I came across a couple of, on the face of it, seemingly unrelated articles this week which caught my eye. The first was about the top five regrets of the dying, not a terribly cheery subject I admit. The second was about fitting a 40 hour work week into only 16.7 hours. Something I’m sure many would like to achieve. The link between the two, as the title alludes to is to do with improving one’s work/life balance – the oft cited holy grail for the modern worker.

Regrets, they’ve had a few

In a study carried out by a palliative nurse one of the top five regrets quoted by the dying, number two in fact, was “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard”. Respondents cited that they had missed their children’s formative years when they were working and their partner’s companionship. If you come to this realisation on your deathbed it is clearly too late. Therefore it is important to get the balance right early in your working career. External influences such as pressure from colleagues and employers have a big factor in your ability to do this. However, that’s a subject for another post.

Too many distractions

I should point out as my boss is probably reading this so I am duty bound to say that I have a pretty good work/life balance. Working for a smaller organisation I have a great degree of flexibility. However, what I wondered was if there was a way to, not necessarily get more done, but to be more focused during my working hours. The internet has been great but at the same time it, along with other modern technologies, has led to an increased number of distractions. This makes focus on a specific task more difficult unless you are very disciplined. As I type this my phone is alive with notifications of texts, emails, snapchats and other social messages all vying for my attention.

The second article I read was on this very topic and specifically how to pack a 40 hour work week into only 16.5 hours. This talked about the need to be honest with oneself. That in order to achieve this you needed to be disciplined and tackle tasks in bite sized chunks. For this it advocated the Pomodoro technique. Here you work on a single task to the exclusion of everything else for 35 minutes then take a five minute break. You repeat this four times and then take a longer, 15 minute break.

Improving my work/life balance

I decided to give this a go to see how I got on. I immediately ran into a couple of problems. Firstly it is almost impossible to completely silence all notifications. The only way you can truly achieve this is to switch your phone off and unplug your computer. This however, didn’t really work for me as a lot of what I do requires internet access. In the end I put the phone in another room and closed all apps that were vying for my attention.  So off went Skype, email, Twitter etc.

This led to the second problem – that our clients would suffer if I wasn’t immediately available to take their calls or answer their emails. This was clearly a “me” problem. When I looked at it objectively I realised that the longest any client would have to wait was 25 minutes (the length of a Pomodoro). I figured that they could probably live with that and so could I!

Lessons learnt

After a relatively short period of trying the Pomodoro it is too early to say whether this is going to work for me. However, here are some takeaways from what I have learnt so far:

  1. you need to start thinking about achieving a good work life balance early. If you are a manager reading this it is contingent upon you to ensure that happens for the people you are responsible for
  2. modern life is full of interruptions that you have to live with and manage. It is increasingly difficult to work without interruptions. in order to fully concentrate on a job in hand you need to find a way of achieve thing this
  3. smaller bursts of intensive, focused, activity does yield greater results (for me at any rate).

Ultimately you don’t want to end up like those in the survey wishing that they hadn’t worked quite so hard.

Photo: the_ewan via Flickr

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