If you don't have work/life balance, whose fault is it?

In response to Zane's comment yesterday about work/life balance, if your boss makes you work overtime every day, there's only so much you can do. But the question to ask yourself is whether your boss is making you work or:

1. Are you a workaholic? Some may simply love their job so much that they can't stop. (They are the minority). Others may pride themselves on having a clean mailbox or clean desk at the end of each day. While the confidentiality of information is important, I find the clean desk policy silly. Out of sight, out of mind! When I'm overloaded with work, I find myself thinking about work after office hours. I think about the work I had done and whether I might have made any mistakes, I think what I might have forgotten to do and what I need to do tomorrow. It would save me a great deal of thinking if I just keep working, right?

The reality:
- unless you're a doctor, nobody's going to die if you do the work tomorrow instead of today.
- if you work late, you may make mistakes and spend more time trying to fix it.

2. Are you working efficiently?
The first thing that most people do each morning is to check their email. This is one of the worst practices ever. It's easy to get distracted from your priorities.

Remember: Things that are urgent are usually not as important to the business as they sound; Things that important are seldom urgent.

Consider for a moment: Why are some things urgent?
Answer: Somebody forgot about it and just remembered, somebody failed to plan, or somebody is dying
If you are the cause of the urgency, then you'd better watch out - unless you work in a company where creating and fighting fires is glamorous and encouraged.
However, if someone else caused the problem, do what you can to help save his ass (because you're a team player!) but don't kill yourself over it.

Being fast at replying to email is also a poor target to try to achieve. In business, it is generally acceptable to take 2 or 3 days to respond to customers unless you have a service level agreement that states otherwise. If your boss emails you, then of course you would respond ASAP. What would you do if you needed something urgently? Send an email? It's common sense to use the telephone but many people don't! This brings us to the next question...

3. Are you methods of communication effective?
Should you organise a meeting, have 1-to-1 discussion, send instant messages or send emails? Many people like sending emails so that they have an email trail in case anything goes wrong. For the same reason, they may not get any response because the other person does not want certain things to go on the record!

Do your meetings drag on for too long? Do the discussions go off-topic? Do the attendees contribute or are they distracted by text and email messages?

I have attended meetings that exceed the allocated time, people go off-topic and with people distracting the other participants (e.g. by constantly whispering or chatting with among themselves) without being stopped by the chairperson of the meeting. If I had to attend all such meetings, I would not have any time to do my work! Such chairpersons would soon find that the only people who attend their meetings are those who have nothing better to do but talk.

If you chair meetings, it would be a good idea to lay down the rules before the meeting, e.g. no emailing during meetings but to let you know if attendees have urgent matters to attend to. People usually follow the rules because they know how irritating it is when something has to be repeated when someone isn't paying attention.

If you're not the chairperson, you may want to either reject the meeting but inform the chairperson that you are available for separate 1-to-1 discussion, or ask him/her in private to stay on topic.

4. Are you trying to avoid other aspects of your life, e.g. family, social issues?
Some of my female friends who have children say that they are happy to go to work because they can "escape" and be themselves during work. And then there are male friends who tell me that prefer not to go home to a nagging wife or face their wife after having been unfaithful so they like to stay late at work. (I don't mean to generalise but that's what I hear). Of course, there are those who don't enjoy going home to an empty house so working late seems to be a good use of their time. Perhaps your lack of work/life balance is your own doing?

5. Are you not asking for help or delegating when necessary?
It's normal to have to take on additional work for a short period of time but if it's a permanent requirement then the company should be doing something about it: assign more people to do the work, provide tools/equipment to improve efficiency, improve their plans, provide training for the employees, etc. Hardworking people usually try to complete the work themselves even if they know it's going to take them more than 8 hours' of work per day. Perhaps they do not wish to burden their colleagues, do not wish give the impression that they are incapable of handling more work, are unable to say "no" to work that is not your responsibility, or have trust/control issues with subordinates. It is important to examine oneself before placing the full responsibility on the boss or the company.

6. Is the time or method you're using to buy things worth your time?
There's usually long queue to pay for things everywhere. Are there too many people in Singapore or are people not buying things in the most efficient manner? Think about how many hours a week you spend queuing to pay for things. Would it be better to purchase in bulk and not worry about it for a long time? Is it worth driving to JB to buy toilet paper? Do you need to shop around for cheaper items just to save 10 cents? It may be worth the effort for some people but not for others.

I use this rule: the time taken to buy the item/service (including searching for it and queuing) should not exceed the time taken to earn the money to pay for the item/service. For example, if you earn $100 an hour, you should spend at most 1 hour to buy a $100 item.

7. Do you spend too much time on obsessions and time wasters?
Does reading the news, instant messaging, checking text messages/emails, playing games and watching TV really make you feel balanced or improve your life? Does reading the latest technology or motoring news make you feel better about yourself or does it create a feeling of inadequacy?

I have alot more time now that don't read the newspapers anymore and I only use instant messaging during work hours for work. Unless you do it for money, nobody achieves anything real from playing games (that's why it's called a "virtual" world) and much less from watching TV. If you're depending on TV to do your parenting for you, good luck to you because you're let your children learn bullshit practices such as talking back to their parents and parents apologising to their children for scolding them.

8. Do you spend Quality time on things that make you feel balanced?
The term "quality time" is often used. What does it mean to you? To me, it means time spent improving my relationships with family and friends, contributing to my career/finances and improving my physical/emotional health. Having conversations with family and friends, working hard at my job, reading to improve my knowledge, cooking, exercising, exploring new places contribute to my sense of balance and well-being. What makes you feel "balanced"?


zane Lam said...

Thank you Yu-Kym, the advice are sound but not easy to do, takes considerable effort but it is either do or suffer.