21 November 2015 12:28:37 IST

Striking that elusive work-life balance

We need to be mentally and physically agile to keep pace with today's fast moving world

Prioritising between work and lifestyle is the crux of this balance that everyone seeks

Some time ago, a retired uncle commented: “Why is everyone, young and old, running constantly? It is as if the country’s economy will come to a standstill if anyone slows down for a moment!”

While this is true, in a fast-moving world, we need to be mentally and physically agile to keep pace. Everybody is in a hurry; there is so much to do and so much more to accomplish. And fortunately or unfortunately, there are just 24 hours in a day. We have technology and tools at our service and we only need to manage time. Often, a perfunctory execution of tasks in an effort to adhere to timelines, compromises the quality of our work.

Striking the balance

So, how does one maintain a good balance between a frenzied work style and a fulfilling personal life?

Proper prioritising between “work” — career and ambition — and “lifestyle” — health, family, leisure and spiritual development — is the crux of work-life balance. The modern corporate world, which operates with stringent deadlines thanks to the quarterly financial reporting to the stock markets, imposes relentless pressure on stakeholders. This is also applicable to private companies which may not have quarterly deadline pressures but are still answerable to their promoters and private investors. Given the huge stakes involved, stress is inevitable. It is important to recognise the reality and develop coping strategies to deal with stress and pressure.

Don’t be one-dimensional

The earlier we develop these habits, the better it is for achieving a satisfying work-life balance. A successful career, which spans 35 to 40 years, is now like running a marathon with the sustained energy required for a 100 metre dash. A good marathoner has clear strategies and knows how to pace himself for the gruelling 42.195 kilometre race. He knows at what stage he will accelerate to gain speed or slow down to recoup his energy with refreshments.

Successful executives are not one-dimensional — they live a balanced, well-rounded life. They pursue their hobbies with passion. In other words, they have found the key to a successful and satisfying life-work-life balance.

I recently read an interview of Aditya Puri, MD and CEO of HDFC Bank, who created India’s most valuable bank with $43 billion in market capitalisation. After 21 years at the helm, he is also the longest serving CEO of a bank in India. He maintains bankers’ hours, leaving office by 5.30 pm or so. At home, he enjoys gardening and gourmet cooking, has three dogs and listens to ghazals . He does not carry a cell phone. Now here is an excellent example of work life balance.

To maintain this elusive balance, there are a few must-dos in everyday life.

Sleep well

Good quality sleep is the biggest casualty in the 24/7 connected world. Sleep ends up getting last priority. A busy executive spends 10-12 hours in the office, followed by dinner with key customers or colleagues. Late night, they catch up with mails to avoid dealing with backlog the next day. And after all this activity, one goes to bed with a preoccupied mind and an over tired body.

Needless to say, sleep is hard to come by. In many cities, people have to commute for hours to reach their workspaces, and this encroaches on time available for good sleep. An overwhelming majority carries phones to bed, checking often for updates or pings from the innumerable apps and social media. Thanks to these sleep disruptions, I have personally seen a number of executives appear tired at meetings, yawning or, worse, dozing off in the midst of a business interaction.

Applicable to students

This is equally applicable to students in business schools. The heavy academic work load and extra-curricular activities lead to the notorious all-nighter, which impacts sleep in a big way. The value of a good night's rest is under-appreciated. An adult needs around seven to eight hours of restful sleep. Prolonged sleep deficit can severely impact productivity and lead to a host of health issues. In many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries, people enjoy a siesta after their lunch. In fact, several medical studies confirm the health benefits of a catnap, also popularly known as a ‘power nap’.

It is common to see employees in many Chinese companies take a quick nap at their work desk and return to work, much energised. Thomas Alva Edison, the famous inventor and founder of General Electric, is famous for his 20-minute noon nap. President Pranab Mukherjee too has talked about his habit of taking a catnap in the anteroom in his office that has helped him tremendously to work with seemingly inexhaustible energy till late in the night.

Move more

This is not only good for your heart, but also for your mental health. It is recommended that people at all stages of life take up some form of exercise that raises the heart rate for 30 minutes, at least four times a week. Many people cite their busy schedule and work commitments for not being able to concentrate on physical fitness.

Stephen Covey, author and leadership guru, compares this attitude to a woodcutter who uses a blunt axe to cut the tree because he is too busy to sharpen his axe. President Barack Obama, arguably the man with the most demanding job, finds 60 minutes every day to focus on his fitness. Closer home, billionaire Adi Godrej, chairman of the Godrej Group, opts for long, solitary walks to collect his thoughts and maintain fitness at the same time. He likes to walk 10,000 steps a day and during weekends, it sometimes goes up to 20,000 steps. These long walks, he says, give him solutions to some of the complex business problems at Godrej.

Renew often

According to Tony Schwartz, author and CEO of Energy Project, human beings are not designed to work continuously. We are meant, instead, to move between spending and renewing energy. Ideally, take a break every 90 minutes, even if only to spend a minute or two breathing deeply.

A middle path between burnout and exhaustion, on one side, and laidback and lethargy, on the other, is a conscious and cultivated way to maintain a healthy, happy, work-life balance. Developing this well-rounded approach is a must for a successful career and a happy personal life.

Be healthy; be successful; be balanced.