Have you ever cried at work?
I have – and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
It was back sometime in the very early 2000’s and I was at the end of an 81-day straight cycle. I don’t just mean 81 days with weekends off……I mean.
12+ hour days.
I was on a pipeline job in rural Australia, and I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was a Sunday. I know it was Sunday because earlier that morning (about 2:00AM), I’d received about half a dozen calls from mates back in Sydney who were at a house party in Dee Why of all places, and were calling to tell me I should be there, asking why was I having to work on a Sunday, and all interspersed with bouts of unintelligible gibberish.
After taking the first few calls and enjoying the laugh, ignoring the next few, and finally turning off the phone, I found myself only a few hours later sitting on a windrow in the middle of a desolate pipeline easement, wondering why on earth I wasn’t in fact back in Sydney, and why was I the only one within canon-firing distance of where I was sitting (we all did quite a bit of lone-working back then).
Working 81 consecutive days on a pipeline job, any job actually, does things to you. To your body and your mind.
Firstly, you are dangerously tired.
Secondly, you begin to wonder why you’re in the middle of the bush on your own.
Thirdly, you are dangerously tired.
Fourthly, you are dangerously tired.
So I sat there and cried.
It’s not like I hated my job – in fact I loved it, and it wasn’t that I was homesick. I’d worked away for much longer periods than that and been perfectly OK. What I realised on that delightfully sunny Sunday was that the balance between work and life had become horrifyingly skewed in the wrong direction.
The following morning I rang the office, tendered my resignation, hitched a lift to the train station at Colac, and made my way back home.
Other than occasionally reminiscing about the most glorious toasted cheese sandwich I once ate overlooking the view from the Boggy Creek Pub, I never looked back.
And ever since, I’ve worked hard at making sure the needle never swayed too far, or for too long, in that direction again.
I won’t dwell on the “Why is balance important?” question, other than to say two things. Both simple, but powerful little one-liners.
“Look back and say, at least I didn’t lead no humdrum life”
“Ain’t no one on their deathbed ever said ‘Wish I’d worked more‘“
Spend a minute thinking about that before you move on.
But the “How to get balance?” is worth a little more time. I’m not saying I’ve got this whole thing licked, or that if you follow these tips that you’ll suddenly find a Zen-like balance, but if they open your eyes to some options, then this will have been worth it.
Firstly, you should understand a little more about time. The confusing construct in fantasy books and superhero movies is great news for Avengers fans, but in real-life, there are really only 4 types of time:
- Necessary time – which includes things like sleeping and eating
- Contracted time – things like paid work and regular education
- Committed time – looking after kids, parents, etc.
- Free time – whatever is left over
So, that’s time.
Check out this great article on how to audit your time, which will give you an idea on where you spend those precious seconds. After that, think about a few of these ideas to help with the “How to get the balance?”
Actually, most importantly, and before you do any of the steps – think about determining why you’re wanting to get the balance right. Without this, the tips are pointless. Try this quick exercise:
Write each letter of the alphabet down the side of a piece of paper. Write something that makes you happy starting with each letter. Then choose your Top 3. I ended up with Family time, Gym, and Ice Cream.
Then, just do more of them, by implementing some of the following tips:
- Be courageous. If you’ve decided that balance means spending more time with your kids in the evening, then get in to work a little earlier, and leave a little earlier. The first time you pack up your bag and walk out the door at 4:30 instead of 5:00 might be tough, and you’ll inevitably get a few “Early mark hey?”, or “Were you on the morning shift?” comments, but if like me you’re usually the one turning on the office lights in the morning, then hold your head up high and keep on walking. Time not spent with your kids is time you can never get back.
- Use technology. Smart phones, smart boards, smart everything. Laptops with remote access, Skype video calls, emails on your mobile 24 hours a day. Sure they’re a curse sometimes, but use them all to your advantage.
- Be open with your Manager. Many companies are progressive enough to understand that the days of automatons working in cubicle-farms are long gone, and that to keep quality staff, they need to be flexible. Obviously though, suggesting that you’ll work 8:00PM-6:00AM when your business is about dealing with clients and customers during normal working hours, is probably not going to end well for you, but you get the point. Speak with your Manager, be clear on your objectives, and lay out specific points on how your adjusted hours will not impact your ability to do your job.
- Be consistent. Inevitably there’ll be circumstances where you simply have to stay back, where critical deadlines are looming and you feel the needle starting to flicker. It is incredibly important to not abandon your team when they need you most, but strive to keep aware that if this starts to happen more often than not, to take action and remember your answers to the exercise above.
Seems easy right? Well, simple rather than easy.
So it is worth it? Is it worth the effort of pushing that needle back towards ‘balance’?
Bloody oath it is.
I’m lucky, because as the old quote goes,
“If you love your job, you’ll never have to work a day in your life”
but living the horrors that come when the needle is firmly jammed at the wrong end of the dial, and then living the joys of spending time with my kids every night before they go to bed, reminds me of the fact that I work to live, not live to work.
And besides, when you’re rested, happy, healthy and calm, you perform better at work anyway.
So, Morgan Stanbury and Rhys Blackburn – if you’re reading this, you two knuckle-heads (probably unknowingly, as you both had about 400 beers in you when you rang) changed my entire outlook on Work / Life balance, and in turn, the trajectory of the rest of my life.
For the better.
So Thank You.
Do you suffer from a wonky Work / Life balance? Have you got any other tips for people to consider to help drag that needle back to the middle? Get in touch via the Contact Page, or leave a Comment below.