work life balance

10 Reasons to Stop Working So Hard


It's time to add up all the ways in which working ridiculous hours hurts you and the people around you--and put a stop to the madness.


"30 hours of working and still going strooong," 24-year-old copywriter Mita Dira tweeted from Indonesia on December 14. Only she wasn't. A few hours later she collapsed in a coma and died the following day, a victim of exhaustion, overwork, and an energy drink called Krating Daeng, also known as "Thai Red Bull."

Sadly, young people dying of overwork is not unheard-of in some parts of Asia, but this particular death quickly went viral. Partly it was because she worked for the American ad agency Young & Rubicam. Mostly it was that tweet, one of a series in which she recounted her ridiculously work-laden life. In one tweet earlier that year she contemplated moving her bed to the office.  In another she was delighted to arrive home before midnight.

Reading about her felt like a wake-up call. In addition to being a full-time freelance writer and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, I've completed and am now selling a memoir, and I curate a popular reading series here in Woodstock, New York. Add many weeks of travel over the past few months and the pressures of Christmas shopping and family visits and somewhere along the way I had tipped over the edge. I was constantly at my desk, or else rushing, late for an appointment. I was nearly always short of sleep.

It was no good--not for me, or my family, or the publications I write for, or the organizations I serve. So I've taken Diran's story as an opportunity to stop, think about what's really important, and create a more rational work schedule. Yes, there are still long hours, but I'm making sure to have time for rest too, and even a whole day off every week or two. And yes, there have been some missed deadlines but not so many as I feared. I discovered that a well-rested person works much more efficiently than an exhausted one.

That's one good reason to stop working ridiculous hours. Here are 10 more:

1. Quantity kills quality.

You want to be excellent at what you do. But the more tasks you take on, the smaller your chance of doing an excellent job at any of them. Cutting as many items off your task list as you can ups the odds that you'll do a killer job on the things that matter most.

2. Sleep matters.

"The way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life is getting enough sleep," Arianna Huffington said in a 2011 TED talk. She would know. She fainted from exhaustion and broke her cheekbone and is now something of a sleep evangelist. "I was recently having dinner with a guy who bragged that he'd gotten only four hours' sleep the night before," she continued. She considered retorting: "If you had gotten five, this dinner would have been a lot more interesting."

3. You suck when it counts.

I can tell you from experience that going into a meeting tired and distracted means you will suck in that meeting. You'll be bad at generating new ideas, finding creative solutions to problems, and worst of all you'll suck at listening attentively to the people around you. That disrespects them and wastes their time as well as yours.

4. Your mood is a buzzkill.

The kind of irritability and impatience that goes with being overworked and behind schedule will cast a black cloud over the people around you both at work and at home. If you're an employee, it will damage your career. If you're a small business owner, it will harm your business.

5. Your judgment is impaired.

The research is conclusive: sleep deprivation impairs decision-making. As a leader, poor judgment is something you can't afford. Crossing some tasks off your to-do list, handing them to someone else, or finishing some things late is well worth it if it means you bring your full concentration and intelligence to the tough decisions your job requires.

6. You're setting a bad example.

The work schedule and tone you set for yourself will likely be mirrored by the smartest and most ambitious of your employees. What kind of leaders and bosses do you want them to be? Do you want the benefit of their brightest ideas and best judgment? Then don't create an environment where everyone vies to see how many hours they can work without falling over.

7. There will always be more work.

If you run your own business, there's always a new project to start, a new customer to pursue, or a new technology to try out. You'll never be out of new work to do. And if you work for someone else, getting a lot done will lead to being given more tasks. That can be a good thing, but only if you have the time and energy to do them with excellence.

8. You're hurting your relationships.

Somewhere along the way my husband sat me down and insisted that I make some time to talk with him every day. I'm blessed not only with a strong marriage but an unusually outspoken spouse. There may be people in your life feeling as shut out as he was who haven't come out and said so. Don't wait until it's too late.

9. You're screwing up your health.

Did Mita Diran know she was risking her life by working so hard? It seems clear from her tweets that she didn't, and if she had, she'd have made a different choice. I'm sure you're smart enough not to work 30 hours straight, but do you let your work schedule interfere with things like healthy eating and regular exercise, not to mention sleep? If so, then it's possible you're shortening your life by overwork. Is it worth it?

10. Most of the work is less important than you think.

A few years ago, hospice worker Bronnie Ware famously published the top five regrets she heard from her dying patients. Those who'd had careers all regretted the number of hours they spent at work. But many of her patients also spoke of dreams they wished they'd fulfilled.

Put those two items together and there's a lesson: If something will help you fulfill a lifelong dream, it's worth spending long hours. If not, then it isn't. So ask yourself: In 10 years, will I care about this? If the answer is no, then it's probably time to quit and go get some rest.

3 Beliefs That Transformed My Work-Life Balance

By for The Daily Muse


It was probably about my third month living New York City when I realized that I had lost control. I was working long days while also trying to stay fit, build rapport in the media community and have a vivacious social life (and maybe get some shut-eye). My schedule would be booked for weeks in advance, but still I wouldn’t want to turn down requests to do anything, and would instead try to puzzle-piece them in. At the end of each day, I would come home drained at 10 p.m. or later, feeling like I didn’t do half of the things I’d meant to.

But what was worse than the exhaustion was the frustrating realization that my calendar was controlling me — not the other way around.

So, after an especially hectic week, I decided it was time to take a step back and re-evaluate how I was filling my all-too-limited time (seriously, when will they figure out how to add more hours into the day?). And I realized it was going to take some serious mindset changes to live the healthy, balanced life I was hoping for.

Read, below, for the new beliefs I’ve adopted that have given me much more control over my time — and a much more balanced life.

1. Free Time Doesn’t Have to Be Available Time

I’m sure we’ve all been in this situation: A colleague asks you to attend an event with her next Thursday evening. You peek at your calendar to see if it would work, and sure enough, that block of time is free of any obligations. “Sure, I’d love to do it!” you answer, before really thinking about it. But as the words come out of your mouth and you scan the rest of your week, you realize that block of time is the only one that isn’t filled — the only time you would’ve had to yourself to run errands, cook dinner or watch your favorite trashy TV show.

Until now.

Especially during my first couple of months in NYC, when I was trying to take advantage of every social opportunity possible, I found myself doing this far too often. And then I found myself getting to that Thursday evening, and secretly hoping that the event would get cancelled just so I could have a hot second of down time.

Maybe you’re the type of person who can keep going and going without needing a break (and if you are, please share your secrets). But if you’re like me and need time to recharge, saying yes to anything that happens to fit into your schedule is not sustainable. It’s important to remind yourself that you can turn invitations down for no other reason than you want that time to yourself, and that your free time can be just that: free.

If keeping this idea in the back of your mind doesn’t help you get a few moments to breathe, try the strategy, below.

2. If it’s Not on the Calendar, it Won’t Happen

I’m sure you’ve heard this refrain — most often in reference to actually exercising during the week. But I’ve started applying it to almost everything in my life after realizing that there were important tasks that were just never getting done because other things were butting them out. These things include planning my upcoming vacation or cleaning my apartment.

I used to operate under the mindset of “I’ll get to it when I have time,” or vaguely promise myself that I’d tackle my life maintenance “sometime this weekend” — until it dawned on me that I will never have that time unless I make it.

If you feel like basic things are starting to slide off your schedule, try this: Sit down and make a list of things that need to get done every day, every week and every month, and determine how much time they take; this can include everything from activities you need for basic living — an hour a week for personal administrative tasks (e.g. buying plane tickets, paying bills), 15 minutes every day for tidying up — to personal non-negotiables like an hour twice a week to cook, or a few hours of “you” time every week.

Then, put blocks of time on your calendar for all these things for the next three months. It may sound super militant to schedule your life like that, but the times you schedule now don’t actually have to be set in stone. As events come up that conflict with your personal tasks, feel free to move them around; just make sure you move them somewhere else on your schedule — not remove them altogether.

3. Sometimes My Time is More Valuable Than My Money

I attended a panel a few weeks ago where journalist Jean Chatzky shared how she had recently allowed herself to hire a car service to drive her daughter around because doing it herself was preventing her from having time to focus on other important things.

I’m generally a do-it-myself kind of person — especially when doing it myself can save me money — but hearing her say that gave me pause to think about places in my own life where it would be worth spending extra to save time. For me, that meant finally coughing up the cash to have someone else do my laundry, giving me a few extra hours every couple of weeks to focus on side projects.

Think about the regular tasks that suck time away from you, and then look at your budget to see if you might be able to pay a little more for them, so you’re able to do more valuable things. If it’s cooking, look into meal-delivery services. If it’s cleaning or home maintenance that you feel is holding you back, try a service like Handybook to have someone do it for you. You could even consider hiring a virtual assistant.

Whatever it is, if you have room in your budget, do it without guilt and don’t look back.

Like many of you, I will continue to be busy, and continue to say yes to too many things. But by adopting these new beliefs, I have a little more control over my time.

7 Tactics For Fostering Work-Life Balance


Moderation in all things, they say, but sometimes all things don’t cooperate. As a result, today’s demands on the average employee can easily strain one of the most important factors contributing to their overall satisfaction—a healthy work-life balance.


Fortunately, many of America’s largest corporations have taken measures to offer accommodating benefits that help employees maintain a lifestyle that adequately balances personal, work and family needs. These companies were recently recognized by, an online career community where employees can offer feedback on their workplaces, in its third annual list of the Top 25 Companies for Work-Life Balance (based on the past year).

Atop this year’s list sits SAS Institute, an analytics software company that received high marks in past years as well. According to Glassdoorspokesperson Samantha Zupan, SAS employees “speak favorably about the flexible work schedules, thirty-five-hour work weeks, and the understanding managers.”

We continued to comb Glasdoor’s results to reveal seven specific tactics employers can take to bolster work-life balance for employees:

1. Supportive management

No one likes bureaucracy or politics in the office. The “underlings” end up feeling stressed and unappreciated, begrudging their workload and taking their frustration home with them. Instead, surprise employees with understanding and collaborative senior leadership that goes out of its way to encourage work-life balance.

2. Strong core values

Whether old school or trendy, firm or free-reign, workplace culture often determines how well employees enjoy their time in the office. Take the time to reinforce foundational ideals such as honesty, respect and dedication. These values will help employees feel rooted on both a personal and professional level.

3. Performance-based rewards

Everyone likes to be recognized for their hard work—especially when it comes from management. Encourage opportunities for growth by recognizing individual excellence and rewarding appropriately. Your employees will feel like they’re part of something more than just the work on their desk.

4. Employee-focus

Caring about employees on a professional level through training, mentoring and professional networks should be complimented by caring about them on a personal level as well, through consideration of family time and individual circumstances.

5. Innovation

The best workers—those you hope will stick around—thrive on constant learning, cutting-edge opportunities and a stimulating, but manageable, work environment. Throw these workers a few challenging assignments and watch them flourish.

6. Fun Perks

A beautiful campus, full fridge and nice array of benefits never hurt anyone, and employees are more likely to feel like they’ve snagged the lottery. Small as some of them may seem, benefits that go above and beyond simply providing a cubicle make employees feel important on a personal level, as well as a professional one.

7. Flexibility

While work-life balance can be subjective, all employees are drawn to one major factor—flexibility. In addition to a manageable schedule, offer perks such as telecommuting, paid time off, compressed workweeks, and family-friendly environments.

Take it from the Top 25—with all or some of these elements in place, you’ll be one step closer to helping employees stay happy—and stay, period.



Real Leaders Have Real Lives

by STEW FRIEDMAN  Harvard Business Review

For years I've been working on helping companies to see how work, home, community, and self (mind, body, and spirit) can be mutually reinforcing; this is the "four-way wins" approach I describe in Total Leadership. I often encounter skepticism, but some companies get it. My experience with Target should bolster anyone's case that you can be a committed A-player executive, a good parent, an attentive spouse, a healthy person with time for hobbies — yes, hobbies! — and a community life.

In this post I describe a couple of case studies from Target executives who have been experimenting with creative ways to integrate the different parts of their lives — and how they're teaching others to do the same.

David is a VP who is accountable for a multi-billion dollar P & L business. (All names have been changed and specific titles disguised.) He has structured several experiments to simultaneously improve his performance at work and his life at home. Now that he's done a number of them, he says he's learned that by framing these changes as experiments he can overcome what at first seems daunting. The first, he told me, "had a huge impact for me and probably an even more significant impact for my wife and family."

"My initial challenge was this: I spend most of my waking hours at work and I've always shut down from work at home. But this was hurting my relationship with my wife because we didn't talk about what was happening with me at work. We talked about the kids and that was what we had in common. The work problem was that I never had enough time to prepare for all my meetings. So the experiment was to look at tomorrow's calendar and pick the biggest meeting for which I needed to prep. On the drive home I'd think about what I should do at that meeting and when I got home I'd talk to my wife about it."

"This gave us something new to talk about, it gave her a much better understanding of what I do, it engaged her, and it enhanced our relationship because we were having richer conversations. Simultaneously, I was able to prepare and do a dry-run for my meeting. What was cool about it was getting an outside person's perspective. My wife made some good suggestions! And I've had better meetings as a result. But the big takeaway was to question the way I was doing things."

David said that the results of his experiments "have been astounding. I'm more productive and my wife is thrilled. Our company is also benefiting because of the effects on my team. I told my team that I was trying a change in my schedule and have been transparent about when they could expect to find me in the office. I was showing my team that there was a way that you could prioritize well-being holistically. This is leading them to think about some of the same things for themselves. I'm helping my team to be more engaged and to think more about their well-being, too. I'm developing better team leaders around me."

"For example, because of the change I made, I found out that one of my direct reports was having a medical problem that was worsened by his work schedule, and we have now changed his schedule. One of my other team members told me that he feels more empowered to make choices to spend time with his family during the day. He feels more empowered — that it's OK — and he doesn't feel guilty about it. The example I was setting before was work first, work first, work first."

"I might be here for slightly fewer hours now, but I'm making faster and better decisions. And, at home, my wife is now more understanding of those choices I sometimes have to make when work does have to come first. In the long-term, for Target this means that I'm a more engaged leader without an unmanageable tension between my wife and my work."

Alan is a VP located on the West coast. He's been in that region for 15 years and has three children, ages three, five, and seven. His wife is a finance director at another company.

"The first thing about Total Leadership that really had an impact for me was the stakeholder mapping," he told me. In this exercise, you identify the people who are most important to you in your work, home, self, and community spheres. This is part of seeing your life not as just a random unfolding of events, but as a system you can change. "This was something that I had done intuitively on my own but I wasn't maximizing it.... It was important to... connect with those people, find common ground, and learn what their expectations are."

"With work I'm very intentional and so things happen, because it's work. But if I'm truly accountable I would be taking the same approach in the other domains of life that I am taking at work to accomplish the things that matter. That was an 'Aha!' moment."

"That's why my experiment centered on time with my family; with my sister and her kids and arranging time together for all of us. I used some of the things that I do at work and applied them in this other realm. My sister owns a business and my brother-in-law has a property development job, so they have demanding schedules. Our kids are on different Spring breaks. We have a vision now (we didn't until my experiment) of two week-long vacations per year together with the kids doing something — skiing or going to the beach — and then a couple of long weekends. Coordinating all that is difficult and so it just really wasn't happening."

"I was lamenting this, wondering how I might effect a change. It dawned on me that if this was work I would have all kinds of tactics. So I drafted an email to the key players (my brother-in-law, sister, wife, mom, and a couple of others) and I laid out a plan for a dinner, just the adults, to talk about what we wanted to achieve each year. We were able to come up with two week-long vacations, but planned well in advance, and then two long weekends. We set up some checkpoints and conference calls — the last thing you'd think of with family. We went away together the last two weeks of the year, and we bought those tickets in June. This was a success and an example that I've learned I could use in general: If a process works in one part of my life, then maybe I can apply it in other parts of my life."

"If we've got leaders in the company who are able to apply skills from work to other parts of their lives and share these stories with their teams, then this can help us make our people happier and strengthen our retention of talent. We invest time and money every year training people. So when you strengthen retention and reduce that expense, then you have savings but you also have more experienced people who are more productive.

"I've come to realize that one of my challenges is taking time off, and ensuring that I am effective enough to do that and not miss a beat. This year I'm looking at six weeks of vacation. When I think back a few years I just wouldn't have even considered that; this year I intend to take it all. If I only took three weeks, I would have people on my team see that as a signal. So I'm teaching others by example. Again, the stakeholder mapping and integrating the four domains in a way that works for me is important, and I also teach my team how to do that for themselves, in part so they can be effective when I'm not here. My goal is for them to be effective all the time. The more that I can lead that way, the more it means that if I'm gone for a week or two then the impact is minimal."

Target is working on "starting a movement — not just a program" says one of the members of the organizational effectiveness team. But changing those norms isn't easy. Max, the VP who now runs the largest P & L business at Target, admitted that he "saw a couple of eyebrows raised" when he told his team, on his first day in his new position, that he comes in late two mornings a week so that he can "go to the gym and have breakfast with my kids."

But when senior executives are modeling healthier behavior, it lets a grassroots movement take hold. For instance, David's boss checks in on his experiments regularly. "She's given me tips and shared her experience on what she's learned," he says. "I talk to her about it to hold myself accountable. She's reminded me that each new job is bigger and more demanding so it will be critical to continue to get better and better about managing my time and calendar as I develop throughout my career."

When steps like these are taken to improve performance and reduce stress, and employees see that this is a legitimate and fully authorized activity, then an increasing number of them are going to generate experiments of their own. Slowly, the culture changes as new models for what's expected emerge, and as people at all levels demonstrate that it makes good business sense to take care of all the things that matter in your life.

7 Tips for Creating Your Own Destiny


Are you working on your life or just in it? Here is the perspective and method you need to plan and execute the life and career worthy of your potential.

Boat to Your Future

Too many people whine about not having the life they want. The main reason people fall short of their own expectations is the same reason most companies fail to achieve their objectives: poor planning and execution. In fact, I am amazed at how many successful executives create strategy for their business, leaving their life to chance. Often it's more comfortable (note I didn't say easier) to complain and blame outside factors for lack of accomplishment or unhappiness than to take time to work on life rather than in it.

I choose otherwise. A close entrepreneur friend, J, and I are taking our annual four days away to determine our futures and hold each other accountable. Here are the tips that will assure us of success. 

1. Plan a Preferred Future

As Lewis Carroll said: If you don't know where you are going, then any road will get you there. Both J and I are close to 50, so our 60th birthdays are the milestone for this journey. Twelve years is plenty of time to make course corrections and absorb any external factors thrown at us. Our planning will be specific and measurable. We'll take time to examine and discuss the details of every aspect of our lives, personal and professional, to achieve integrated success and happiness. 

2. Be Pragmatic

Neither of us will be playing for the NBA at our age (or my height). The future has to reflect what is physically possible with available resources and limitations. Pragmatism isn't in itself restrictive, however; J and I will harness our creativity to design aspirational futures that exploit every opportunity and asset we have. We'll also create filters to keep us from wasting time and energy on what's unachievable or irrelevant. 

3. Decide the Who, Not the What

We're defining who we want to be at 60, not what we want to be doing. The whocenters on passion, core competencies, and core satisfaction, such as material requirements. If I know who I truly want to be, I can detail what to do, own, resources I need, etc. I can also determine what not to do, own, etc., focusing time and resources where required.

4. Be Honest

J and I will challenge each other constantly to get to the truth of who we are and who we wish to be. There will be no quiet politeness on this trip (not that I'm capable of it). I can't let J believe his own stories and rationalizations, causing misdirection and distraction. Warning: Allowing this dialogue requires intimate knowledge of each other and great trust. Pick your accountability partners wisely.

5. Consider the Tools Around You, Old and New

Every resource is important. On my old list is Napoleon Hill, who nearly 100 years ago connected creative visualization to success. And I will also consider new resources like crowdsourcing. Although I'm a natural skeptic for overhyped Internet trends, my friend and talented designer Elena Kriegner inspired me with her KickStarter campaign. It's simple, interesting, and elegant (like her jewelry), which is why it's gaining traction, unlike many others. In this planning exercise, no resources, new or old, are off the table to achieve my desired future.

6. Ignore the Naysayers

I live for constructive criticism. But outside perspective that is baseless conjecture or stems from emotional baggage (think dissatisfied family or friends) is destructive for achievers. Put these people in a box where they can't distract you from your ambitions. Find people who get it, and put them in your corner. Engage them in your preferred future, and help them achieve theirs.

7. Don't Settle for Mediocrity

Although being the next Steve Jobs or U.S. President is likely off our agenda (as it should be), J and I both want to be pushed to the limits of our potential. Too many people settle for what is easy rather than engage their energy and creativity to create something different and meaningful. Then they wonder why their work has no significance. I choose to pursue the Awesome Experience.

People who take a reactive approach to growth and development will suffer the same fate as companies, managers, and employees who let the markets, technology, and competitors determine their destiny. The game of life rewards aggressive players who leverage their energy, smarts (note that I didn't say intelligence), and creativity to determine and obtain the life that truly makes them happy. As Jim Collins points out in Great by Choice, good and bad luck comes to all; it's how you plan and execute that determines your return on luck.

How to Work Harder & Not Burn Out

by  via @inc

You might think keeping work and your personal life separate is best for balance. But it might actually be causing you to burn out.

sleeping on the job 

For so many of us, keeping work and a personal life fairly balanced is a constant struggle.

Maybe it’s time to rethink the “separate but equal” work-life balance theory and find ways to rekindle and nurture the passions that drew us to our career choices in the first place?

If we don’t, we risk burnout. Here are three strategies for avoiding burnout by staying connected to work, both as an employee and as a person.

1. Connect the dots between the Home You and the Office You. 

One cliché that still holds very true: Finding what you love is central to being your best at work. Within your industry and organization, be sure that your talents and abilities in “real life” (the things that are important to you in your day-to-day life at home) are in line with your tasks at work. In the best scenario, the talents that make you who you are in your family life, your social life, your hobbies, etc. are also put to use in your job (think meticulous attention to detail, compassionate understanding in social situations, drive to creatively problem solve, etc.).

Not there yet? Even some small changes--like taking on pieces of projects that you feel connected to--can help give you a more personal relationship to your work and company.

Some of the best decisions I’ve made for Blu have involved helping employees find where they are best suited and where their passions within the business truly lie. Productivity goes up, of course, but so do morale, fresh ideas, and a host of other invaluable and highly contagious effects.

2. Keep the big picture easily within reach--literally.

Getting caught up in the minutiae is so easy, especially when your job is high stress, involves managing others, or demands intense attention to detail.

There’s much research to support the idea that visual reminders can be powerful motivators. So find one and keep it in plain sight. Hokey? Maybe.

But I remember one day when I stopped by my local pizza place for a slice, I was struck by, of all things, the box: The ambitious little pizza company had designed its box to incorporate the words that evoke its mission and message. It depicted visually the ideals at the core of the business. That stuck with me. I cut out the box top and still have it to this day at my desk.

Reconnecting to the reasons you were inspired in the first place is crucial to keeping your own work exciting--and, if you are the boss, provides the fuel for continuing to inspire others.

3. Create opportunities for employees--or for yourself--to be in the thick of it.

When you’re staring at this month’s budget spreadsheet under the glow of your desk lamp at 11 p.m., it can be hard to remember the why.

When the going gets rough, it’s hard to remind yourself that it’s thanks to that budget that resources can be adequately allocated in the development of new and better ways to bring clean, beautiful, green homes to Americans looking to live healthier lives, for example.

Combat this by putting yourself “in the field,” even if your job has nothing to do with frontline work. One non-profit I know does this with a program that rotates employees through an “ambassador” program that gives people working in all parts of the organization a chance to represent their company and witness firsthand the impact of their work on the ground in Third World countries. This is an ambitious solution, but it doesn’t take such extravagant programs to have a similar effect. Look for events outside the office that bring you closer to your business’s core.

If you don’t step outside of your cubicle (or your corner office), you risk feeling disconnected from your business and why you’re there. 

If your workplace can’t help facilitate enrichment of this kind, then take it on for yourself. It’s an investment in your career and your happiness.