The Art of Untethering: How Is Your Work Life Balance – Part 1

If we are truly honest with ourselves, we can all say that we have had those moments in life where we have struggled with balancing work and life.  The truth is that sometimes work flows over into life and life flows over into work.  How to balance these two is a question that we must all face and figure out how to answer.

This past weekend I spoke at WordCamp Raleigh on the subject of work life balance. I was overwhelmed with the amount of positive feedback I received in person and via twitter from attendees of my talk. To be brutally honest, this is perhaps the hardest talk I have ever given. To stand before your peers and talk about a subject that can be at times unpopular but needed, is a difficult task. For that reason, I submitted to be a speaker and was honored to be chosen.

In this series, we will talk about work life balance and how it relates to us. The information in this talk derives from my talk and research prior to. This will be a three-part series that focuses on:

  1. What is work life balance?
  2. What are the warning signs that the paths are starting to cross?
  3. Tips to help you maintain a quality work life balance.

What is Work Life Balance?

The concept of work life balance is not a new one. While researching for my talk, I found proof of studies going back to the early 20th century on what was the optimal amount of hours that a person should work in a week in order to achieve the highest level of productivity. But before we dive into that research, let’s take a minute and look at the definition of work life balance.

Work Life balance can be defined as:

Work–life balance is a concept including proper prioritizing between “work” (career and ambition) and “lifestyle” (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development/meditation).

Additionally, Heather Schuck says this:

You will never feel truly satisfied by work until you are satisfied by life.

The truth of this statement should resound deeply in each of us, but I would contend that you will never feel truly satisfied by life until you are satisfied by work. The two go hand in hand.

The 40 Hour Work Week

The concept of the 40 hour work week dates back to the Industrial Revolution when workers in the building trades and related industries rallied together to establish better working conditions. But this concept was revolutionized by Henry Ford and Ford Motor company.

In the early 1900’s, Ford Motor Company conducted extensive research to find the “sweet-spot” for the work week. They found that workers who worked over 40 hours a week, initially had a greater amount of productivity than those who worked the 40 hour work week. The end result was that those who worked 40 hours maintained a consistent level of productivity while the others declined.

At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week. However, the United States does not have a maximum work week length and does not place any limits on the amount of overtime that an employee is required to work each week.

In six of the top 10 most competitive countries in the world (Sweden, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom), it’s illegal to demand more than a 48-hour work week.

Research has shown that on average, 76% of Americans work more than 40 hours per week. This statistic, along with the lack of limitations on work week hours, paints a disturbing picture of where the priorities are as a society.


The end result of increased over-working is burnout. Burnout can be defined as:

physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.

People who consistently work long work weeks get burned out and inevitably start having personal problems that get in the way of getting things done. The fallout of burnout spans both work and life.

Coming Next

In the next part of this series, we will look at some of the warning signs that can help us to know that work and life are colliding.

Stay tuned!