Nigel Marsh, author of Fat, Forty, and Fired gave a TED talk on achieving work-life balance (which you can watch above, followed by the world’s longest Rolex commercial). In it he argues we mistakenly believe that making grand, sweeping changes to achieve balance will ultimately end in failure—much like a crash diet. Instead, Marsh believes that strategic little changes make the biggest difference.
Perhaps the best quote from the talk: “Most people work long, hard hours at jobs they hate that enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.” I think that rings true, on some level, for most people. But how do stop that cycle? If situations are so dire that you hate the place you work to the point where it’s made your life miserable, it may be time to quit and do something you love. Marsh points out, however, that even the good corporations can make you unhappily overworked simply because they’re designed to get the most work out of you that they can. If you loved your job at one point and are now finding it miserable, it may not be the job so much as a lack of balance.
We tend to want to make large changes to try and fix the problem, but that often only ends up being a temporary fix we’ll need to continue indefinitely. Instead, Marsh suggests focusing on smaller things. We’ve already looked at why lots of small things are better at making you happy than big ones, but Marsh suggests that a variety is necessary as well. He uses the example of a friend deciding to gain more work-life balance by joining a gym and notes that this is really only going to turn his friend into a more fit office rat, not a more balanced person. Instead of devoting larger chunks of your free time to one thing that matters, or taking long vacations to get away from work, you may be better served by breaking your free time into smaller pieces and using each to focus on the variety of different things that matter to you. Ultimately, Marsh believes, that it is the small moments that end up mattering the most.
While the talk is inspiring, Marsh doesn’t offer up much that’s specifically actionable so I’m going to make a suggestion. Make a list of the little things that matter to you and pick five on any given day. Give yourself 15-30 minutes to do each of the five things spread throughout your day. If you decide to do this for a little while, come back here and post a comment to let everyone know how it worked out.