How business leaders can find the right work-life balance


We’re all working longer hours these days and, even when we’ve left the office behind for the day, we’re merely a vibrating phone away from being drawn back in, long-distance, with another email or issue to fix remotely.

Figures from the Central Statistics Office earlier this year revealed that, despite dragging ourselves out of recession, we’re not getting any more of a breather now than we did during those dark and stressful days.

In fact, the average working week is now 35.8 hours, close to an hour more than the average in 2010.

That’s before we even get to the people calling the shots and really driving the economy forward. Those business leaders with all the responsibility and practically zero downtime, navigating a shaky post-recession economic landscape that – while providing plenty of opportunities – seems to toss a seismic Brexit or Trump-style event at you every few months just to keep you on your toes at all times.

If you’re self-employed and just taking care of your own business, the CSO says you’ll be clocking in an average of 43 hours per week. Add staff? It climbs to 48.1 hours. If you’re a manager, director or senior official in a company, you’ll be doing 43 hours. That’s officially – the dog in the street could surmise that those numbers are only scratching the surface.

The solution for many in uncertain times is to keep their nose to the grindstone; even redouble their efforts. You might get results in the short-term, but that way madness lies. Balance is the key. Allowing yourself to have a life. It’s even been shown to make your business better.

study by UK think-tank the Smith Institute earlier this year found that, while two-thirds of British workers are putting in longer hours than two years ago, only 10% think this has resulted in improved productivity. Dovetailing with this, official UK figures show that productivity has barely increased since 2006.

Surprise, surprise, it’s about quality, not quantity...

  1. Find the “sweet spot” – and stick to it

A 40-hour working week is impossible if you’re running the show, right? Tell that to Facebook’s chief operating officer. Sheryl Sandberg is worth over $1 billion and has been leaving the office at 5.30pm to spend quality time with her children for years. And you know what? Facebook has been doing just fine.

You can go right back to the early 1900s to find evidence that a 40-hour work week is actually the perfect amount. Back then, the Ford Motor Company conducted dozens of test to find the optimum working week and discovered that, while adding 20 hours on top of the 40 showed a small increase in productivity, within a month that increase had actually turned negative. Extremely long hours mean shoddy work that has to be redone and, eventually, burn-out. Cutting back on a large percentage of them might be as simple as learning how to say “no” at the right time...

  1. Say ‘no’ to notifications

When your day’s work is done, unless something potentially earth-shattering is on the cards (and it seldom is), ignore the incoming emails, put the phone down, and unplug your brain. We’re more connected than ever, but that’s not always a good thing. And not being contactable 24/7 is not the end of the world. If you can’t go totally off-grid, set aside three specific times to catch up throughout the day rather than having one eye/hand on the phone while you’re having a meal or supposed to be in the middle of family time.

  1. Get smart

Back to the ‘quality, not quantity’ idea. If you can cut out time-wasting activities, organise your day in such a way that tasks are properly prioritised in order of importance, and allocate a strict window of time for each before moving on, you won’t have to be burning the midnight oil. This might involve letting go of a little of your perfectionism and noticing when you’re getting tunnel vision on a task. Sometimes “good enough” is exactly what’s needed. As US academic Matt Might states:
“The equation for work is: output = unit of work / hour × hours worked. ‘Work more, sleep less’ people tend to focus too much on the hours worked part of the equation. The unit of work / hour part of the equation – productivity – is just as (if not more) important.”

  1. Make your body is a temple

If you’re so focused on the job that you’re neglecting your personal health and wellbeing, that can spell disaster in the long run. So take care of yourself. This means making sure you get enough sleep. Between seven and nine hours a night has been recommended for eons but the best judge of how much sleep you really need is you – and you’ll know when you’re not getting it.

Aside from eating well, exercising is also vital if you want to all that accumulated stress from a day at the coalface to drain away. As the Mayo Clinic will tell you, “regular exercise can increase self-confidence, it can relax you, and it can lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety.” Oh, and it’ll improve your sleep, too. For the mind, meditation is becoming increasingly popular.'s Marc Benioff, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, billionaire Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio and Ford chairman Bill Ford are just a quartet of business heavyweights who swear by it.

  1. Start small, be flexible and don’t beat yourself up

Instigating all these positive changes in a rush one Monday morning might seem like a great idea, but in reality you’re likely to have bitten off more you can chew. Even if you get off to a flier, the likelihood of staying on track is slim. Instead, start making small, incremental changes to your daily routine so it’s not such a shock to the system. Maybe that means you start mapping everything out on your calendar so you’ve definitely got some downtime factored in and your work and leisure times have clear, defined boundaries. Maybe that means spending a little less time with the phone for a week and seeing how it feels.

If it doesn’t all go according to plan, that’s fine. The intention to redress that work-life balance is what’s important, as is adapting it to your own circumstances.

As Vidant Health’s Anissa Davenport told Syracuse University last year:

“To me, balance is not a percentage of time assigned between work and personal life. Balance is the right combination of things I need to be my best. In order to know what balance looks like for me, I have to be honest with myself (and others) about who I am and what is important to me. It is only after this reflection that I can better see what adjustments I need to achieve the right balance for me to be my best.”

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