The Single Best Way to Achieve Balance
Avoiding burnout is easier than you ever imagined.
Make time. "People say they are too set in their ways to change; that's bogus," says Richard Boyatzis, Ph.D., a professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and coauthor of Primal Leadership. "My son is an adult and works a corporate job, and he discovered recently that he loves country-and-western singing. So he goes out and sings on the weekend. What he's doing is balancing his life."
The best way to change, Boyatzis says, is by taking a class or finding a hobby—whether it's continuing education in your field or unrelated to your work (such as cooking classes). "The fastest-growing part of colleges is executive-education programs," he says. "They say they're taking the classes to become better managers, but they're really doing it to get revitalized."
When Boyatzis himself changed careers, he was able to find ways to add more balance. As the CEO of a consulting company, he'd often fly in to conferences and seminars and fly out the next day. As a professor, he now tacks 2 to 5 days onto every trip when his wife comes along. "This has resulted in 80 to 100 days of vacation for us away from Cleveland each year," he says.
But maintaining balance doesn't have to mean changing careers or learning Lyle Lovett lyrics. It could mean just approaching work differently.
"Chronic overtime produces lousy work and burned-out employees," says Joe Robinson, author of Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life. "MRI scans of fatigued brains look exactly like ones that are sound asleep." The critical piece in stemming burnout and reclaiming a healthy balance in your life is setting boundaries in the 24-7 world. The big secret of working life is that assertive employees have the best vacation schedules and don't work all night, says Robinson, who offers these strategies below. And for more savvy advice for striking a work-life balance, know the secret trick for scoring more vacation days at work.
Leave at quitting time.
Studies show that men who work 50 hours a week accomplish no more than men who work 40 hours a week.
Don't accept extra projects.
You can't do five jobs as well as you can do two. Set a stop time, a point beyond which you don't go, to keep yourself from self-inflicting extra hours in a downsized world where the work is never done.
Develop passions outside of work.
Setting goals beyond the office will inspire you to clear free time. Want to climb Mount Rainier, learn the piano? Write it down, and make it happen.
Don't define yourself by your job.
"Americans create the self more through labor than other cultures do," says Robinson, "and this can lead to a sense that you are your job and nothing else; that only productivity has value; and that its evil opposite, free time–home with family, friends, passions, and actual living–is worthless. This is why you feel guilty when you stop working."
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