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Episode 344: Achieving the Elusive Work-Life Balance (Free)

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Neal Whitten
Cornelius Fichtner and Neal Whitten

This interview with Neal Whitten was recorded at the 2015 PMI® Global Congress in Orlando, Florida. We discuss his paper and presentation "Achieving the Elusive Work-Life Balance". Here is the paper's abstract:

If you have difficulty in juggling the demands of your job and your non-work life, you’re not alone. Many people feel like their lives are overcommitted and see no relief in sight. Nowadays, work-life balance can seem like an unrealistic objective and can seem more elusive than ever.

I have personally wrestled with my own work-life balance issues for most of my adult life, but—as a senior-aged person—I have learned a massive amount of knowledge and, dare I say, wisdom, about the highly important subject of finding a satisfactory harmony across all aspects of life. I have also read the research and musings from many valuable contributors that have opened my eyes even wider on maintaining a healthy work-life balance. My mission here is to sift through the data and present to you meaningful information that can help you to not only better understand your work-life balance, but can also give you ideas that can help you to achieve the integration that is most important to you.

Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello everyone and welcome back to Management Podcast at Once again, we are live here at the 2015 PMI Global Congress in Orlando, Florida, beautiful Disneyworld. And I'm sitting here with Neal Whitten at the PMI booth. Hello, Neal.

Neal Whitten:      Hey, how you doing, Cornelius?

Cornelius Fichtner:   I'm doing very well. How did your presentation go? You basically just walked out the door right?

Neal Whitten:   Oh, they kicked me out. It was practically staying remotely and I'm humbled. So, there's a lot of people that have interest in achieving the elusive work-life balance.

Cornelius Fichtner:    Wonderful. That is the topic of your presentation and we're going to get that in just a moment.  But my question that I'm asking everybody and you have twisted it slightly is what do you see in the future of project management? And you said, you know, why don't you ask me what is the future issue in project management that hasn't been addressed yet? What is it? 

Neal Whitten:   In my view, there's a big issue that has not been addressed in past years as well. Certainly, isn't been addressed well here today and I think it will be a major issue going to the future. And that is leadership, I think it's very weak. Most PMs don't know what it means to lead. They don't walk into the job. They are business people first and PM second and they don't necessarily understand that. And they are waiting for somebody else to tell them what to do. But they own every problem on that project either directly or indirectly. It's the lack of leadership, the initiative and I think that's where we need to spend more time on.

Cornelius Fichtner:   All right. Achieving the elusive work-life balance was the topic of your presentation today. Why this topic? What is interesting about this topic for you?

Neal Whitten:   Well, for me, it's an area that I've wrestled with for most of my adult life. When I was younger, I worked for a major company for 23 years. I would easily be called a workaholic. You don't hear that term much anymore. But I was divorced after 17 years, I did not see it coming and I'm not saying that having an imbalance in my work-life balance caused the break up. But let's face it, having a poor work-life balance certainly didn't help any. And this is an area that I talk to literally thousands of people a year in our field. And it keeps coming up, people are overtaxed, they're being pulled in a lot of different ways, they don't have a personal life or they don't know how to have a good career without damaging their personal life.

Cornelius Fichtner:    Right. And we also want to mention that your presentation, achieving the elusive work-life balance, is based on an e-learning course and sometime in the future, you and I are going to work together to provide a discount code to our listeners here. We'll get back to all of you out there sometime in the future. Now, let's jump into your presentation. Why is work-life balance important?

Neal Whitten:   Well, let me first describe my definition of work-life balance because everyone's got a different one. But for purposes of this session here, it's achieving an acceptable harmony between your work life and your personal life. So another way of saying it is achieving integration between your personal life and your career. It's something that the lines are getting blurred as the technology goes on and we find ourselves not being able to disconnect from the job. And a lot of times, we're working with people around the world requires us to be up and about at all hours of the day. So, it's important that we kind of wrestled this down. And you kind of ask why is it so important? Stress, burnout. I know people who burnout has caused them to literally hate their jobs and in some cases, hate themselves. And that's pretty heavy and nobody should hate themselves for any reason because we're all work some progress, doing the best we can. But some people they wake up one day and they say, you know, I'm not just happy with my life and they're trying to figure what would help them become happier. So what does matter? And that is to create a personal and meaningful life that includes two key things that a lot of studies are showing about us humans and that is, we want achievement and we want enjoyment in life, we want to be happy. Achievement and enjoyment, two very important things. And if your life is pulled in so many directions that you're not feeling like you're getting a sense of satisfaction in either direction or any direction, then you're not likely going to be happy in getting that fulfillment. From an achievement point of view, we all want to be a part of something, we want to know that we're contributing to something, that someone values us. And then from a happiness, enjoyment point of view, we want to obviously wake up in the morning and say, you know, I look forward to this day.

Cornelius Fichtner:   You sent me your white paper before we got together, I looked at it. And the white paper includes a work-life balance quiz. Of course, we're not going to go through that white paper here and through the quiz right now. But I recommend to our listeners, download it from the PMI website, they do make these papers available after the course. What will the quiz show me? If one of our listeners wants to do this work-life balance quiz, what will be the result that they're going to get from the quiz?

Neal Whitten:    Here's what's going to happen. The quiz has 45 questions. And you - depending on how you respond to each question, when you're all done taking the quiz, you can add up a whole bunch of numbers and then divide by the number of questions and you're going to get what I call life balance score. That score is going to be somewhere between 0 and 5. If your score is 0 to 2.9, then to me, the result's going to be your life is out of balance, that you need to take significant and immediate action to move towards your desired balance and delaying making the needed changes will only make things worse. If your score's between 3 and 3.9, then I call that borderline. Now is the time to take action before things have a chance to fester and get further out of control. If your score's between four and five, I consider that good, your life is in good balance. And you should continue to consciously focus on maintaining that balance because you're probably there because you are consciously doing something about it. So, the quiz will help give you a sense of where I view you're at. But I need you to know that whatever score you get, that isn't the bottom line because I developed this assessment instrument based on norms in society. But you could get a low value on this course and still be very happy with your life. You could be that proverbial scientist going after the cure for cancer and working 80, 90, 100 hour weeks and with no family, no relationships and whatever, and be perfectly happy with your life. But if you're going to take my quiz, you're likely going to come out poor. But for most people, I think. it will be very telling. I think it will nail pretty closely what the real issues are.

Cornelius Fichtner:   Right. And of course, if you get a 5.0 on that quiz, please do give Neal and me a call and tell us how on earth you do that and how you manage your life because that's what I would love to achieve. In your presentation, you then have 21 actions you can take in achieving your desired work-life balance that you go through. And we have gone ahead and we have selected a few out of these. And the first one is create a vision for what you would like your life to look like. What is that all about? 

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. Please subscribe to our Premium Podcast to receive a PDF transcript.

PDUs: Ways of Working, Project Manager Soft Skills, PMI Global Congress, PMI Global Congress NA 2015, Project Manager Skills

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Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, is the host and the author at The Project Management Podcast. He has welcomed hundreds of guests and project management experts to the podcast and has helped over 60,0000 students prepare for their PMP® Exam. He has authored dozens of articles on and PM World 360. He speaks at conferences around the world about project management, agile methodology, PMOs, and Project Business. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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