On a recent solo road trip, I grabbed a random book on CD from the 658s and ended up with “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance” by Tony Schwartz. This book was recently re-published under the title “Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live”. This was one of the best ways that I could have spent my 10 hours on the road. I’m an exempt employee who loves my job, so I tend to struggle with my work life balance, often leaning towards more work and less life.
The basic idea of the book is that we have four core needs that help us perform at our best: security, self-expression, significance & sustainability. We need to make sure that these needs are met so that we can be more efficient and focused when we are at work.
Significance: This is the “why” of your work. Why do you get up in the morning?
Security: Feeling accepted and appreciated for who you are.
Self-Expression: The ability to use your unique talents and skills.
Sustainability: Taking care of yourself so that you can take care of your work.
Sustainability is definitely my trouble area. Schwartz argues, with research to back him up, that powering through a 12 hour day is less productive than an 8 hour day with plenty of “renewal” breaks. Examples of renewal breaks include reading, taking a nap, going on a run or just getting outside for a walk.
Schwartz also argues that we run through a daytime cycle, similar to the 90 minute sleep cycle and we can only give 90 minutes of focused energy before we have to take a break. After 90 minutes, one becomes less productive. He recommends scheduling meetings for a maximum of 90 minutes and some for only 30 minutes. He said that in a 30 minute meeting, you tend to get more done because you don’t have the luxury of time.
He also talked about the myth of multi-tasking and the idea that we are always distracted, giving only a portion of our attention to any one thing; that we don’t fully engage in anything and definitely don’t spend enough time thinking about long term planning or big picture stuff.
Most importantly he mentions that it is important to turn off work and not check email constantly from home, but to fully engage in other activities in order to be better at work.
After I returned home I shared this book with my colleagues and I picked up a print copy for myself. After skimming through the material again I compiled a thirty-one item list of things to do to improve my work life balance. Change doesn’t happen overnight, so although I have only made half of these improvements, I feel good about my progress.
Right now I am looking very much forward to my second to last vacation of the year. I plan to leave work behind and enjoy my family and the last bit of summer.
If you are struggling to leave work at work, I highly recommend this read (or listen). If you are not sure if you could benefit from the book, take this Energy Audit quiz.