or…have balance in the one you’ve got.

This was an essential lesson I learned early on in my career.  I had the good fortune to be stuck on the corporate jet with our CEO for six hours…just the two of us.  Among other subjects we spoke about handling stress on the job.  I asked him how he handled the intensity and pressure of his job.  His answer was not what I expected at all.

Our challenge is being able to turn it off so that we can maintain our strength and focus for great periods of time…so we don’t burn out.”

First, he told me that he learned how to do it, and the importance of doing it, at an early age when he was a top 10 in the world professional athlete.  I will never forget what he said.  He said, “People like you and me have no trouble turning it on.  Our challenge is being able to turn it off so that we can maintain our strength and focus for great periods of time…so we don’t burn out.”

He went on to say that he learned this early in his career when he had been a professional athlete.  He described that intensity as being far greater than any he had experienced in the business world.  He talked about how critically important it is to be able to rest between matches…truly rest.  How it requires skill in turning off your competitiveness when it is not needed to enable your body and mind to be rejuvenated.  Without it you will not have the staying power to survive tournaments.

Finally, he said that the same is true in business.  We talk all the time about balance, but people do not pay enough attention to it until they burn out, get sick, start snapping at people, make stupid mistakes, or have health problems.  You have to find your own way to turn it off.  It is essential to your life…and your happiness…and ultimately, your success.

He then gave me a clue about how to do this.  He said “stay at the office until you are done for the day…not when all the WORK is done, because it is never done.  Stay until YOU are done…that point when you feel it is time to stop.  You have to learn how to recognize this point…when your body and/or mind is tired and not functioning as well as when you are fresh.  Then stop and go home.  At that point turn your attention to something else and do not allow work to creep in.  Find ways to minimize it intruding in your life.  If you remember something that needs to be done, write it down for when you get back to the office.”

For me, at that time, I had three small children.  I decided that I was going to learn to do this by dedicating my time at home to them.  I used my commute time to unwind (knowing how I drive some might find that hard to believe).   At home I focused on being with my family…truly just with them…no interruptions.  It took a while to become good at that, but I did.

It worked for me.  I became excellent at turning it off, and that was essential to coping with stress.  Today it is a bit more complicated with so many communications devices is use and the expectation that everyone is always available for work and needs to make it THE number one priority.  It requires a more rigorous effort to turning it off…even to include norms for your colleagues to respect about when it is okay and not okay to be working.  That is something about which we have lost sight in recent years.

Give yourself and your family a break.  Learn how to turn it off and have a life.