“As a CEO coach, I always enjoy discussions around the topic of work-life balance, and the typical belief that achieving it is an impossible task if you want your business to be successful,” explains Nathan Farrugia, the coach and trainer behind Up Your Level. “And that’s especially true in times of growth or stress, when your work requires your full attention and energy.”
But, Nathan questions, if you’re a CEO or business leader, when is there a time that your work doesn't need your full attention and energy? “I’ve yet to meet a dedicated business leader that felt they weren’t indispensable to their business. And therein lies the problem.”
So, when isn’t there a time when you need to be there to lead and support your team? Nathan explains that many of us are actually in denial when it comes to how important we are for the seamless day-to-day running of our organisations, and that often, our teams are perfectly capable of operating without us.
“I’d argue that sometimes we actually get in their way!” Nathan smiles. “If you do believe that your team cannot manage without you, then you probably need to think about what you are doing wrong as a leader. Your absence is a test of your leadership effectiveness. It’s good to ask yourself questions like: ‘does the organisation crumble the minute I am not around to take all the decisions?’ and ‘does all the power to act lie with me?’
“But trying to balance work and life equally is futile. We have 24 hours in our day; a third is spent asleep or relaxing, and a third is spent at work, which means that what is left, is that for ‘life’? I don’t subscribe to that idea as it just drives guilt. If I’m working late, I feel guilty about not being at home, or at the gym, or spending time with loved ones. If I take a day off, I’m feeling guilty I’m not at work, leading by example. We’ve got it all wrong.”
Thus, it’s no surprise that recent research shows us that great leaders focus their energy and effort on making an impact and adding value to their business, as opposed to the time that they spend in it. “It’s also clear that we’re not using our time as wisely as we should be. We spend around half of it on ‘fillers’, doing things below our pay grade, that we’re afraid to delegate.”
So how do we get round that?
Well, ultimately, Nathan stresses that we need downtime to be at our best – but simple downtime isn’t enough, it needs to be a particular type. “Sitting on a couch watching a box set of TV junk and eating chips is not good R&R,” he explains. “Our downtime needs to be stimulating, energising and social. We need to be engaged in activities that create a sense of flow, excitement and creativity. Simply ‘switching off’ is not enough.”
That said, some readers will argue that they get the flow, excitement and creativity they need while they are at work. “And I absolutely agree!” Nathan smiles. “That is why work-life balance cannot be measured with time. It’s not how much time you spend doing either ‘work’ or ‘life’ that needs to be balanced, but what you get from them. If work is stressful and overbearing, you need less of it. If downtime is boring, you need less of that too. Or, you need to find a way of being excited by your work, of embracing change and challenge, and of keeping it interesting while sharing the stressful load with your team and not carrying all the weight of responsibility yourself.”
“Breaks also need to be well calibrated. We do need a total disconnect from work to fully recharge our batteries, but we can also ‘top up’ with short breaks. A day off during the week is useless if you spend it on your email or work chat, but a three-day weekend can work wonders at getting your head out of the grindstone. And, if you do feel you have to mix some work time into your holiday to help you prepare for the year ahead, make sure that you are specific about the time allotted, and be accountable to someone to make sure you don’t get carried away.”
Finally, Nathan underlines the fact that we all need a break, and that we must also be more aware of our state-of-mind when we’re at work. “It’s sad to see people dismiss tools like meditation, exercise and sleep as ‘unimportant’ when their work is ‘all important’. These are some of the most effective business tools you can use. The most important asset of any business is the mental state (or mindset) of its leaders and employees. Why would you not invest every tool and resource available to keep this asset in top form?”
“So, for those that continue to resist taking care of their health (physical and mental) because they are too busy, just remember the metaphor of the flight steward on your last plane trip. ‘In case of emergency, please put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others’. In essence, you are useless to others if you are not functional or unconscious. The same goes for your business and your family. Don’t they deserve to have the best version of you around, when you are?”
This article originally appeared in The Commercial Courier