So what about you? Have you reflected on your own work-life balance or integration? How do you spend the minutes and hours of your day? The following exercise is a worthwhile initial reflection.

What is work anyway?

We often use this exercise in the context of the MOVE element of the Sustaining Executive Performance (SEP) programme, highlighting that quality work need not be confined to the sedentary office time that characterizes most workplaces, and which compromises both health and performance. AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong considered the key metric for his executives as ‘10% thinking time’. They had to formally commit to 10% of their weekly time as being dedicated to thinking. How much time do you spend thinking through tough problems? How much time are you spending on other, perhaps less value-added, activities?

A common takeaway from the above exercise is that people discover their best thinking occurs in places other than the office. We conclude that leaving the office to take a shower when confronted with a tough problem may be taking things a little far, but stress the importance of moving and giving ourselves permission that work, especially quality work, need not be sedentary office time.

Scenario storyboard for a typical busy professional

And how does this way of working manifest itself throughout the day? Based on our design-thinking experience, we ask people to map out their typical day on the template below. We stress the importance of noting the small actions, which they may feel incidental, but which can have large ramifications. How they spend the first minutes of their day, for example, or their last, can impact heavily on their productivity and wellbeing that morning or the quality of their sleep, respectively. How they move between the main locations of their day, and the time spent at the office and home. The timing of meals and of course the quantity of work, rest, and play. The level of balance or integration becomes clear, and though many may have lived such a reality for years, it is interesting to note how impactful it can be for them – with a common takeaway being that they have no time for themselves – when it is on the paper in front of them. Having it on paper tends to make it more real.

Your typical working day. Try it!

“I don’t have time!” is a frequent refrain in a modern-day professional life. Yet a reflection such as this will help you identify if you are spending the time you do have wisely. Perhaps change will include cutting away the unimportant tasks, delegating others, or simply finding a new time to do things so as to be more efficient. We have yet to find a case in our coaching work where a close look at the 168 hours available in a week does not offer the space to live a productive professional life that optimizes wellbeing. American author Laura Vanderkam tested her own limits as a working mother of four children in the New York Times article ‘The Busy Person’s Lies’. She logged over 17,000 half-hour blocks in a full year to analyse exactly how she was spending her time, finding that she was indeed busy, but that there was plenty of space also. She concluded there is no contradiction between a full life that also has space.

Published with permission from Chief Wellbeing Officer