A really interesting article from FastCompany this month looks at the mythical work-life balance we are often trying to achieve. In it, Deputy Editor of FC, Keith Hammonds, declares that ‘Balance is Bunk’, and gives many varied examples of people who work a lot and like it that way.

I’ve been around big companies long enough to realize that work-life balance is only an issue, if a) people feel pressured to work by others without their consent, or b) people just want a pure 9-5 role, where they don’t have to even think about work outside those times. I was at a Harvard conference last year, where our ManyWorlds’ CEO Steve Flinn (since we’re a high growth entrepreneurial firm) was invited on a panel talking about work-life balance. There were a lot of varied discussions, including one panelist who actually scheduled time with his children, and I mean scheduled. He could hand on heart say he spent 5 hours of real quality time, not TV watching time etc, with his children each week. This man was a scheduling demon, but hey, if it works – then that’s his way.

In many writings on innovation and productivity, it has been found that people such as Edison and Einstein were more productive, in that they had the same ratio of success/failure as others, its just that they produced more in their lifetimes, so that they had more successes (and more failures) relative to others. It all comes down to an equation for prioritization and productivity. There’s a balancing act in that equation. There’s a co-efficient that is dependent on our own internal standards of work. The problem happens when people confuse activity in low priority areas with productivity. True productivity only happens when you are actively working on high priority areas (whether that is a new product launch at work, or cheering on your kids at little league). And this confusion in priorities originates from one of two sources, 1) your internal standards won’t let you do something that’s low priority sloppier, or delegate it, or do it later or 2) someone else sets your priorities for you. If 2) its time to do some negotiation with whoever has this control on you.

People who really are happy workaholics for lack of a better term, are those who can prioritize and focus all their energies productively on what is really high priority at that time.

Not to say it isn’t challenging, I know that 12-14hour days are common here, seven days a week, but its a choice. I know I haven’t taken a ‘vacation’ for about 7 years. But I don’t feel the need to. I’ve had an occasional weekend off, and that’s more than enough, come Monday I’m itching to get on with work 😉 And we have to recognize that sometimes things slide that you’d rather not, but you have to keep your eyes on the big picture, and if you are progressing to direction you want then you are doing well. Crucially though, you must realize that your own standards and behaviors will be different than others, and your standards are not applicable to others. Going back to this Harvard conference, one of the audience asked the panelists if at their companies, there were employees if there was a culture clash between employees who worked 8 hours, and those who stayed longer. In some organizations I know, there definitely is, and at others not. It really depends how productive those people are. In our experience, we’ve had people at ManyWorlds who’ve sat at their PCs for 12 hours and achieved nothing (and thus no longer work here), and people who work 9-5 and get everything done. It’s all about prioritization and focus for real productivity… Look forward, and work backwards.