maybe the project completion time really can be cut in half. Take each project on a case-by-case basis and respond accordingly.

Headphones

This sounds trivial but is very effective. If you work at a desk and you absolutely need to not be disturbed it’s headphones time! You don’t even have to be listening to music or anything. Headphones deter people with common sense from disturbing you. If somebody without said common sense keeps knocking on your desk try earplugs, the bright orange ones that construction workers wear.

I’ve found that the easier a form of communication is to use the more interruptions it generates. Before we look at other techniques for being productive in the office I just want to illustrate this with a list of communication styles (in order of ease):

  1. Walking across the room and tapping on a person’s shoulder
  2. Phone call
  3. IM
  4. Email
  5. Snail mail
  6. Telegraph?

When you’re busy, you want to make it so people have to resort to #3 or greater on this list. A tap on the shoulder when you’re wearing headphones is inconsiderate and most people will respect your wish to be left alone. What about phone calls?…

Unplugging The Office Phone

Phones can be downright evil. They are disruptive to say the least and not only to the person receiving the call but to everybody nearby.  A phone call, when you’re in the zone and about to solve a perplexing problem, breaking your concentration is the highest form of disrespect for your time.

It was project management expert Tom DeMarco who suggested that concentration broken by a disruption in the office can take 10-15 minutes to be regained and there is even a science named after this phenomenon.

If your productivity depends on you being able to concentrate without disruptions, try to convince your office into letting you work phone-free. If you can’t avoid it turn the ringer volume all the way down and bury it under paperwork. If somebody asks why you didn’t pick up just say “Oh you should contact me by mail. I’m more receptive to it“.

Mail is a more effective communication medium since it lets you respond to it when you have time and acts as an audit trail for who said what and when. When your mind is already juggling a dozen tasks you’re going to make mistakes and having a written record is a godsend. You won’t need to call the person back to ask her to repeat herself.

Turning Off Instant Messaging And Social Networks

Some companies ask employees to use an IM client like Jabber or Skype. They can be almost as distracting as phones because they too seek your immediate attention. The solution is to just turn them off when you need to get the work done. The same goes for Facebook and Twitter. Use your work time to get things done.

Working From Home

Some companies allow employees to work from home one or more days per week. If your home office is conducive to being productive go for it. There’s just one caveat, the line between work and private time can blur when you do this so it helps to have a separate room with a door and either no young kids or at least ones enrolled in school for enough time during the day. You also need to establish a time where you are “at work” and not to be disturbed.

I won’t lie, this isn’t easy. Your spouse and children will ask for a few minutes here and there to do something around the house. Like a line in the sand that gets walked over a hundred times, the more you give in to your private life the more your work/life border disappears. This is why many employers object to telecommuting.

The flip-side to all these distractions is being away from printers and fax machines and idle chatter from coworkers. As long as you can achieve significant unbroken periods of isolation you can really get work done.

My previous employer allowed us to work up to 2 days from home per week. I experimented with just working Thursdays from home and the 4 hours I normally spent in commute were spent sleeping in an extra 30 minutes, jogging in the park in the morning, running light errands and eating dinner at a proper hour with my family. The extra energy I got benefitted all aspects of my life, including my work.

Now that I started my own company I work everyday from the comfort of home.

Not Working From Home

More and more people who already put in their solid 8 hours at the office are also taking their work home with them.

Don’t be one of them! You’re making your work spill onto your private time and that is the polar opposite of achieving a work life balance.

Some workplaces give out company phones and even laptops with this unspoken expectation that you use them. Reject these offerings. In fact, these might be the telltale warning signs of a company that won’t value your private time. Another question to ask yourself is: “Is this a company that doesn’t allow telecommuting from 9 to 5 but expects me take work home with me?” If you’re anything like me you’d be jumping ship.

Either way, tell your boss that the minute you walk out of the office you are no longer at work. If you’re forced to accept a phone leave it in your desk and let the battery die. If your work asks you to give your personal smartphone number to your work team do it but ignore calls during the off hours.

The only reasonable exception to this I can think of is work places with no defined work hours. If you work in real estate, sales or another customer facing role you might not work in an office much at all and have to handle calls in your car, at the café and yes, at home. The world is your office.

Taking Time Off Regularly

In most companies it can be tricky to ask for extended periods of time off. If you aren’t planning a trip to Rome you might consider asking for one day off at a time. Perhaps every other Monday or Friday so you can enjoy some 3-day weekends and wind down a bit more. These breaks from the mundane routine can give you added energy.

Look into how you accrue vacation days at your company and try to balance it so you don’t run out of them. Also be careful not to lose any vacation days because your company sets an expiry date on them.

Avoiding Crowds To Save Time Shibuya scramble crossing

When I was working in Tokyo getting a seat in a restaurant at lunch was difficult if not impossible. Most companies have clocks that chime at exactly 12:00:00 (and all the lights turn off) and like clockwork all the employees get up and leave their desks. This meant backed up elevators and long line-ups at every restaurant. My coworkers and I were too VIP for any of this nonsense and would always leave our desks around 11:45am to get to our restaurant 5 minutes early. We easily saved 20 minutes from being wasted which we could use to buy coffee on the way back or run other errands.

Waiting in line is the very epitome of wasting time so the lesson here is to obverse patterns in your part of town and act differently to avoid the crowds.

Taking Naps

If you’ve been working too hard and don’t feel as effective as usual, a 30 minute siesta can be one of the best cures.  Bring a small lunch and take a nap at your desk or outside if there is a park or other area where you can sit comfortably. Remember to set your alarm beforehand!

If you commute by train you can also catch up on some mental rest. Above I suggested repurposing your dead commute time by reading a book or doing something else worthwhile. Well if you’re tired, try doing the opposite. If you’re lucky and your train ride is smooth you might find it easy to sleep, but even if you don’t you can still benefit from closing your eyes and winding down.

Work VS Career VS Life Calling

Up until now we’ve looked at time objectively in terms of hours and minutes. There is another perspective for you to keep in mind, the emotional one. One hour can feel like two to a person who is not enjoying what she is doing. The opposite is also true and one of the easiest ways to achieve a work life balance is to do something that doesn’t even feel like work. Then, all that is left is your passion.

When I was young I watched everybody in the generation above me come home after a hard day of work, cursing one thing or another, be it the boss, the coworkers or something else. I assumed that work had to be a thing you weren’t suppose to enjoy. It wasn’t until a relative suggested I become a software developer that I realized otherwise. She said “You’re already doing it in your spare time and the money’s also good“.

I was lucky. Some people take 10 years or more to learn that they are in the wrong profession. They followed somebody else’s dreams and values, and were looking to impress others with their salaries.

Don’t aspire to be the richest person in the grave. Live life. If you are following your life calling you won’t even consider what you do for a living work.

Quitting your job to find a better one is an idea you should consider extremely carefully. Remember, don’t do it because I said so. Have a plan and know yourself before making any grand decisions.

Again, working for somebody is exchanging your time and talent for a pay cheque. The 8 hours you give each weekday will never come back to you. What you can control when you choose a job or career is whether those 8 hours are going to feel like a great 4-6 or an never ending 10-12. This difference of attitude makes everyday enjoyable.

I, like many others who have found their life calling, am not even considering retiring when I get older. It’s an outlet for my creativity.  As long as my eyes and fingers keep working I intend to continue creating software.  If you feel the same about your profession then you should keep on your path.

Walking the Walk

You might think it’s easy for me to sit here and tell you to quit your job if it’s too demanding, but I’ve actually done this (a couple of times in fact) and speak from experience.

At one of the software development companies I worked for in Tokyo, I was assigned to a 6-month project working from 9am-10:30pm Mon-Fri and 12pm-6pm on Saturdays on-site at a client’s office. You don’t want to envision that 24h radial.  Come Sunday all I could do was hibernate.  Since I couldn’t spend Sundays the way I wanted and I was just recuperating to endure the next crazy work week Sundays really belonged to the company. I was essentially a time slave in a death march and it took a serious toll on my relationship with my wife, my physical health and ultimately my mind. The only plus, if you call it that, was I had finally mastered the Japanese Salaryman art of falling asleep while standing in the train.

Mind you, this wasn’t the project that made me quit. After it was all over I got more sane projects to work on and I returned to my normal self. A few years later my next slated project was going to be for a financial company and require me to work on-site from 8:30am to at least 9pm and work Saturdays, and the kicker → it was going to last at least 1.5 years.

I raised concerns with the president of our company, telling him I had been down this road before and already knew the outcome. Uncaringly, he told me it was my responsibility to stay fit and mentally healthy using what little hours were left after work.

I tendered my resignation within the hour, and funny enough, it ended up being my last working day. I had so many vacation days left from working too damn hard. This new project would make staying healthy impossible and my then 2 year old son would never get to see his dad anymore so it was an easy decision.

Long story short, the only person who is going to restore your work life balance is you. In your career some bosses will be kind to you, respect your private time, and even nudge you to head home early once in a while. But that’s the extent of their involvement in your health. Ultimately, you have to be the one to take care of yourself. Sometimes that even means leaving your job. Just remember to have a sufficient “quit my job” fund so you can financially survive periods of unemployment. Lot of unspent vacation days don’t hurt either.

As an aside, Japan, the country renown for its Karōshi (過労死 – lit: Too much work death) work culture is showing signs of hope. The LOHAS movement which espouses a return to a natural, more healthy lifestyle among other values has gained a stable footing in Japan and is growing exponentially. If Japan can slowly turn away from a workaholism society, any country can.

Taking Command

Work can be a noble pursuit when we try to solve genuine problems, but increasingly people aren’t living enough outside their jobs. This is a worrying trend that needs to be countered. Luckily, all it takes is an individual commitment to respecting your own private time and living more fully.

Earnest Hemingway articulated this sentiment perfectly in the below quote…

“Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

Life has to be about more than just work, capitalism and consumption.  Take command of your life and it will be.

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