Monday, January 31, 2011

Finding the “Zone”

There are some implicit assumptions within the concept of work-life balance that are worth challenging. The first is that work is somehow separate to life – something we have to do before life can resume.  The second is that too much effort and time spent in work impairs the “balance” and the quality of life.  The only case where these assumptions hold absolutely true, is where work has no enjoyment, satisfaction or fulfilment other than financial reward.

For people who consider their work has such meaning that it is their life, or for people that love what they do for a living and are driven by it, these assumptions make no sense. In a recent documentary about Dave Brubeck the jazz composer/pianist a fellow musician made the comment “If you find yourself engaging in something at 8.00 in the morning and the next occasion you think of the time its 8.00 at night, you’ve found what you should be doing for the rest of your life.”  What he was describing has similarities to what athletes call entering the zone: a state of concentration and absorption where everything flows and seems to go right.  Apparently in this state, the brain produces alpha waves similar to those found in Buddhists meditating. Such states have been measured not just in athletes, but in people fully engaged in very different activities including computer gaming, as an example.

Whilst these states are only temporary, they do suggest that the optimum work activity is where a person can be 100% engaged, without distraction, completely absorbed and in effect lost in what they are doing. In such conditions people actually draw energy from their work rather than become depleted by it.  This can only be found in activities you love and want to do.

So with work-life balance it’s not the amount of work you do that is the real issue – it’s what kind of work and your attitude about it. If too many of your days consist of responding to the demands of others, or doing things simply because you have to, your energy will become depleted and dissatisfaction will ensue.

People say it’s only the lucky few who are paid for what they love to do. Whilst in a general way it may be true, it’s well worth asking yourself what are the aspects of your job that you really enjoy and love to do. 

The secret to a better work-life balance might well be not in managing your time and reducing your overall time in work, but increasing the time you spend in the aspects of your job that you find most absorbing and fulfilling. Remember – if the time just passes without you taking account of it, you’re doing the right thing! 

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