by Nick McKenna
When it comes to work-life balance, there is an old cliché:
So it’s either a balance or a juggling act? It seems to me that the premise here is flawed. The premise is that there is a demarcation between work and life. I don’t believe that there is or should be.
When I think of those in history who have achieved great things, I do not think of people who strictly demarcate their time. In modern times, I think of people like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Bill Gates who live the work and work their lives rather than drawing a box around some aspect of their life and calling it “work”. In days gone by, I think of old Leonardo, a man whose life and work were inseparable. His diary notes his visits to the bath houses of Italy to view the other patrons for both aesthetic reasons and to further his understanding of his work.
The danger in drawing the strict line between work and life, especially in the current economic climate, is that it encourages a focus on clock watching rather than the achievement of great things. When I talk to people about work-life balance, the main topics of conversation seem to be based around how much their employer can give them rather than the other way around. “Oh yes, my employer doesn’t mind if I have to go to the dentist during working hours.”
As the international economic climate becomes ever more competitive, the winners will be not only the most innovative economies, but also those where the people push hardest at their profession. It is very hard to achieve great things in 35 hours per week! I believe as the twenty-first century progresses, western economies will have to relearn the work ethic discipline of their grandfathers in order to remain competitive.
I have no wish to see a return to the bad old days of exploitation and near slavery. I am not proposing a return to a Dickensian work ethic veiled by the respectability of capitalism. My conjecture is that there is no balance or juggling act between work and life, but instead a blend or fusion.
A simple example from my own life is that I take my dog to work with me. In the bad old days, people left their dogs home alone which wasn’t good for their kitchens or their pets. Brodie is a well-behaved chocolate labrador. To blend my dog and work, we walk to the office every morning, we have a walk in the nearby woods at lunchtime, and then we walk home in the evening. I keep wet weather clothes at the office (labradors love the water). I don’t think it will be long before companies start offering doggy day care as well as creches for children!
Another example is my study at home. I am all set up to comfortably work from there should I want to out of normal working hours. Our office is 99 percent electronic with virtually no paper. We have tools like Slack, Jira, Confluence, WebEx and more for collaboration. The study blends seamlessly into the rest of my life.
On a more subtle note, I would recommend building your “work” thought processes into the rest of your life. I work in technology, and so I read a lot of technology blogs, magazines etc. The tablet form of consumer electronics is a huge boon here! It’s very easy to take 20 minutes to watch a Google Developer video from the couch. The effect of this background thinking has been significant to me. I find that non-work related experiences, like recently reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, prompt ideas and improvements in my working life. In this case, the book made the connection between language and large-scale collaboration for me.
There are a lot of ways in which you can blend your life and your work more harmoniously to achieve a greater effect than one might get from the sharp demarcation.
And get a chocolate labrador. They are awesome!