We see all sorts of articles about work/life balance. We read about a downside to WFH, the fact that we seem never to leave the job, it intrudes on our home life. We see people putting in long hours and macho attitudes that some how associate hours at work with one’s value. We see people genuinely exhausted from long hours. We see quiet quitting, both associated with hours and with a lack of connectedness with the organization.
We have a very real problem. Part of it is organizational and driven by leadership creating workplaces that don’t value people, that don’t create meaning for employees, where workers don’t feel heard or included.
Part of it is personal. Whether driven by ambition, whether it’s a belief that hours translate into perceived worth.
Whether organizationally or individually driven, we have a real problem.
But I have a different view of the real problem. I happen to believe it is less about how much we work, how we allocate our time between work, self, family, community. I think it is a much deeper challenge, I think the onus for taking action on that challenge is up to each of us, as individual.
The other day, an executives I coach and I were having a conversation. She was mentioning the long hours she works, “Dave, I’m putting in 20 hour days…..”
Let me call her Jill, “Come on Jill, is it really 20 hours?”
“OK, I’m exagerating, it’s usually 12 hours, sometimes 15…. Somehow, it seems I must be doing something wrong….” Jill responded.
In my normally very sensitive manner, I responded, “Why are you whining, you basically are working half days…..”
At first she looked puzzled, then she saw the smirk on my face.
I continued, “How do you feel about it? Do you think it’s too much, to little, do you think you are spending your time as well as you should?”
After a few minutes of reflection, she said, “I’m really not sure. I think I’m pretty productive, I probably could improve a little. I don’t feel any pressure to work that much…. I actually don’t feel bad about it, but based on everything I read, it seems something must be wrong with me….”
I asked, “How do you feel about what you do?”
She replied, “I’m thrilled, I’m having so much fun, I’m so invigorated. I don’t feel my days are tedious, in fact the time seems to fly….”
I asked, “Is there something else you feel you should be doing, do you feel imbalance, that you are missing something?”
Again, she paused, “No not really….. I do take time with my husband, I take time for myself, going to the gym or other kinds of activities. I inject those into my normal work day, I don’t tend to treat my ‘life’ separately from my work…. But it seems that I’m different, and I’m wondering if I’m doing something wrong.”
She paused a moment and said, “But Dave, you are worse than me! You work awfully long days. I see you have meetings very early in the morning, running late into the evening. Every once in a while we have Saturday or Sunday calls…. Do you think that’s normal? Are you missing things?”
We talked about my view of work and work life balance. I don’t know that it’s right for everyone, and it’s taken me years to get to this point.
I frankly don’t pay attention to the hours I work.
I allocate my time, thinking, and effort around a very different set of criteria.
I only do things that bring me great joy! I’m vicious in eliminating anything in my life that doesn’t bring me joy–those things are a waste of my time and not worth my attention.
Often, when I talk to people about this, I reflect, “I get to get up everyday and do my favorite hobby. I couldn’t imagine anything more fun than working with wickedly smart people trying to solve very challenging problems! And I get paid to do this!!! What could be better?”
In fact, this work doesn’t drain me, I feel energized at the end of every day.
People ask, but what about everything else?
My response is that I inject other things, the rest of my “life” into my day, the only criteria is those things have to bring me great joy, they have to help me learn, grow, develop, and contribute. I inject workouts and bike rides into every day, I have to read and learn something different every day. I have to spend time with family and friends, because each of those things brings me joy and make me a better person. (I do admit, Zoom has been helpful. Often I show up to meetings after a workout or ride. I’m in a tee shirt or jersey, but at least people can’t smell me.)
As I talk about this, people call me on my BS. They say, “There are a lot of tedious things you have to do. Do those bring you great joy?” Well, yes, kind of. Everything I can delegate or outsource, I do. I hate doing travel expenses, I hate closing the books every month–my accountant does those things. My VA helps with a a lot of other tedious things. But there are other tedious things–like CRM. But I do that religiously, not because I have to, but if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish as much of the things that are fun and bring me joy. And my goal is to maximize joy!
With that mindset, the hours one spends are meaningless, but it’s what we make of those hours.
I suspect we don’t have an hours problem with work or work/life balance. I think we have a “joy” problem.
Everyday, I talk to people, at all levels, who are in roles where they get no joy. They don’t grow or learn. They feel like they are putting in their time, earn their money so they could spend the remaining time doing things that bring them joy.
But I don’t know how that works! Or perhaps I don’t understand why anyone would spend a minute of their time on something that doesn’t contribute to great joy.
I believe too many people are in jobs and roles they shouldn’t be in. I think they do themselves, their families, their colleagues a huge disservice by not finding a job or role that brings them joy. I think they are wasting their lives, potential, and not making the difference they could.
Does my formula work 100% of the time? Of course not, but it works 85-90% of the time, and I keep getting better–and that challenge brings me joy.
There’s another thing about focusing on great joy. While counterintuitive, one doesn’t have to chase the money. Doing the things that create great joy becomes a money magnet.
It’s not easy to start, and I am still learning, but some things:
- Stop measuring success on the job, title, company, or even your comp. Measure your success on the percent of your time that creates great joy.
- Don’t waste time with people that can’t help you find/create great joy. There are enough that drain you, they are a waste of time.
- Focus on finding the job, role, company, people that enable you to create joy and want to help you achieve that. And on how you can help them create joy in their lives.
- Part of joy is constant learning, growth, and contribution. Make sure you aggressively look for those opportunities.
- Shit happens, but get up, dust yourself off and keep pursuing joy.
All of this may sound idealistic or unrealistic. Many of you will be cynical about this, coming up with any number of reasons, hacks, tricks to do other things. If that works for those of you, more power to you, but I suspect it’s unsustainable. And to be honest, I don’t care. I want to invest my time in people that focus on those things that bring joy, learning, growth, contribution to their lives, because of what they contribute to my life.
As Jill and I want through our conversation and we explored this, I went back to the issue of the hours she worked. I asked, “Does what you do, do the people you do it with, create great joy for you?”
She reflected and responded, “Yes….”
We didn’t need to talk about it any further.
Afterword: I would be remiss in not saying this: For prospects (whether we work together or not), clients, colleagues, friends, and family. Thank you for bringing joy into my life and how I invest my time. I hope, in turn, that I can create a little joy in yours.