"This is an important call for work babe, I will be quick. Don't worry I'm ready when you are". I closed the glass sliding door and answered the phone walking into my backyard. (I always felt awkward talking work in the house).
The unfortunate aspect of my job, like many others, is that it is always a phone call away. On this occasion, as she was still not ready to leave anyway, I thought that I may be able to sneak one quick call from a new prospective customer before it was time to go.
I was actually on leave from work that day so we could attend a family function, but when opportunity knocks it is my job to answer.
"Hi John, this is going to need to be a quick call. I am actually off on leave today. What can I do for you?" I said hoping that guilt would shorten the call dramatically.
"Andrew we have a problem" he replied.
From this point, my day became a nightmare.
Rather than feel any guilt for the call he then proceeded to tell me about the significant issues he was having with my software. His problem was that he had ignored our recommendations and tried to use it in his business without paying for it.
He should never have used it in this way and now that it had broken some of his systems he was demanding that we fix it.
I was not the right guy for this call. I tried to assist him the best I could. However, nothing I suggested helped and he flatly refused to talk to anyone else within my company. I tried to remind him that he hadn't yet paid for the solution so, although I would do my best, we were under no obligation which only enraged him further.
After about fifteen minutes, my wife appeared at our glass sliding door looking ready to leave. It had taken her longer than expected to get ready and she was now worried we would run late.
I tried to take control of the call. "*John, my wife is now staring at me in a way that is threatening divorce if I don't get off this phone as we are now running late. I'm going to give you the number of one of the experts at work. I'm sure that he can help you better than I can
. Do you have a pen?*".
Obviously I was exaggerating and even tried to add an element of humour in it.
What he said next taught me a big lesson about work / life balance.
He said, "Andrew, if you hang up this call right now you will never "ever" get a single cent from my company or me!".
I was stunned.
He was in the wrong. I had tried to help him the best I could anyway, even though I was on leave. I had tried multiple times to get him on to someone who could help him better or faster and now he was threatening me.
"John," I say finally resigned to my fate. "I am really sorry to hear you say that. But, I am also really sorry that you would think to threaten me in this way when my wife is waiting for me. I'll be back to work tomorrow. If you want to talk to me at that time it will be completely up to you".
I then hung up the phone and walked to the car. My wife was not happy, but neither was I, for different reasons.
I had tried to manage my customers' issue while at the same time enjoying a day off with my wife. Both had ended badly.
For the record, he did call back the next day and we resolved the issue but he never apologised and neither did I. I guess that is just part of a salesman's life.
The Death of Work / Life Balance.
Let us consider for a moment the word 'balance' which is the part of the equation I disagree with. In this situation perhaps 'balance' would imply that perhaps there was a way that I could achieve both my work activity (dealing with an important customer issue) and my personal activity (family function) in harmony.
Perhaps I could have even continued the call in the car but how would my wife have felt in that situation?
If we think of "balance" in terms of a scale or even a child's seesaw we will know that while both sides are in harmony neither are dominant. That would tell us that I really couldn't commit to either activity fully and neither side will get the best of me.
If we consider now some of the people over the years who have had the biggest impact on this world, they are those who are almost always single-minded in nature.
In the IT world, it is the likes of Steve Jobs / Elon Musk / Jeff Bezos. And while I'm not suggesting their personal lives were poor I would not like to have come between them and their work while they were in the 'zone'.
I believe a better model would be The Work / Life Pivot.
By Pivoting, instead of balancing, we instead commit our full attention to the situation at hand. We acknowledge but minimise distractions in an effort to make the biggest impact.
For instance, when with the family, love and enjoy them without distraction. When working, work as if the cure for cancer is at stake.
The Work / Life Pivot model.
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1. Get in the zone.
If you are working then do it right. Create task lists, allocate time, do all the things that make you successful and make them a priority.
If a personal call comes through then set the expectation upfront "I'm really in the middle of something. Is it quick or can I call you back?"
If you are on the life side of the equation, turn off your phone notifications so that you are not tempted to take that 'one quick look' which it almost never is. In the example above I probably should not have taken the call but instead let it go through to voice mail.
I could have screened it first and sent a quick note to one of my colleagues (who was working) to call the customer instead.
2. Stay in the zone.
Be ruthless with your attention. It is yours to direct, however it is under constant attack and rarely do those who want to steal it place any value on it at all.
Remind yourself regularly "This is work time" or "I'm with my family now". Use these sentences as a yardstick to measure each new attention-grabbing activity that may come along.
3. Pivot fast and fairly.
Here I will make one concession and that is that even in this new model there needs to be a little balance.
After all how much fun can you have on a seesaw if one end is always on the ground and the other is in the air? If you focus too much on work then your family life will suffer, and the same goes the other way around.
See pivoting as a healthy way to ensure both parts of your world get the focus they need.
When they have had their time pivot hard to the other side by cutting off further interruptions. Turn your email off on your phone, don't take any more work calls. Alternatively stop checking Facebook or clearing unwelcome distractions during productive work time.
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Work / Life Balance is Dead - Long live the Work / Life Pivot.
In my family, we work hard and have an unwritten rule that work comes first, within reason.
This is because work has been the thing that put a roof over our heads and food on the table. I have been striving over the years to reach the ever elusive Work / Life balance but always felt like there was a part of the equation missing.
But, having written this article now I'm starting to see how wrong that model of thinking can be.
Forget balance! We need to run hard, pivot fast and be fair to ourselves. Give each facet of our lives the attention they deserve and enjoy the rewards that will come.
Written by Andrew Hood.: I am a father of 3 and have spent over 20 years in Sales and Customer Service within the IT Industry.
My blog discusses the Tipping Point moments in my life where I have learnt important life lessons that I am looking to share with like minded people. These moments often occur through my private life, career or even my struggles with Anxiety and Depression over the years. My Blog is mainly about personal and career development and the pursuit of happiness in general.