‘I wished I’d spent more time in the office’

Chances are you won’t be whispering this on your deathbed. You only have one shot, so make it count.

“Death is very likely the single best invention of life” Steve Jobs

One of the top regrets of the dying is that they worked too hard. Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, uttered ‘I blew it’ as his last words, despite an estimated wealth at this death of $65 billion:

How could that be? He was a full-time, always-there businessman! He would do anything to grow his business, and it gave him immense fame and fortune! But that’s where the problem lies because when it came to the rest of his life, Sam wasn’t nearly as dedicated. He was never really “there” as a father, husband and friend. He had the wealthiest pockets, but the poorest soul. And in those last minutes of his life, he realized where he had failed.
Mike Michalowicz

Don’t think you’re ‘wimping out’ by going away for a break or knocking off at 5pm to see your loved ones. It will be well-earned.

After all, time is is our most precious commodity.

When thinking of what success looks like in our companies, we should be looking at other measurements other than shareholder value, how hard we work or turnover, to the intangibles — employee & customer happiness, whether we’re being true to our purpose & values, the amount of time we’re in flow. Most would agree that these are important, but very few take them seriously or check-in to see how they’re doing.

Recent studies have shown that one of the factors that contributes most to our overall happiness is the length of our commute to work. There are different reasons for this:

  • A commute to work eats into our precious spare time with family & friends
  • It makes us worry more and enjoy the working day less
  • And often we can’t predict how long it will take, which makes us feel out of control and helpless

We can almost feels our lives ticking away before our eyes.

I know I’ve been a lot happier since my commute to work is a 10 minute stroll across Brighton, versus a 90 min trek across London on the train and tube. I now have 2-3 hrs extra time with my family each day. I’ve got to see my 2 young kids grow up and feel a part of their lives, even coming home most days for lunch together. This has been priceless.

In their new book Happy Money, authors Michael Norton and Elizabeth Dunn suggest that one of the ways we can optimise our spending for happiness is to ‘buy time’. Too many of us see value in acquiring money, versus freeing up time. Perhaps as it’s an easier measure of success, but that’s not a reason to do it. After all, what’s the money for? We need to play a higher value on time.

Through the Happy Startup School I’ve met lots of budding entrepreneurs that want to leave the corporate world and 100 hour working weeks to follow their own desire to build a startup and do what makes them happy vs what pays well (at least initially). They may end up working the same hours early on but it doesn’t feel like a struggle as they’re in control of their own destiny. At some point though we need to get better at measuring when we’re being effective vs efficient. That is, having maximum impact for minimum effort, rather than being busy for busy’s sake.

When we talk about ‘work-life balance’, this implies that we leave our ‘real’ selves for the margins of life. It should all be just ‘life’, and we should all strive for work feeling more like play if we get it right.

This shouldn’t compete with having a family – our businesses should embrace family so the lines are blurred. The Scandinavian countries seem to be leading the way in getting this balance right:

“Work later than 5.30 and the office is a morgue. Work at the weekend and the Danes think you are mad

Stef Lewandowski talks about leaving by example in his post What gets done is done. Martin Bjergegaard has spent the last 3 years speaking to highly successful entrepreneurs around the world that have built great businesses whilst also leading a happy and meaningful personal life — stories we can all learn from, in his book Winning Without Losing. The rare few!

I think we should lose the culture of work hard = success (and a big pat on the back). I’m as guilty as anyone of checking my emails late at night and working on holiday (like now!) but that doesn’t mean that we’re effective when we’re burnt out. We need to be more in tune with ourselves.

Personally, much of the best work I’ve done has been when I’ve had clarity of thought and a distance from the day to day grind. I make a point of taking at least 5 weeks of vacation a year, ideally out of the country and certainly away from home.

This helps to add some perspective and realise what’s important — people. But also to be able to stand back from the business and see it with fresh eyes. When I look back, I think of memorable experiences, relationships, impact, ‘wins’, travelling – not long days, money or stuff.

Now back to the beach…