Maybe it would make sense to think about corporate life in athlete terms

This article on work-life balance ideologies as relate back to sports is getting some traction at Harvard Business Review, and rightfully so, as ’tis interesting:

This brings us, finally, to the exertion–recovery balance that Loehr and Schwartz see great athletes managing so well. “In the living laboratory of sports,” they write, “we learn that the real enemy of high performance is not stress, which, paradoxical as it may seem, is actually the stimulus for growth. Rather, the problem is the absence of disciplined, intermittent recovery.” For example, in weight lifting, one stresses muscles to the point where their fibers literally start to break down. However, after an adequate recovery period, the muscle not only heals, it grows stronger. Without rest, one ends up with be acute and chronic damage.

Exertion-recovery is one continuum discussed in the article; the other two are “mind-body balance” and “performance-development balance.” The idea behind the first is mentally preparing yourself for business/work as well as physically preparing yourself (eat well, exercise, sleep, drink water, etc.). The idea behind the second is that people at jobs often do the inverse of athletes: athletes spend the majority of time on developing themselves (working out, training) and only a limited amount of time in actual games that matter (relatively), but business-people spend almost all their time doing and very little time training (which is a problem in and of itself).

The article is interesting in part because it speaks to several of the dichotomies inherent in modern working life — for example, people are so focused on how busy they are that they feel they don’t have the time to take five minutes out of their day and regroup, even though those five minutes could totally shift the content and context of the remainder of the day. And head-down performance means so much that there’s no time to think “bigger picture” or even gather up new skills — which can lead to malaise. 

I hardly have the answers to these things, and neither does the main article, really — it suggests stuff like “removing screen-time for your family from 6pm to 9pm,” which is a good idea but just that (an idea) because very few people realize it’s OK to be off-line once in a while. (I went for a 4-mile walk earlier today. I didn’t take my phone. When I got back, the only thing on there was a Twitter notification. I’m not saying I’m remotely important, but disconnecting once in a while is fine — and can make you feel better about the other aspects of your life.) I do know that “work-life balance” has about 155 million results on Google, including several top hits (for me) claiming it’s “dead” (scary), so clearly this is something people want to know about. I honestly do think everything related to work-life balance comes back to personal context: can you look at something and tangibly realize that, although someone at work is telling you it’s a drop-dead priority for tonight, it could actually wait until tomorrow afternoon? Once you have the foresight and the power to do stuff like that, I think work-life balance becomes easier to manage as a concept. Everyone’s busy, but it’s all a function of choice. Make more effective choices — but yes, think about it a little bit like you would as regards your exercising. How can you maximize that kind of stuff? By making other good choices over here in this other domain.

The point is, it can be done, and it’s more than just “Oh, well, everyone’s life is like this!” Take control. Isn’t that what great athletes do too?


Ted Bauer

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