Fixing the Work-Life Balance

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Work has to be done, no question. The question, really, is how much work do you want to do? What kind of work do you want to do? What kind of a life do you want to live? Work and Life can be compatible but you have to make hard choices do make this happen.

The first thing to keep in mind is that your job does not love you. You may love it but the feeling is not returned. While many jobs are important, even vital, there are damn few jobs that cannot be done by someone else. The job may be done a little differently than you might have done, but it will still be done. Even pregnancy can be outsourced to axlotl tanks these days.

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Your Job Will Forget You

No matter what your supervisor may tell you (or you may tell yourself), everyone is replaceable. Graveyards are full of people who thought themselves indispensable. Every single one of them was replaced on their jobs by someone else. Maybe the work wasn’t done exactly the same way but it still got done.

Do you really believe that if you fell deathly ill and had to go home, permanently, to recover that your job and co-workers would sorrow over you? Or if you died and never came back that anyone would grieve? They would visit you in the hospital (maybe, who has the time?) and bitch about having to take up the slack. Your co-workers and boss would attend your funeral (possibly, depending on the workload), all the while wondering who is going to replace you or will they be assigned an even bigger workload so the company can save a few bucks on hiring a new person.

Your family — you know, those people you rarely see because you are always at work — will grieve. Your friends — you don’t see them either because who has the time? — will notice and care. Not your co-workers. Not your boss. Not your job. They have already moved on and filled your position, one way or another. Someone else is doing the work that you thought you were vitally needed for.

The second thing to understand is that every day has twenty-four hours. You never get less than twenty-four hours but you never get more either. Nobody, no matter how rich they are, gets more than twenty-four hours a day. The reason it appears that some people get so much more done is that they outsource much of the daily routine onto someone else. Your efficiency improves enormously when someone else cleans your house, cooks your meals, chauffeurs your car, runs your errands, tends your children, monitors your social obligations, performs civic duties, goes to school activities, walks your dog, washes your laundry, maintains your house and garden, stands in line for you at the DMV, shops for groceries, clothes, and everything else, ghost writes your memoir, nurses your aged relatives and performs any other chore that might take time away from your career.

This is quite expensive, by the way, but the richer the person, the bigger the staff to take care of any non-work related activity. The only things you can’t outsource are exercise, oral hygiene, sleep, eating, and body waste elimination. You can even have someone else wash your hair while other minions are giving you your manicure, pedicure, leg waxing, full body scrub, and reading aloud to you the daily news. Nothing like good time management to free up valuable hours for more work.

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Your Job Steals Your Life

So back to your twenty-four hours. You have to sleep. You are probably kidding yourself that you can squeak by with five or six hours a night for years on end. Maybe. More likely, not enough sleep means you spend every day in a haze of fatigue and fuzzy thinking. You need to spend some time on basic body maintenance: cleanliness, exercise, oral care, eating, bathroom. If we allow you seven hours a day for sleep and two more for body care, you are now up to nine hours lost per day. That leaves fifteen hours per day left. If you work an eight-hour day, plus one hour of lunch (which you work through of course) plus an hour of commuting each day, that is ten more hours per day. You have five hours left now to spend with the family you claim to love, the friends you say you want, the animals who need your care, the aged parents who need you too, household maintenance, and any recreation or hobbies you use to rejuvenate yourself with. If your commute is longer, subtract that time from your life. If your work hours are longer, subtract that from your remaining life. But wait! You have the weekend! Oh. The weekend is jam-packed with all the deferred grocery shopping, chores, maintenance, and errands you didn’t have time for during the week. And, any work that didn’t get done during the week, which simply MUST be done, on time, as no-one else can do it and you are vital to the job.

The work—life balance is only a problem if you want to have a life. Work can — and will! — fill every available hour. There will NEVER be enough time to get everything done. Even rich people with staffs have to pick and choose what they can get done. Every hour that you spend working is time away from what you claim you love. The constant, unending grind takes its toll on your body, your mind, your relationships. Is this what you want?

Very few people say, on their deathbed, that they wish they had spent more time at work. Most people regret all those lost opportunities to see their families and friends, to dance, to play, be true to themselves, to eat more ice cream and less rutabagas. There are those rare few who do wish they had spent more time at work. Isaac Asimov was asked what he would do if he knew he was going to die tomorrow. His answer was “I would type faster”. Not see his children. Not see his wife. Was he kidding? Hard to say.

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If You Love Your Work, You’d Kill Your Family

Are you going to say, as you lay dying, “I wish I had spent more time at work”? If you are, then own up to this fact and get rid of those pesky impediments to working. Divorce the spouse, dump the kids, drop the animals off at the kill shelter, and estrange yourself from any remaining relatives and friends. Who needs them when you could be at your job? After that, move into a condo, hire a housekeeper, and eat every meal from a take out container or the freezer case. Stop exercising, don’t date (it might lead to a second family that would take time from work), and medicate as needed to avoid sleep. If this appeals to you, you will sure get a lot more accomplished at work. Think of the praise! the accolades! the warm fuzzy feelings and even, maybe, more money, more recognition, and more challenges! And more work to fill the time.

You will have achieved the goal of a perfect work-life balance. No life other than work means plenty of time for work. All the time in the world in fact. Until you can no longer work, for whatever reason. Hope you planned to fill that time as well, or you planned for your euthanasia as soon as you can no longer work or be productive.

So. Is this what you want? If you don’t, then you will have to make choices. Unless we are trust fund babies or hit big in the lottery, we all have to do some work for money. The difficulty lies in how much and how hard. This is where thrifty, clean living reappears again as you need to work less if you have smaller monthly expenditures. What are your goals? Your dreams? If you need piles of money to achieve them, then working flat-out and saving every penny may be needed. If you plan on working twelve hour days for years on end in order to be stunningly rich, then your family needs to be onboard in advance, or you should do this before acquiring one. Or you may want to revisit those goals and dreams. Are they yours or are they someone else’s? Stunningly rich and financially independent are not the same thing. Financially independence means you have enough money to meet your needs (not wants) with some leftover for savings and a few wants. If you live lower on the food chain, you don’t need as much income and savings to achieve financial independence.

Our culture seems to have made a fetish of working all the time every place you go. Electricity and central heating mean daylight and climate no longer matter. Humans evolved to sleep when the sun went down. Don’t need to do that anymore. Technological improvements mean that you can’t escape your job. When you needed a secretary to type your memos and opinions, you could only work when the secretaries were on duty. Now, everyone is their own secretary, their own receptionist, and their own janitor. Why pay for lower level staffers when the magic of technology can make those jobs go away? The work still remains of course. Your smart phone, your netbook, your Wi-Fi access wherever you go, your car fax; all act as permanent electronic dog leashes. Factory work gets sent off overseas or is automated so the factory no longer needs to deal with pesky, demanding workers. And, with factories overseas, the remaining office staff have to be on 24/7 schedule as the factory is in a different time zone!

You can’t be in two places at once. Trying to multi-task (i.e., play with your kids while taking a meeting via the speaker phone) just means you do both actions poorly. Can you really pay attention to your sons’ school concert and draft legal opinions via email? Why are you still at work at eight PM anyway, unless you are a shift worker? Sending emails when you are supposed to be with your spouse tells your spouse that work matters more than they do. If your spouse is checking email rather than spending time with you, then who does he value more? Why are you married to each other anyway?

When you have a stroke from overwork who is going to visit you in the physical therapy unit? How can you get your time back? Get your life back? The only way I can see is to choose to say no. No to the bigger house, the vacation home, the vacations to places other than the vacation home, the boat, the wardrobe of vehicles; No, in fact to all kinds of things that cost money and time. Less money spent means less money that has to be earned. And less money earned at a less demanding job can mean more time with the family you claim to love and doing the things you claim you care for. Look over your needs and wants (they are not the same) and see what can be cut back. If your wants and needs are so great that you have to work paid overtime in order to pay for everything, you are really out of balance. You will have to cut back and cut back hard to have any life at all. Sell that boat that you don’t have the time (or money!) to put in the water. It is just a huge, expensive paperweight.

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Working Hard? You’re Being Played

Cutting back on hours, refusing to be over-worked like a borrowed mule is not a popular choice these days. Workaholics sneer at this weakness. Companies won’t hire more people to spread out the load, relying on loopholes in the law by making you a “manager” even when you don’t have managerial authority, or even worse, creating “independent subcontractor” jobs to keep from paying benefits. In technology fields, companies favor hiring workers from overseas to pay them less (because as you know, in a country of 300 million people, there are not enough tech workers to go around).

Think about it: if you and a co-worker both work sixty hours a week, hiring another person means three people who each work forty hours a week. All three people would be employed and have some time for family, friends, church, and community. But no employer will do this as long as they don’t have to. Why pay three people for 120 hours of work when you can pay two people for eighty hours a week and get the other forty hours for free because the two employees are terrified of losing their jobs and are willing to work twenty hours a week extra for free? Or even better, they love their jobs and are thrilled to have the challenge of stuffing sixty hours in a forty-pound sack.

If you are a free-lancer or self-employed, the problem is even more acute. As your own boss, you set your own hours. If you aren’t working, you aren’t earning any money at all. How then, do you decide when to hide in the home office slaving away for hours and hours as opposed to going to your son’s band concerts? Thrift and a budget come to your rescue again. If you are in debt up to your eyeballs, and refuse to cut back on the lifestyle; then, well, back to work. If you have money in the bank to meet the bills, take two hours off to go to the recital.

We wear our clothes until they wear out or are outgrown. We don’t spend the several thousand dollars a year on clothing that is the national average. We don’t have our television hooked up to the outside world. It only plays DVDs (from the library for free) and games. This saves us hundreds to a few thousand dollars per year on cable TV costs. Premium channels cost more. Add up the annual costs of your TV and cable and all their costs. Is that dollar value worth it to you? Add up all the meals out, the travel, the alcohol and tobacco; how hard do you want to work to pay for them? Only you know. Is it worth it to you? Only you know.

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Beat the System by Not Playing

A very eye-opening book to look for (it changed my way of thinking) is “Your Money Or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence” by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. Most libraries have it or you can get it through your library’s interlibrary loan program. This book is widely available on the second-hand market so you may get lucky at the thrift shop or library sale. The takeaway from “Your Money or Your Life?” Money is something we choose to trade our life energy for. Or, to be simpler: Money = Life Energy. Remember that financial independence (or financial freedom if you prefer) means having enough and a little left over. Deciding on what is enough is the tough part.

“Your Money or Your Life” helps with this part too. It moves on to calculating how much you actually earn per hour. This includes not just actual job time, but also job required clothing, dry cleaning costs, lunches out, convenience products and services, anything that you pay out to keep your job or that you can’t do yourself because of the job. Add up your salary (after taxes!); subtract all job related expenses; divide what is left by your total time spent working (including commuting time as that is a job cost). Roughly, what is left is your actual hourly wage. Lets say, after all the math (the book does a better job than I do) you figure out that you take home ten dollars an hour. You look at the Coach handbag on sale for only $150. So stylish. So long wearing. You will have to work fifteen solid hours to pay cash for it. Is that Coach bag worth fifteen hours of work? This calculation works for anything. An expensive meal out of thirty dollars? Three hours of your life. A motorcycle (to supplement your car) for five thousand dollars? Five hundred hours of your life. Plus more hours for insurance and maintenance. Use this idea to help you determine if something is a need or a want.

The more Bill and I used the concept of Money = Life Energy, the easier it became to say no to all kinds of wants. The fewer wants we had, the easier it became to meet our needs. This led to being able to say no to offered overtime and yes to taking holidays instead of working them for extra pay. Our life at home was more important to us than the extra dollars. We want a life of our choosing more than vacations, premium entertainment packages, meals out, boats, travel, second homes or all the other trappings of success. Work supports our life. It is not our life.

Think of it this way. You get twenty four hours a day. Never more and never less. Time passes, whatever you do. You will never get the time back that you spend at work or the life energy you expend there. If you had a choice, would you be at work or at home with your family? If you choose family, then be honest with yourself about what you really need to live on, what things are truly worth spending your life energy on and start jettisoning the rest. If the status toys are more important, then own that. Spend more time at work earning more money and stop complaining that you can’t afford to spend more time at home with your loved ones. We apply ourselves to what is important to us and ignore what doesn’t matter. This is how you can start finding that life-work balance.

Recommended Books

“Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink” by Katrina Alcorn

“Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity” by Emily Matcher

“Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time” by Brigid Schulte

Recommended Articles

“I Accidentally Became a Housewife” by Kate Tuttle.

I never thought it would happen to me. After all, I grew up in the heyday of second-wave feminism, raised by parents who encouraged me to think of myself as equally entitled to anything boys got—I even received a Tonka truck for my fourth birthday (though when my father accidentally backed over it in our driveway it was never replaced). My earliest career ambition was to be an archeologist. Later, I decided I would be a doctor. No, a lawyer. No: a doctor AND a lawyer.

My mother’s own feminism, which she was working to pass along to me, was no defense against the other woman’s judgment. In 1970, housewife was a fighting word—women like my mother would find it an insult, while those in Nixon’s so-called silent majority would wear it like a badge of honor. Conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly proudly called themselves housewives even when they weren’t (Schlafly was a full-time writer and political activist who depended on a full staff for household work when her kids were small, after all, even as she exhorted all women to stay home and care for their families).

Like Schlafly, I write for a living. Unlike her, I’m a little bit ashamed to call myself a housewife. But increasingly I’ve come to realize that I am.


“In America, There’s No Such Thing as Work-Life Balance”
by Jessica Grose.

Writer Kate Tuttle became a housewife by accident. She earns a lot less than her husband does, and she’s the go-to parent when it comes to signing permission slips, carting children to and fro, and cooking and cleaning. In a new essay in Dame magazine, Tuttle says that she wants to reclaim the word housewife. “We accidental housewives need to own it,” she writes, arguing that “the work we do is valuable, difficult, and irreplaceable.”

Tuttle’s essay comes at a time when more and more people seem to be finally acknowledging reality: that in our current system, it’s really difficult to have two working parents with full-time jobs, because home life requires a lot of necessary man-hours and a huge emotional investment, too.

One of those people who is being radically honest is PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi. At last week’s Aspen Ideas Festival, Nooyi spoke to Atlantic owner David Bradley about work-life balance. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf called it “as frank a discussion of work-life balance as I’ve seen from a U.S. CEO.” Nooyi talked about working until midnight regularly—none of the “you can be CEO and home for dinner every night at 6” fantasy that we hear from Sheryl Sandberg. Nooyi also talked about how her parents and her husband’s parents were intimately involved in the raising of her two children.

“Thoughts on Law Prof Work-Life Imbalance From Those Left Behind” by Patricia Sun (introduced by Paul Caron at TaxProf Blog).

Patricia Sun, the widow of Law Prof Andy Taslitz (American) who died of cancer on February 9 at age 57, wrote a gripping Facebook post on Thoughts on Work-Life ImBalance From Those Left Behind (excerpted here with a photo of Andy and Patricia, with Patricia’s permission):

I’ll post this on Andy’s FB page because I’m not sure anyone reads mine anymore, and while this can apply to anyone, it’s really addressed to law professors.

In the past 4 months I have kept seeing accolades to Andy’s amazing productivity – the 100+ articles, the zillions of case books, etc., and I have always told people that yes, he led a normal life, yes, he got plenty of sleep and yes, he even took plenty of naps.

But that’s not really true. His life was not normal, at least not to me, and it certainly wasn’t balanced. Yes, I know he genuinely loved his work and yes, I know he had a brilliant and unusual mind, and yes, I know he was cut down in his prime when he still had so much more to give. But all of that came with a price. Not the teaching or the mentoring, but all that scholarship. …

So what was the price in the end? In the entire time we were married we only took a two-week vacation once, and just about every vacation we did take was wrapped around one of his conferences or presentations. The furthest he went on each of his two sabbaticals was his front bedroom, because he spent every single day on his manuscripts. He turned down trips to China, to South Africa, to Japan, and most impressively to me, he twice turned down a chance to be an observer at Guantanamo. Of course he always had different reasons — S. Africa wasn’t safe, the timing of the China trip was bad, etc., but I knew the real reason was he didn’t want to take time away from work. …

Next Week: Only A Natural Disaster Away