Work-Life Balance: How to Get a Life and Do Your Job

BusinessWeek readers make it seem possible. Here's how some have succeeded in a balancing act

There is a species of knowledge worker that seems transcendentally competent when it comes to finessing work-life balance. These are the people of the tidy desks and tidy homes. The work-life super class. They don't skulk in late like the rest of us. They don't wear rumpled clothes, miss deadlines, or weaken before the vending machine. Are these people for real? Is work-life balance achievable? We asked our readers. Some responders groaned that, owing to a hypercompetitive workplace and the race for status, the answer was no. But more disagreed, having found ways to make their lives less chaotic when it comes to juggling what often feels like two full-time jobs. Sanity actually exists, they say. Hallelujah! Now, dear readers, over to you.

Karyn Couvillion, co-founder, reeboot strategy, Austin, Tex.Does this sound familiar? 350 e-mails a day in my inbox. BlackBerry, cell phone, and laptop constantly in tow. Check my Outlook calendar and see that I'm double- or triple-booked in meetings every hour, plus a 7 a.m. global conference call. Being told by management that we cannot hire additional head count because of a hiring freeze, despite the hefty increase in responsibilities for my team. That was me a year ago. The red tape, politics, ridiculous expectations, and meager resources made it nearly impossible to do my job as an advertising and brand manager for a large tech company. On top of it, I had just returned from maternity leave after having my first child. And my father was very sick with leukemia, but I could not take the out-of-state trip to visit him due to a company policy that burned vacation and sick time as part of maternity leave.

So I quit. So did my husband, who worked in a top advertising agency. In fact, we both quit on the same day: Sept. 11, 2007. We decided that life was too short and we had had enough. What was our worst-case scenario if we quit? Having to sell our home and look for jobs elsewhere? Better than losing our marriage and our sanity.

Our friends and colleagues could not understand it. Rumors were flying that we had come into some family money. Nope. Just several years of saving for a rainy day. And boy, was it pouring. My husband started consulting immediately. I wanted to spend some time with my ill father. The marketing consulting business my husband started took off, and because of our similar backgrounds and experience, it was a natural fit for us to work together.

Ten months after quitting, we have more business than we can handle. My husband named the business reeboot strategy because in explaining our rationale for quitting our big corporate jobs he would say: "We needed to hit Control + Alt + Delete on our lives and start over."

When my father died on Dec. 2, 2007, I was there by his side.

Hermes Aleman, assistant vice-president, Affinity Bank, Hayward, Calif.I was a private banker for seven years and I met individuals who made more than seven figures a year, but the more they made, the more they spent. My prior manager gave me the following advice the first month I became a private banker: "Meet your needs and control your wants so that you have financial freedom and don't become a slave of your work." So, now I work to live, NOT live to work.

John Harris, account executive, Digi International, Austin, Tex.My wife and I have achieved a great work-life balance through strategic planning.

For example, we obtained advanced degrees in our single years for career paths that pay well; we paid off all our debts the first year of our marriage, paid cash for our cars and our vacations, and have contributed the maximum to our 401(k) plans. We built our house with virtually no upgrades. We paid cash for the upgrades over time and did as much of the labor ourselves as we safely could.

We both work and are probably considered underachievers by our peers even though we have a much higher standard of living than the average person. Our employers provide flexible work hours. So, we go to work early and leave early.

In the summer, we are able to pick up our daughters, ages 3 and 6, from day care and spend over three hours swimming in the lake and having a picnic before we give them their baths and read them their bedtime stories. We get the kids to bed by 8:30 p.m. and still have an hour of quality time to spend together every night before going to sleep.

Oliver Tabamo, senior systems administrator, NBC/Universal Music Group, Alhambra, Calif.Last year I got married and started a new job as an IT consultant with the benefit of working from home. Armed with a laptop and BlackBerry, I would sometimes work well past 11 p.m. and on most weekends. Needless to say, my wife really hated it. It was as if I was trying to prove myself more to my employer than I was to my wife. It wasn't the best way to start off a new marriage. I gained about 30 lbs., and I started to question if the income I was earning was worth the sacrifice.

Fast-forward a year, and now I'm still an IT consultant for a different company. My hours are regulated to 40 a week. BlackBerry e-mails after 6 p.m. don't get read until the train ride the following day, and I was able to shed the extra pounds by riding my bike, running, playing golf, and playing tennis with my wife. As for my marriage...we're planning on starting a family.

Sarah Sherman, managing director, Hoffman Europe, LondonI learned that you can learn to completely control how you react to negative people and situations. Most people don't realize it, but they create their own stress.

Christopher Wong, Radiologist, Sydney, Australia"Work is a means of living, it is not life itself," said Mahatma Gandhi.

I quit a stressful job (that I was good at) in a prestigious institution to work fewer hours in a less glamorous environment, spending more time with family and friends. I have no regrets.

Hursh Chetan, technical consultant, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), New DelhiI lived and worked in the Mideast as well as in India. After working for almost 15 years in very competitive IT companies and in very high-growth markets, I realized that the magic is when you learn how to manage the stress.

Just switch off the e-mail and the BlackBerry and the mind from the office. Focus on the simple things of life—rain, wind, new flowers, green grass, simple food, family visits, a stroll in the garden. There are no sudden things that will change your life for the better. It is the accumulation of beautiful small things.

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