It's a Project Manager's World Newsletter with Dr. James Brown
      September, 2011 Full Moon Edition      

The Truth About Work-Life Balance

Odds are high that if you are in an office environment, supporting demanding projects, you don’t have to walk past seven cubicles before you will pass someone totally consumed by their job to the point their work-life balance is out of whack.  There is also the probability you may see this person when you look in the mirror.  Regrettably, over the course of my career I have been this person.

Two keys to maintain work-life balance in order of importance:

1.    Get a Life!
2.    Delegate!

1.  Get  a Life!  I worked for a NASA executive who had struggled with work-life balance to the point that he sought counseling because he was unable to stop thinking about work. After talking to him about his interests, the counselor’s prescription was for him to “build an airplane,” despite the fact that he had not actually flown an airplane in years. Building an airplane to him was so exciting that it put work in perspective and he no longer thought about his work challenges 24-7.  He had an airplane to build.  

What happy, life activities, do you: A. have; B. enjoy and C. actually do that puts work in its proper perspective? 

If you cannot answer this quickly and find yourself doing or thinking about work more than you should you may be a “get a life” candidate.

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Space Shuttle Launch director Mike Leinbach a few weeks after the landing of the final Space Shuttle mission.  Mike has been launch director since 2000 for 37 launches.  Here is an excerpt from my interview with Mike:

James: How do you balance the demands of being Launch Director with family?  You have a job that you could spend 100 hours a week here and still feel like “I need to spend more time.” How do you keep that work-family life balance?

Mike: That’s a great question… my wife and I have been married 32 years now, so something must be going right. [laughs] We live on a little farm north of the base, up in Scottsmoor. When I do leave, I’m able to put this place behind me…. I just enjoy getting away. I enjoy work around the farm. I like playing golf. The family never had any kids but we have over the years have had a slew of different kinds of animals. Now my wife is into golden retrievers and agility training through the AKC. She has a dog that’s going to be a champion so I enjoy seeing her excel at that. I’m taking trash out, I’m mowing the grass, I’m fixing a fence, playing with the dogs… this job could be consuming and I’ve found ways of making it not consuming. I think that’s good for my mental health. I know it’s good for my wife. Because it could be overpowering.

Newsflash!!! - If the launch director for the Space Shuttle Program can put his work behind him when he goes home so can you.

2. Delegate! – The second part of Mike’s answer and ability to maintain work-life balance dealt with delegation… his response continues below:

Mike:  … a lot of the ways you deal with that, of course, is true delegation. A lot of people talk about delegation, it’s another thing to truly do it. Give people the authority and responsibility and expect them to come through and do the job that they’re given. Guidance – give them guidance of course and give them help when they ask. I’m a real believer in letting a guy make a mistake and let that individual learn from that mistake. I’ve done that on console, I’ve done that in the firing room. I’ve done it – especially through the training sessions in the firing room. You recognize that they’re heading the wrong direction but that’s OK, let them go until they get to the point where you have to course correct. Making a mistake and learning from it is a powerful, powerful tool. The last thing that I ever wanted growing up, either at home or professionally, is someone telling me what to do all the time. You hear a lot about micromanaging – it’s a buzz word – and all that is is the lack of true delegation. Delegation is very, very powerful. Everyone appreciates it.

The work-life balance paradox

Overworked people make more mistakes and find poorer solutions to problems.  Some of these problems were the direct result of them or the team being overworked.  Their solution to address these problems is often to work longer hours.  Because we are less productive we are tempted to work longer and when we work longer we are even less productive… and the cycle continues.  Break the cycle, establish a good work-life balance by getting a life and delegating more.  You and those around you will actually be more effective, more productive and happier.

Dr. James T. Brown, author, The Handbook of Program Management - McGraw-Hill

Copyright 2011 SEBA Solutions Inc.  All rights reserved.

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