Here’s a way to get a sense that you have work-life balance: Manage up. The people who are great at it actually figure out how to do better at work by doing less at work.
Before you get up in arms, please realize that the hardest workers in the office are usually the most lame. So you should never aspire to be that person. I mean, really, if you are working the hardest, you gotta ask yourself why. Are you dumber than everyone else? Slower? More of a doormat? Or maybe all three, but in any case, any answer is bad.
So aim to be only a sort-of hard worker. This will give you great thinking time, for one thing, but for another thing, it’ll allow you to focus on only doing stuff your boss will notice.
Hold it. Are you about to tell me that you do great work and that is how you’ll get ahead? Forget it. People get promoted for being liked. And the hardest worker is seldom the most liked because you need to take time to walk about the office doing nice things for people in order to be liked.
The bad news is that the way to get what you want out of work is to be great at office politics. The good news is that office politics is about being nice. Most of you probably want some feeling of work-life balance, and you will get that by doing less work at your desk and spending more time being nice.
(Newsflash: People would rather work with someone who is incompetent and likable than super-competent and a jerk. So you are safe trading long hours for long lunches.)
The most important component of managing up is figuring out what your boss cares about and then doing sub-par work on everything your boss gives you to do but does not really care about. If your boss doesn’t care, then you should not care either, right? Make sure you get some work that is super-important to your boss, and do a great job on it. Then tell everyone what a great a job you did.
Your good work is like a tree in the forest: If you don’t yell, no one will hear it, and then there will be debate about whether you really did it. Squash debate. Toot your own horn. This is the key to feeling like you have control over your life.
If people think you do great work, you will get more control over the work you take. Superstars have control over their lives because superstars are hard to replace. You can only be a superstar if you are careful to do what matters to people above you. There is not really flextime in the workplace. There is accommodating hard-to-replace workers. So be one. By managing up.