Back in 2005 while I was working for ESPN Radio, I listened to my former boss Bruce Gilbert conduct a staff meeting and talk to the staff about the importance of having a strong work-life balance. I specifically recall one producer talking about how he’d put in an 8-9 hour day and then shut down. He’d turn off his phone, not check email and if it had to do with work, he’d wait until the next day to handle it.
I was 31 at this time and viewed the opportunity at ESPN as “my shot” so to hear someone talk about enjoying time off and relaxing when I was grinding away 7 days a week was insane. I thought to myself at that time “how the heck can he afford to work like that and tell every manager in the building that he operates that way when everyone in the room is gunning for their chance to break through and ascend to where he is“.
It seemed insane at the time and was one of the rare times when I wasn’t sure I agreed with Bruce or that particular producer but now sitting here 10 years later, I realize why having that separation for some people is critical. I’m heading back to work today following a 2-week vacation and while my time away isn’t fully 100% spent away from the job, I’ve learned over the years how important it is to mentally break away for a bit. As intense as the job can be for a radio station programmer, if you don’t allow some form of mental relaxation into your world, it will ultimately come back to bite you later on.
This is coming from someone who used to pride himself on putting in a 16 hour day and setting the example for his crew of what hard work looked like. I’d listen to my favorite NFL Head Coach Bill Parcells and MLB HOF Manager Tony LaRussa talk about how intensely they coached their teams and how much time they put into their professions that I assumed that to reach that level of success, this was how it had to be done.
What I didn’t take into account was how many times they could be ineffective, worn out, sleeping or just passing time in the building. I also didn’t think about the other approaches that other coaches took which were different in structure yet led to the same results.
As the years have passed, I’ve discovered that it’s more critical to maximize the time you spend in your place of employment and use your time away to clear your mind so you can be fresh and productive. These days I’m more likely to log 10-12 hours at work and do a few extra hours at home just so I can balance out the day and my environment.
If the task at hand requires a 16-18 hour day I’ve still got it in me to go get it done but luckily I’ve hired some great people and have gained enough confidence in them that I know that the job will get done even if I’m not physically standing in the room.
As you’re coming up the ranks in this industry, it’s inevitable to feel like you have to invest every minute of time in your life in the job. Let’s face it, this is a competitive environment and if you want to stand out and succeed at it, you better be head and shoulders above the others who do the same job. On the other hand, not every individual is wired the same.
For some, they need to be buried in the job 7 days per week. For others, they need to clear their minds and get mentally fresh for the next day. It’s not about who punches the clock and logs more hours, it’s about who utilizes their time the best, accomplishes the most and makes others around them better. While those who’ve worked for me will tell you I’m demanding and have high expectations, I’m a big believer that you do what’s necessary for yourself to be effective and get the job done.
I’m no expert on mentally disconnecting but I have worked at it and I find that as I’ve taken on bigger challenges in my professional life that it’s necessary for me to wipe the slate clean 2-3 x per year. I’ve also started to value and appreciate the time with my family much more as I’ve grown older whereas when I was in my twenties and early thirties I was so focused on my career that I got sucked into a bubble where the only thing that was important was being successful. I felt at that time that I’d lose out on opportunities if I didn’t out work everyone in my building, let alone anywhere else and while that mentality was beneficial to me in moving up the ladder (still is to some degree) I’ve also found that if I didn’t adjust and allow for some peace of mind a few times per year that I’d likely have burnt out by now.
Ironically I was reading Phil Jackson’s book “Eleven Rings” where he talks about the need in his life for meditation and how he’d have his players with the Bulls and Lakers sit in silence in the locker room before games to help them with freeing their minds and while I used to think the “zen master” got off on being viewed as a bizarre individual, I can now see the value of the approach. Creating an environment where a performer is able to get their mind right, prior to taking on the task at hand is often necessary for success.
The point of this column isn’t to direct you to utilize more vacation time or reinforce that you should be grinding harder to be successful, it’s to make you examine whether or not you have enough of a blend between who you are as a professional and who you are as an individual. Yes this job is exciting and a lot of fun and for many of us, we’re fortunate that we get paid to pursue our passions but it is still work at the end of the day.
For a programmer or personality that may seem impossible given that every piece of feedback on the radio station ends up in your email, text, facebook and twitter accounts but believe it or not, the building will still be there when you return from your break. When you’re confident in what you do and your results demonstrate that you’re effective at your position, you no longer need to worry about who will be sitting in your chair when you get back. Even if someone is in it, if you’re talented enough, someone else will want you occupying one of their chairs.
I’ve often loved to use the quote “Graveyards are full of indispensable men” because it’s very true. All we can control is the effort given and the results we create and if we hold up our end of the bargain, the rest takes care of itself. To feel like you can’t clear your mind or it’ll result in sending a bad message or leading to a change, means you either don’t work for a great employer, haven’t delivered on what was expected or you haven’t done a strong enough job in delegating and putting people in position to have success while you’re away. I was guilty of not delegating well earlier in my career but luckily I’ve gotten better at it.
Spending time with loved ones, reading, discovering hobbies and investing your personal time in things that help you grow as an individual is just as important as spending your time doing that one extra task as crazy as that may sound. Maybe the corporate execs won’t want to hear that but I’d rather have an energized and focused individual running through a wall for me to get the job done as opposed to a tired and mentally distracted employee who thinks that by occupying space they’ve fulfilled their obligation to the radio station.
Remember, sports is what we talk about and for many of us it’s something we love watching, discussing and learning more of and while I understand it’s a large part of what we do, it’s also not the only thing we’re defined by. At least not by those who are close to us and looking for a way to be more involved in our lives and successes.
The job is important and for many of us, the thrill of performing and the ability to beat the competition fuels us. But you’ll be amazed at how much stronger, sharper and energized you’ll be with a little mental escape every now and then.
Go figure, it only took me ten years to discover that what Bruce Gilbert was teaching in 2005 had some merit after all 🙂