Maintaining a work/life balance is a challenge for the vast majority of committed workers, but for CEOs, the problem is much more pronounced. It’s driven by numerous factors: a huge workload, a belief that they need to set an example and an inability to relinquish control. This all culminates in them ultimately never being able to ‘switch off.’
Striking a positive work/life balance is also hampered by stories by high-profile CEOs, who claim to be workaholics. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors is a prime example of this. He states that he hasn’t taken a week’s vacation since 2001, regularly works 120 hours a week, with three to four days spent sleeping at the factory, never seeing daylight.
To break this cycle, it’s crucial that CEOs understand: A) what constitutes a poor work/life balance and, B) how they can improve it. This will require changing ingrained behaviour and habits so, believe me, it’s easier said than done. So firstly – what is a positive work/life balance? It boils down to time management. It’s about balancing the time needed to be effective at work, whilst ensuring that you have enough time left over for personal interests, family and social or leisure activities.
As CEOs, we can often forget that we started our career ‘working to live’ – and that the dynamic shifted without us even realising it, to the degree where we are just ‘living to work.’ Sit down – think about what you care about. What you are neglecting. How much time you need to put it right. What type of working pattern would you need to shift to, to achieve a more positive work/life balance?
Change is hard, but the repercussions of not dealing with it are worse. There is a huge amount of research that proves becoming a CEO should come with a health warning. Heart disease is notably higher with CEOs because they are notoriously unhealthier. Stress is also much higher, the impact of which can have awful effects. Family and personal relationships suffer – no wonder the FT reported that CEOs have an above average divorce rate.
To do effectively implement a positive work/life requires a structured approach, based on goal-setting, productivity, delegation and reinforcement. Having clearly defined short- and long-term goals can hugely assist. You will need to start slow – after all, when a CEO reduces their hours, it is going to feel very unnatural, especially in the beginning. The long-term goal can be a stretch – personally, I take one week off every eight to ‘switch off’; as such I have to scale my workload the other seven weeks. I had to work up to this – but it’s been well worth the journey. Having regular time away is crucial for me to think clearly, objectively and creatively about my overall business strategy.
The next step is being clear on productivity. Productivity is not synonymous with hours worked and how often you check your emails on your handset. Be really clear with yourself about how you measure your own success – what are the key activities you do that contribute to this? Track these and try and flip your focus away from time to key performance indicators. Another way to form good habits is only to check your emails during set times each day – I check mine every three hours. That means you don’t miss anything urgent, but you won’t be constantly distracted. Plus, it means you’ll be more likely to fight the temptation to keep checking it after hours.
Delegation is also key to achieving work/life balance. I really struggled with this in the beginning – I felt like it took more time to tell people what I wanted and then oversee it – rather than to do it myself. The problem is that mindset just doesn’t work when a company scales. Delegation takes time to do effectively but it’s worth it to help the senior leadership team develop and also so that you get can let go and ensure that the business runs smoothly. A great CEO is one who enables the conditions for a business to run seamlessly, whether they are in the office, or not.
Finally, the key to achieving work/life balance is reinforcement. Change is hard but doing something repeatedly forms new habits. Digitisation has meant we truly live in a global world – business is conducted 24/7 – but you cannot be a slave to it. There is more to life than the office and when you enjoy it you are more motivated to be a good leader.
Lastly and most crucially, it’s important to remember that the CEO sets the tone and example for a company. A micromanaging CEO that works all the hours under the sun is not someone people want to emulate – be someone that people want to be and enjoy life more in the process.