The latest census statistics reveal families with two full-time working parents and two dependent children under the age of 24 feel believe they need more than $110,000 a year just to survive. And in order to survive and achieve their financial goals, parents are sacrificing quality family time, holidays and basic rest and relaxation. According to demographer Bernard Salt, the modern-day family is turning into a NETTEL – Not Enough Time To Enjoy Life.
This got me thinking, quite a lot…
Have we really become so caught up with having all of the latest gadgets, toys, applications and material goods?
Are we obsessed with trying to pretend to be something we’re not?
Are we trying to keep up appearances primarily for people that we don’t really like anyway?
Have we all totally lost the plot?
I’m spending more and more of my time each day talking at conferences, writing books and coaching people – trying to help people tame technology, manage time and discover that elusive thing called a ‘life’. We are so good at planning how to run successful businesses, yet so bad (most people) at actually planning how to have a successful life outside of work.
I’m convinced – Work Life Balance is a myth!
The term ‘work life balance’ is a myth. And I actually believe that the term ‘work life balance’ itself sets many people up for failure because they either feel like their lives aren’t balanced or don’t have an understanding what balance is for them. And remember the set of scales that was so often used to depict work life balance, with work balancing on one side and life balancing tenuously on the other. Using these scales to depict work life balance again sets people up for failure because they illustrate that if work is going really well, then life tips over, and if your life is going swimmingly then work must suffer as a result.
Here are 10 common myths around work that kill productivity, resulting in employees spending unnecessary amounts of time at work, leaving no time to have a life.
Myth 1 – Hours worked = productivity
Busted! This myth annoys me more than all of the rest. The notion that working an 11 or 12-hour day, every day, results in boosted output and efficiency, is totally archaic. Sure, there will be some days where you need to really put in extra big days to finish projects on time, but if you’re working excessive hours day in day out, something is wrong. Most people who think hours worked = productivity are stripped right back to reality when I do a time audit on their actually daily output. Eliminate 80% of the emails which are a complete waste of time, subtract the endless and pointless meetings that waste hours on end, then get rid of the dozens of daily distractions and you’re left with a few hours at the most of productive work.
Improved focus + less distractions = productivity.
Myth 2 – Compartmentalise your life into 8 – 8 -8
Busted! The old notion of 8 – 8 – 8 where the academics during the mid to late 80’s told us we were meant to spend 8 hours working, 8 hours sleeping and 8 hours on recreational and social activities is largely a thing of the past. Most people work a lot more than 8-hour days to pay for things like mortgages and just affording to live in some of our large cities. Try talking to anyone with young children about the 8-hour sleep thing and they’ll just laugh in your face. My 16-month old daughter Miki doesn’t understand that mummy and daddy need 8 hours of quality uninterrupted sleep each night. And who on earth has 8-hours a day to recreate and socialize? Where on earth do these people live?
Myth 3 – Follow the leader!
Busted! Now, this one sometimes gets me into trouble, but I’m sticking to it. So many companies espouse to have a high-performance culture (which by the way is one of the most overused phrases in the corporate vernacular, maybe we should add it to office bingo?) yet so many of the leaders in the organization exhibit a low-performance behaviour pattern. Just because someone’s card says ‘boss’ or ‘senior manager’ doesn’t necessarily mean they are a great role model on being productive or how to have a successful life outside of work. And if Mr or Ms Big is the type of ‘leader’ who is always late for meetings, and then when they finally do arrive, spend half of their time texting or taking phone calls form other people… Hmmm, where do I start explaining exactly what I think of this as far as ‘leadership’ goes?
Myth 4 – Be polite and respond to every request
Busted! Most people are fundamentally good people, and this is one of the big problems. You see, before technology literally invaded our lives we were all taught to return every phone call, write back to every person who wrote to us, and respond to every task that came across our desks. But with the explosion of technology, viral marketing, social networking sites, overloaded inboxes and information obesity – responding to every request or distraction is a good way to stuff up daily productivity and ensure your time, energy attention is totally controlled by other people. Why do so many people allow this to happen?
Myth 5 – Time management will set you free
Busted! I think the old school of time management is fundamentally flawed. I tried it myself for years and went to every time management program available and despite what actions I took I still had never ending to-do lists and unfinished tasks. A number of the workshops I attended taught me to fill an already full diary with more meetings, more appointments and even more scheduled tasks. Sound familiar? I believe the problem is most time management programs were designed before the internet and digital devices totally changed the way we work. Rather than focusing on trying to do everything, focus on what’s really important and manage your energy and attention throughout the day to maximize output.
Myth 6 – Technology will give us more leisure time
Busted! Technology was hailed as our saviour. All of the new inventions hitting the workforce including fax machines, electronic photocopiers, personal computers and wireless applications were purportedly going to ensure we got more work done and therefore had greater leisure time. The reality is the latest batch of digital devices including iphones, Blackberries and PDA’s keep us connected 24/7 and working longer hours than ever before. I was in Fiji for a conference 5 weeks ago and couldn’t believe the amount of people having a so called relaxing holiday in the Pacific, spending hours and hours by the pool watching their kids frolic in the pool while they were glued to the mobile phone. Are we really that important that we can’t switch off even for a few days? Aaaaargh!!!
Myth 7 – Great employees/managers are available 24/7
Busted! This is a great philosophy to wear you down completely. Many of us were taught the outdated mantra that to be a great manager, employee, sales rep, etc required you to be available for staff and potential clients 24/7. What a load of bollocks! This creates a lot of arguments especially when I say this to sales teams. But if your systems, succession plan and customer service levels are that poor that you have to be available for every potential phone call or walk-in – what hope have you got of building a sustainable business? Work in periods where you are available and then take yourself off the grid and remove all distractions when you need to stick your head down and be super productive. Providing clear expectations about when you are and aren’t available avoids confrontation around for 98% of the population. The other 2% are happy being unhappy (also called miserable bastards) so decide if you really want to waste time and energy on them.
Myth 8 – Constant change is bad
Busted! If you can’t handle and bounce back from constant change, probably a good idea to look at leaving the workforce altogether. The only constant in the current workforce is change. We are a truly global market place and change spreads faster than ever. Look at the recent Global Financial Crisis; a great example of what happens to companies that couldn’t change quickly enough when the financial markets started to turn south is that they no longer exist.
Myth 9 – Work is done at your desk
Busted! The way we work has changed forever and working patterns are also starting to change. I remember one of the board members of my previous company told me he was concerned that I wanted to work at home one day a week as he thought this was setting a bad example. The reason I wanted to work from home is I knew without the normal interruptions I accomplished 3 to 4 times more work. Just because you’re not at your desk doesn’t mean you’re not working, Work is no longer a place we go to in the morning and leave in the late afternoon, work is a mindset we dip in and out of around the clock. I wrote the majority of this article sitting on a plane flying back from Adelaide, not at my desk…
Myth 10 – Corporate success = happiness
Busted! Countless studies report that happiness and contentedness is about bringing to life our complete selves, not just our corporate façade. Of course happy and content people work derive much pride and pleasure out of their occupations, but they also build in time for relationships, outside interests and passions, time for learning new skills and time to look after themselves. From my own experience, I have worked with so many people who have reached the top of the corporate ladder and are very rich financially, but almost bankrupt in so many other areas of their lives. A better model for happiness is: Successful career + successful life = happiness.
Plan having a life – the 10% Rule
The key to achieving a better integration between work and life is to start planning what you do outside of work. I know this sounds so simple yet so many people make this oh so complex. If most people were to spend only 10% of the time and energy they spend planning their business life on planning their personal life – they would have a much greater chance of leading a rich and contented life. Take some time to write down the type of life you want to live – right through to where you live, where you go on holidays and what you do to relax and unwind.
Busting the myths and changing the rules around workplace productivity will ultimately ensure you achieve a lot more in less time. This will also provide you with the opportunity to spend more time with friends and family as well as engaging in the activities you love. Getting the mix right is really hard and requires constant calibration. But trust me, if you work at it I guarantee you can have a great career and an amazing life as well.
Andrew May is is considered Australia’s leading expert on performance and productivity and is the author of the bestselling book, Flip the Switch. Andrew speaks at conferences across the globe, mentors CEO’s and senior managers. He is published throughout national and international media, with regular segments on 2UE radio, Mix 106.5 Body and Soul and Channel Nine’s TODAY show.