Work Life Balance and the Third Person Viewpoint

Sometimes you have to step away and observe things from an external vantage point to see things more clearly. This is the 3rd person vantage point. Let’s assume that Biff is a fictional character and should not be equated with any person real or imaginary. This fictional Biff is working at being more honest and realistic about life. He thinks that fooling yourself is not really helpful to having a better life.

Biff got a workout in this morning – 40 minutes on the bike trainer. That made him feel good, but he was still in a funk about his new job and spent most of the carpool to work thinking about it and his options. It is not turning out to be as fulfilling as he had hoped. The work environment is sterile and extrememly corporate and controlling. But the thing that has been on his mind the most lately is the work itself. It’s mind-numbingly tedious and boring. Biff has had serious thoughts about quitting the job, if things do not improve, and doing contract work instead. He feels that would be more liberating, but he doesn't want to worry or disappoint his family by taking a more unsure free agent approach to work and wok life balance, which is the main reason he plods on in the soul sucking work environment of corporate America. Biff knows he should do what is right for him, not what is right for other people, but he really cares about his family and their feelings. On the other hand, freelancing might give him more flexibility to travel and spend time with his family, which he currently cannot do.

The job wouldn’t be so bad if the workload were reasonable and achievable, but his new employer, while extrememly supportive and professional compared with his prior one, is remarkably understaffed, and Biff is essentially doing the work of three people. That’s unsustainable and a recipe for failure. He keeps getting told that plans are in the works to hire additional people for his team, to help with the workload, but the process is delayed, and so Biff is the only available resource for an overwhelming tsunami of work for the foreseeable future. Biff does not tolerate failure, but he is between a rock and a hard place, which results in a feeling of hopelessness and futility that further occupies his mind, in what he calls the “spiral of doom.”

Biff has been somewhat depressed and anxious about all this. He was hoping the situation would improve over a few weeks as he grew accustomed to the work and got better at doing it. But that does not seem to be the case, and now he is not sure what to do, and has trouble sleeping. Biff does not respond well to excessive stress and he feels that it is actually slowly killing his soul, if not his actual physical self. Stress, after all, is a major risk factor for ill health.

Biff tries to adopt a Zen mind, when he is not at work, pushing the worry about successfully completing the work against overwhelming odds out of his mind when he catches himself doing it, but his own mind is his nemesis. Pushing the thoughts out of his conscious mind while he is awake doesn’t seem to stop his subconscious mind from bringing the turbulent thoughts back during the night, so he wakes up frequently and isn’t getting enough rest. Stress is physically and mentally damaging over the long term, so something has to change soon.

On the other hand, Biff’s life overall is not that bad. He still has his music and creative writing. When he is doing that, he is totally happy. That is his true passion. He fully plans to write and publish his book this year, but the new job is discouraging him a bit. The book is about work life balance in corporate America and right now Biff is fully lacking that balance. Conversely, he is aware of that fact, and so it is a great test platform for improving work life balance. He is maintaining that balance now by establishing boundaries and not working overtime. He did not sign on for that and if his employer needs more man hours, they need to get on the ball with the hiring process. That’s a totally reasonable boundary to establish. Biff works to live. He does not live to work. He also knows he can’t have any fear. Life is meant to be lived and this is just a job, nothing to get so worked up about.

Biff decided that he is going to do his best at his current job. That is all he can do. If he fails, it is not for lack of trying. Hopefully, his employer understands the mismatch between workload and bandwidth. In the meanwhile, Biff is going to continue his job search in hopes of landing a job that is more conducive to his life goals, preferably in academia or a more science and technical field in corporate America.

Biff is a hard working and has a compulsion to succeed. He is up against formidable odds to succeed in this new job because of the finite nature of time. He can only do so much. There has to be room for rest and relaxation. As it is, he generally skips lunch and breaks to get more work done. But he is starting to realize that is futile. The few extra minutes of work he is able to get by working through lunch and breaks does not make much of a dent in the workload, and the cost to his mental health and well being is too high. So he is going to do a reasonable amount of work in the time allotted and take breaks as needed.

Tonight Biff has band practice. He is looking forward to honing a handful of songs with his band. He took advantage of a half day of work yesterday to practice the songs and he feels really solid on them. On Sunday night, the band will once again attend the Funks Open Jam in Madison, where they will showcase the songs they solidified at band practice tonight.

The one good thing about this job is that the time goes by fairly fast, because he is working almost continuously at 110% effort. No time to watch the clock. Unfortunately, he is only getting about a 60% yield from that effort relative to what needs to be done (admirable given the situation). But he literally can’t push the throttle any higher. He is maxed out. As he describes in his book (supported by the mainstream corporate training literature), the ratio of effort to output should be reversed. According to the 80/20 rule, he should be producing 99%+ output with about 60% effort (the math works, if you extrapolate the fact that 80% of your output derives from 20% of your effort in a non-linear function).

I hope you will be supportive of Biff in this stressful time and give him your encouragment and wisdom on the matter.


Persuasion Definition - Is That Cool?

I might be jinxing it by exposing this secret, but I have discovered an incredibly persuasive three word phrase that is more likely than not to grant you any reasonable request from others.

"Is that cool?"

If you tag this phrase onto a request, it tends to get compliance from the person you are asking.

I am not sure why this works, but I have rarely seen it fail. I think part of it is that when you phrase a request as a question, rather than a demand, it puts the ball in the other person's court. It gives them responsibility to make weighty decisions and perhaps they feel like you value their decision and place a lot of respect on them (and you very well might), even if they are not in a position of power (but it works on them too). So psychologically, maybe people think a little more about your request, rather than just rejecting it out of hand, when you ask, "Is that cool?"

Also, since you have put all that responsibility on them, they don't want to seem uncool by rejecting your request, because clearly the question implies that the request is cool, so rejecting it must be uncool.

It puts the other person in the awkward position of not wanting to tell you that your request is NOT cool, whether trivial or important. Because to do so would be uncool.

Try tacking on the query, "Is that cool?" the next time you ask someone for a favor. I want to see if it works for you too.