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TEDxSydney

Nigel Marsh: How to make work-life balance work

Filmed:

Work-life balance, says Nigel Marsh, is too important to be left in the hands of your employer. Marsh lays out an ideal day balanced between family time, personal time and productivity -- and offers some stirring encouragement to make it happen.

- Author and marketer
Nigel Marsh presents and writes on business and personal life -- and how the two interact. He is the author of "Fat, Forty and Fired." Full bio

What I thought I would do
00:15
is I would start with a simple request.
00:17
I'd like all of you
00:20
to pause for a moment,
00:22
you wretched weaklings,
00:24
and take stock of your miserable existence.
00:26
(Laughter)
00:29
Now that was the advice
00:33
that St. Benedict gave his rather startled followers
00:35
in the fifth century.
00:37
It was the advice that I decided to follow myself
00:39
when I turned 40.
00:41
Up until that moment, I had been that classic corporate warrior --
00:44
I was eating too much, I was drinking too much,
00:47
I was working too hard
00:49
and I was neglecting the family.
00:51
And I decided that I would try
00:53
and turn my life around.
00:55
In particular, I decided
00:57
I would try to address the thorny issue
00:59
of work-life balance.
01:01
So I stepped back from the workforce,
01:04
and I spent a year at home
01:07
with my wife and four young children.
01:10
But all I learned about work-life balance
01:13
from that year
01:15
was that I found it quite easy
01:17
to balance work and life
01:19
when I didn't have any work.
01:21
(Laughter)
01:23
Not a very useful skill,
01:27
especially when the money runs out.
01:29
So I went back to work,
01:32
and I've spent these seven years since
01:34
struggling with, studying
01:37
and writing about work-life balance.
01:40
And I have four observations
01:43
I'd like to share with you today.
01:45
The first is:
01:47
if society's to make any progress on this issue,
01:49
we need an honest debate.
01:52
But the trouble is
01:55
so many people talk so much rubbish
01:57
about work-life balance.
01:59
All the discussions about flexi-time
02:02
or dress-down Fridays
02:04
or paternity leave
02:07
only serve to mask the core issue,
02:09
which is
02:12
that certain job and career choices
02:14
are fundamentally incompatible
02:17
with being meaningfully engaged
02:20
on a day-to-day basis
02:22
with a young family.
02:24
Now the first step in solving any problem
02:28
is acknowledging the reality of the situation you're in.
02:30
And the reality of the society that we're in
02:33
is there are thousands and thousands
02:37
of people out there
02:39
leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation,
02:41
where they work long, hard hours
02:45
at jobs they hate
02:47
to enable them to buy things they don't need
02:49
to impress people they don't like.
02:51
(Laughter)
02:53
(Applause)
02:55
It's my contention that going to work on Friday in jeans and [a] T-shirt
02:58
isn't really getting to the nub of the issue.
03:02
(Laughter)
03:04
The second observation I'd like to make
03:08
is we need to face the truth
03:10
that governments and corporations
03:12
aren't going to solve this issue for us.
03:14
We should stop looking outside.
03:17
It's up to us as individuals
03:19
to take control and responsibility
03:21
for the type of lives that we want to lead.
03:24
If you don't design your life,
03:27
someone else will design it for you,
03:29
and you may just not like
03:32
their idea of balance.
03:34
It's particularly important --
03:36
this isn't on the World Wide Web, is it? I'm about to get fired --
03:39
it's particularly important
03:41
that you never put the quality of your life
03:43
in the hands of a commercial corporation.
03:46
Now I'm not talking here just about the bad companies --
03:50
the "abattoirs of the human soul," as I call them.
03:53
(Laughter)
03:56
I'm talking about all companies.
03:58
Because commercial companies
04:01
are inherently designed
04:03
to get as much out of you [as]
04:05
they can get away with.
04:07
It's in their nature; it's in their DNA;
04:09
it's what they do --
04:11
even the good, well-intentioned companies.
04:13
On the one hand,
04:16
putting childcare facilities in the workplace
04:18
is wonderful and enlightened.
04:20
On the other hand, it's a nightmare --
04:22
it just means you spend more time at the bloody office.
04:24
We have to be responsible
04:29
for setting and enforcing
04:31
the boundaries that we want in our life.
04:33
The third observation is
04:37
we have to be careful
04:39
with the time frame that we choose
04:41
upon which to judge our balance.
04:44
Before I went back to work
04:48
after my year at home,
04:50
I sat down
04:52
and I wrote out
04:54
a detailed, step-by-step description
04:56
of the ideal balanced day
04:59
that I aspired to.
05:02
And it went like this:
05:04
wake up well rested
05:07
after a good night's sleep.
05:09
Have sex.
05:11
Walk the dog.
05:14
Have breakfast with my wife and children.
05:16
Have sex again.
05:19
(Laughter)
05:21
Drive the kids to school on the way to the office.
05:24
Do three hours' work.
05:27
Play a sport with a friend at lunchtime.
05:29
Do another three hours' work.
05:32
Meet some mates in the pub for an early evening drink.
05:34
Drive home for dinner
05:38
with my wife and kids.
05:40
Meditate for half an hour.
05:43
Have sex.
05:46
Walk the dog. Have sex again.
05:48
Go to bed.
05:51
(Applause)
05:54
How often do you think I have that day?
05:59
(Laughter)
06:01
We need to be realistic.
06:04
You can't do it all in one day.
06:06
We need to elongate the time frame
06:08
upon which we judge the balance in our life,
06:11
but we need to elongate it
06:13
without falling into the trap
06:15
of the "I'll have a life when I retire,
06:17
when my kids have left home,
06:20
when my wife has divorced me, my health is failing,
06:22
I've got no mates or interests left."
06:25
(Laughter)
06:27
A day is too short; "after I retire" is too long.
06:29
There's got to be a middle way.
06:32
A fourth observation:
06:36
We need to approach balance
06:38
in a balanced way.
06:40
A friend came to see me last year --
06:43
and she doesn't mind me telling this story -- a friend came to see me last year
06:45
and said, "Nigel, I've read your book.
06:48
And I realize that my life is completely out of balance.
06:50
It's totally dominated by work.
06:53
I work 10 hours a day; I commute two hours a day.
06:56
All of my relationships have failed.
06:59
There's nothing in my life
07:01
apart from my work.
07:03
So I've decided to get a grip and sort it out.
07:05
So I joined a gym."
07:08
(Laughter)
07:10
Now I don't mean to mock,
07:13
but being a fit 10-hour-a-day office rat
07:16
isn't more balanced; it's more fit.
07:20
(Laughter)
07:23
Lovely though physical exercise may be,
07:25
there are other parts to life --
07:28
there's the intellectual side; there's the emotional side;
07:30
there's the spiritual side.
07:32
And to be balanced,
07:34
I believe we have to attend
07:36
to all of those areas --
07:38
not just do 50 stomach crunches.
07:40
Now that can be daunting.
07:43
Because people say, "Bloody hell mate, I haven't got time to get fit.
07:45
You want me to go to church and call my mother."
07:48
And I understand.
07:50
I truly understand how that can be daunting.
07:52
But an incident that happened a couple of years ago
07:55
gave me a new perspective.
07:58
My wife, who is somewhere in the audience today,
08:00
called me up at the office
08:03
and said, "Nigel, you need to pick our youngest son" --
08:06
Harry -- "up from school."
08:09
Because she had to be somewhere else with the other three children for that evening.
08:11
So I left work an hour early that afternoon
08:14
and picked Harry up at the school gates.
08:17
We walked down to the local park,
08:21
messed around on the swings, played some silly games.
08:23
I then walked him up the hill to the local cafe,
08:26
and we shared a pizza for two,
08:29
then walked down the hill to our home,
08:32
and I gave him his bath
08:34
and put him in his Batman pajamas.
08:36
I then read him a chapter
08:39
of Roald Dahl's "James and the Giant Peach."
08:41
I then put him to bed, tucked him in,
08:44
gave him a kiss on his forehead and said, "Goodnight, mate,"
08:46
and walked out of his bedroom.
08:48
As I was walking out of his bedroom,
08:50
he said, "Dad?" I went, "Yes, mate?"
08:52
He went, "Dad, this has been the best day
08:55
of my life, ever."
08:57
I hadn't done anything,
09:02
hadn't taken him to Disney World or bought him a Playstation.
09:05
Now my point is
09:08
the small things matter.
09:10
Being more balanced
09:13
doesn't mean dramatic upheaval in your life.
09:15
With the smallest investment
09:18
in the right places,
09:20
you can radically transform the quality of your relationships
09:22
and the quality of your life.
09:25
Moreover, I think,
09:27
it can transform society.
09:29
Because if enough people do it,
09:32
we can change society's definition of success
09:34
away from the moronically simplistic notion
09:37
that the person with the most money when he dies wins,
09:40
to a more thoughtful and balanced definition
09:44
of what a life well lived looks like.
09:47
And that, I think,
09:51
is an idea worth spreading.
09:53
(Applause)
09:55

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About the speaker:

Nigel Marsh - Author and marketer
Nigel Marsh presents and writes on business and personal life -- and how the two interact. He is the author of "Fat, Forty and Fired."

Why you should listen
Nigel Marsh is the author of Fit, Fifty and Fired-Up, Fat, Forty and Fired and Overworked and Underlaid. He's the chairman of strategic research consultancy The Leading Edge and the co-founder of the energy-saving movement Earth Hour. Marsh also founded The Sydney Skinny.
More profile about the speaker
Nigel Marsh | Speaker | TED.com