It’s probably an indication that my work-life balance is out of whack (like many of my fellow Americans), but I spent a good chunk of last Friday — the official Independence Day holiday in the U.S. — reading about work and how to make it more joyful and meaningful.
I was engrossed in the latest issue of WIRED and its cover features about finding meaning in an always-on world where the lines between our jobs and all our other life pursuits are becoming more and more blurred. It’s a good read for anyone interested in trying to stoke, discover or rediscover a passion for their work.
The intro by actor and writer Rashida Jones aptly describes the dilemma of our time: That the idea of work-life balance is an unattainable myth.
Days filled with meetings, conference calls and emails leave little time for actual work. Which means the work occurs after the work day is done. And even then, work intrudes in our homes. An email from the boss pops into your inbox, and your iPhone dings. It must be attended to. Another meeting request from the associate dean’s harried administrative assistant — working late to wrap up her flood of the day’s tasks — to discuss an idea to create a new e-blast.
And the devices that connect us to work also connect us more and more to our family, our friends, our entertainment. (Along with the boss’s email comes the latest offer from Amazon or Hello Music or Ann Taylor.) As Jones writes:
The tricky part is that everything is located in the same little place: Work, pleasure, distraction, misbehaving, responding, wasting time, buying, selling, dreaming, focusing … all options live together, and I can float from one to another with no effort. It is truly amazing. I’m in awe. But it doesn’t help me be productive.
So what is to be done?
This issue offers some good tips for coping with our work-life dilemma. The first of these tips has to do with understanding and working with your circadian rhythms and learning how to synchronize your work with your hormone levels. It’s a concept I first picked up a few years ago, after reading the book The Power of Full Engagement. I recommend that book to anyone wanting to do a better job on the job. That’s why I try to plow through bursts of writing tasks and emails first thing in the morning and save the water cooler talk for later in the day. Testosterone is at its highest in those early-morning hours. The stress hormone cortisol drops after lunch, so 1:30 is a good time for meetings.
Speaking of books: One of the contributors to this WIRED issue, Ross McCammon, has a book coming out this fall that sounds intriguing. It’s called Works Well With Others: An Outsider’s Guide to Shaking Hands, Shutting Up, Handling Jerks, and Other Crucial Skills in Business That No One Ever Teaches You. I’ve added it to my beginning-of-the-semester reading list. I can always improve my game when it comes to collaboration.
On the subject of work-related reading:In addition to The Power of Full Engagement, I highly recommend these three other books:
- The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, by Robert I. Sutton. This Stanford business prof is one of my favorite writers on the topic of work and the workplace. This book reaffirmed my belief that assholes are everywhere (d’oh) but also revealed to me that I too can be one at times, even without meaning to. So it helped me confront my inner a-hole and to learn to have a little compassion for those who inadvertently and unintentionally allow those jerkish tendencies in us all to rise to the top.
- Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best … And Learn from the Worst, also by Robert Sutton. You don’t have to be a boss to benefit from this book. Everyone has a boss — even your boss. Some of them are horrid. The micromanaging control freak. The insecure and passive-aggressive power tripper. The buck-passer. Some of them aren’t so bad. But understanding the traits of good and bad bosses, and recognizing those traits in those you work with and for, can be helpful insight.
- Throwing the Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up, by Stanley Bing. I first discovered Bing’s writings years ago, when he wrote a column for Esquire. (The aforementioned Ross McCammon apparently fills that role for Esquire nowadays.) This book may not have taught me much about the art of managing up, but it did teach me to accept the fact that 80 percent of workplace politics don’t matter. (P.S. – I’ve read some other books by Bing, and they were average at best. I wouldn’t bother with any of his other books. But his Esquire columns are gold.)
How about you? What books, essays or other writings would you recommend for anyone trying to do their best work while maintaining a healthy family life? Or even if you have no books or essays to recommend, what advice would you give? How do you cope with the challenges of work? Please share in the comments.
P.S. – While conducting some research for this post (on a Sunday, even), I learned that last week was Work-Life Balance Week, according to PBS Newshour. A whole week of the year dedicated to creating that balance, and I missed it! But it’s on my calendar for 2016.