I was moderating a panel on work/life balance a few weeks ago. A woman on the panel, at the height of a very distinguished and accomplished career, talked about the demands of her job and the stress of dealing with the high expectations of her clients.
“A group of us finally sit down to a late lunch,” she said, “and in less than five minutes, buzzing Blackberrys are dancing all over the table. And of course, I have to answer it. If I don’t return a call within 15 minutes, my clients go crazy.”
Perhaps you can relate to this scenario. How can anyone achieve life balance with A.D.D.-riddled Blackberrys and clients who think you live at work, right?
Except there’s one problem: If your life balance is screwed up, it’s your fault, not anyone else’s.
After the woman was done with her little rant, a silver-haired man with a relaxed, easygoing nature proceeded to obliterate her reality right out of the water.
“I think that what we fail to realize,” he began, “Is that WE set the expectations, not the client. At the very beginning of the relationship, if you answer every call or email within the hour, they’ll begin to expect that. Which then makes you feel even more obligated to live up to those expectations.”
“It takes a conscious effort to NOT work on a Saturday or come in at 7 a.m.,” he continued. “If you typically come in at those times, your boss and colleagues will come to expect that as well, and they’ll find stuff for you to do at those times, making it more likely that you’ll feel like you NEED to be there at those times.”
It’s a vicious circle begun by our own hand.
Perhaps even more fascinating to me was learning that this guy didn’t even have a Blackberry (or an iPhone). He only checks e-mail a few times a week. And even airport security screeners don’t believe him when he tells them that there is no computer in his traveling briefcase. And yet he has a similarly flourishing career, is well-respected in his industry, and serves at high levels on the boards of multiple professional and charitable organizations.
It’s always easier to point to someone — or something else — as a reason why we’re always running on fumes or don’t get to see our kids as often as we’d like. But these are merely excuses, and as Alexander Pope said, “An excuse is worse and more terrible than a lie; for an excuse is a lie guarded.”
The good news is that expectations can be reset, sometimes as simply as having one conversation with your boss or client. In his book, The Four-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss has a great chapter on how to reframe the way you do email, decreasing the amount of time you spend managing it. No matter what expectations you want to reset, it all comes down to old-fashioned communication. I’ve found that it’s awfully hard for someone to take you to task for honestly and directly expressing your desire to spend more time with people you love.
Yes, it is possible to rework your schedule in order to spend more time with your family.
Yes, it is possible to only check email a few times a week without your career going down in flames.
Life balance is YOUR choice. It’s not decided by anyone else. Realizing that fact is first step in creating a life with a minimal number of “I wish I wouldas.” Because when you get to the end of your life, it’s not gonna do one bit of good to blame your regrets on your clients, your kid’s coach, your boss, or your Blackberry.
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Libby Miner says
Very good post. My husband just got an iPhone, mostly so he can listen to music at work, which he’s allowed to do, but he was playing with it extensively last weekend, and I was teasing him about all the virtual things he was doing…going to the Louve, sailing, playing games. I probably will never own an iPhone unless I’m forced into it. I have a cell phone that is rarely on or used. And I was just thinking about how I get so very little e-mail of any personal significance. Actually I haven’t checked email since Friday and now it’s Monday early early morning, and still there’s not really any personal notes, maybe 2 short ones. I think our world is far too overconnected to each other through technology and not enough in touch with each other’s hearts. (Think the movie Wall-E). I know this comment has little to do with the work aspect of what you’re talking about, and technology has it’s useful place in our personal lives and careers. It does make many things easier, no question, but life balance is something we are talking a lot about at our house, and you’re right, there can be many excuses for why it can’t change right now. Some of them legit, some not. I think we need a bit more faith in the protection and provision of our God to take steps toward more important things.
Great comment, Libby. I for one would probably be lost without my iPhone. However, I sometimes go days without turning it on, and rarely play with it on the weekend. But things are going to look different for everybody. The key is being mindful of how were using our little devices and how much time were spending on them (which is something most people don’t take the time to figure out.)
Eric Searing says
Getting the blackberry allows me more free time in the evenings, by replacing the time I used to spend on my home PC. I can now check personal email, my web business email, get stock quotes, and still get business calls forwarded to me throughout the day. I have also begun to read more via the reading apps which send books a few pages at a time.
Use professional grade tools/software that make you more productive.
Plan your day and re-prioritize only once
Work less , charge more.
Great tips, Eric. It sounds like you’re in pretty good control of your technology, instead of letting technology control you!
Simon Hay says
‘Life balance is YOUR choice. It’s not decided by anyone else.’ I collect quotes, and I like this one. I believe nothing in life is decided by anyone else. We can choose to be like the generations before us or strive to be different.
I like it here. It feels peaceful. Thanks, Simon.
Hi Simon! Thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked the quote and it’s very cool to hear we’re putting out a peaceful vibe… :)
Thanks for this article Jason! You’re exactly right that we teach people how to treat us – clients and friends. I recently declared Sundays a no work day (my father the preacher would be proud) – and it’s difficult – I still slip a bit – but with each passing week the Sundays will become more and more work-free. And it’s a wonderful feeling.
Good for you, Allen! I wish more people had the courage to do what you’ve done.