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Issue Date: December 2008


Work to Get Your Life Back

Dr. Joseph Varley | Summa Health System
In a world where everyone is working longer, harder and faster, perhaps the biggest feat anyone can accomplish is building a successful career while maintaining a satisfying personal life.
Dr. Joseph Varley, chairman of psychiatry for the Summa Health System, says attaining that elusive balance is “an active process” that continually morphs to meet the demands of work and home.

“There’s no simple formula,” he says. “The context and competing aspects of one’s life change.”

The first step to achieving that balance, however, is the same for everyone: noticing that it’s lacking from their lives in the first place. To continue the journey, Varley suggests the following:
Experiment with your schedule: “Try to change something and notice what happens,” Varley recommends.

If you go to work an hour early, are you able to go home an hour early? Or does your boss, who’s also an early riser, give you yet another assignment because you’ve got the extra time? Perhaps working on your home computer for an hour before going to the office would be a better option.

Are dinner plans with your spouse or significant other continually scrapped by last-minute meetings? Quality lunch hours may be a viable alternative if you work within a quick drive of each other.

Realize that the work is never going to be done: Accepting this simple fact makes it possible for Varley to leave his office at around 5:30 p.m. and participate fully in family life instead of worrying about what’s still on his desk. “It’s an illusion, being done — at least in the way I approach my work. So I put some time parameters around it.”

Limit the projects you agree to take on: At the very least, be selective in the things you say “yes” to: volunteer commitments, leisure-time activities that have the potential to turn into energy-draining drudgery (planning the persnickety wine club’s trip to Napa Valley, for example) and responsibilities you’re not asked to assume at work can add up.

Talk to your boss: Varley suggests approaching your superior carefully, with the assumption that he or she may be unaware of just how much you’re doing.

“[Explore] the possibility of whether that can be discussed, if there are other ways of getting the job done, of distributing the work in a different way,” he advises. “Frankly, that depends on the quality of your boss, whether he or she is willing to be flexible and creative. But if you approach somebody [with the desire] to clarify and gain understanding of their perspective, to articulate some of your concerns, it usually doesn’t result in their getting upset.”

Varley adds that some people discover they actually can limit their responsibilities and remain respected employees. Indeed, those conscientious, dedicated souls who say “yes” all the time often have more control over their workload than they think.

“They’re so respected, their work is so valued, that drawing a line might feel like they’re really pushing back [when] others might not experience it that way at all.”

Re-evaluate the workplace: Varley acknowledges that some work environments are so tense and harsh that the fear of reprisal for initiating such a discussion is justified. If that is the case, you may want to consider looking for another job. While landing a new position may not be possible in this uncertain economy, you can begin making plans for an escape —preparing your resume, networking, going back to school, etc. — so you can make a move when times are better.

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