What Craig the IT Guy Taught Me About Life, Death, and Work-Life Balance

What Craig the IT Guy Taught Me About Life, Death, and Work-Life Balance

Virtually all my clients say that they want improved work-life balance. Here are four tips from the WW work-life balance initiative I led at Microsoft.

It was awful to learn that Craig, from IT, had passed away from a heart attack while working late at the office. I didn’t know him very well, although over the past two years I had come to appreciate his ready willingness to help with my computer problems. Not being close to Craig, I debated attending the funeral service, but in the end, I decided to go. When my wife and I arrived, a colleague pulled me aside and anxiously asked, “Would you mind saying a few words about Craig?”, then added, “He considered you a dear friend.” Although I was a bit surprised by the request, I figured that several people were being asked to share their memories of Craig, so I said “sure” and began gathering my thoughts. 

As it turned out, I was the main speaker at the service, followed by Craig’s thirty-something son. Only the two of us spoke to the small group of people in attendance. I don’t remember what I said about Craig, but I’ve never forgotten his son’s remarks: “I don’t really know my dad. He was never home. He gave his entire life to the company. I don’t know what else to say about him.” That was all he said, and then he sat down. As an extreme example of what can happen when someone overinvests in a single life priority, it was a profoundly sad moment to me.

Among the various important topics that my executive coaching clients bring to me, achieving work-life balance is almost always near the top. In fact, virtually all my clients say that they want improved work-life balance. I heard the same from people I worked with during my 20+ years as a CFO at Fortune 100 companies. 

While serving as CFO of Microsoft North America, I led a global initiative to improve work-life balance for over 1,100 finance professionals. At the outset of this project, I read everything I could find on the topic; I also spent many hours interviewing work-life balance experts. Based on that research, our task force rolled out a worldwide training program that helped instill behaviors which ultimately improved work-life balance satisfaction by double digits. Following are the highlights I gleaned from the research, along with the associated tips we taught finance professionals.

Highlight #1: Work-life balance is a misleading term. It implies that work and life are two separate things and that one increases only at the expense of the other. The truth is, work is a subset of life’s activities and only one of the various important elements that compose a life. 

Tip: Shifting your mindset to think of work as one of the several essential elements of an integrated life, rather than something separate from your “real” life, is a vital step toward finding satisfaction with the whole. To help shift your mindset, cut out the term work-life balance from your vocabulary and replace it simply with life balance. 

Highlight #2: Because our individual values define what matters most to us, apportioning time to activities that are congruent with our values is key to living a balanced and satisfying life. Since each person’s values are unique to them, no two individuals’ criteria for prioritizing time will be the same. 

Tip: Know your values so you can thoughtfully prioritize the activities of your unique life. Explore and record your values. A close friend, partner, or coach can help you with this. 

Highlight #3: Given that most vocations involve dependencies upon others, sharing our boundaries for work can significantly reduce confusion and false expectations, which in turn lessens the pressure to extend work beyond the outer limits of our values.

Tip: Meet with your boss(es), peers, and subordinates and discuss your mutual aspirations for life balance. Share important personal routines (“I drop my kids off at school each morning.”), communication preferences (“For urgent matters, text or instant message me.”), boundaries (“Sundays are my faith and family days.”), and so on. Ask for each other's support. Memorialize your agreement via email or an informal “contract” or team charter.  

Highlight #4: When it comes to juggling professional and other tasks on a given day, I have found that most people fall into two groups – those who compartmentalize tasks and those who mix them. Compartmentalizers prefer keeping work in one bucket and other activities in another. When they are at the office, they avoid mixing non-professional activities with the workday. When they go home, they avoid taking job-related work with them. By contrast, mixers prefer – and sometimes need – to alternate professional and personal activities throughout the day, both at the office and away. From my observation, neither of these styles is better than the other; they’re just different.

Tip: Determine whether you compartmentalize or mix tasks, be OK with your style, and communicate it to those you work with (see Tip #3 above). A close friend, partner, or coach can help you identify your style. 

In addition to the tips I have shared, many of my executive coaching clients ask about techniques for better managing their time. Two valuable resources for improving productivity, both on and off the job, are David Allen’s book Getting Things Done and the website lifehacker.com

If I learned one lesson from Craig the IT Guy, it was that the priorities we choose in life matter – and not just to ourselves but those around us. As I work with my executive clients, I continually strive to keep their particular values at the forefront of our coaching agenda. If I can help them more thoughtfully make choices aligned with their values, my hope is that someday they will look back on their life’s journey with a sense of satisfaction and wonder as they consider a life lived with integrity and purpose.

Note: Some identifying details in this article have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Sign Up For My Articles

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form

Related Posts

Three Reasons You’re Not Getting Promoted (And How To Fix Them)

Conquer your career derailers and get back on track.

Read More

How Overloaded Executives Can Make Time for What Matters Most

The price of cutting ourselves short can be very high, but the good news is that we don’t have to live that way forever, even if that’s our usual habit.

Read More

What to Do When Your Boss is the Devil Himself

Although it might be natural to want to get away from a nasty boss, in my experience the best course of action is something very different.

Read More

Six Keys to Life-Changing Feedback

Even though it is not always easy, when you offer and receive feedback with genuine intent, it can be a life-changing gift.

Read More

Values Are The Key to Making Tough Choices

I find that many of my clients figuratively navigate dangerous terrain all the time. In these situations, our values serve as our best compass.

Read More

How Top Execs Solve Their Toughest Leadership Challenges

Leaders want counsel from someone who understands where they’re coming from, and who has the skill to push them to create real shift in their thinking.

Read More

The One Simple Phrase That Ensures You Get the Results You Expect

Leaders don't always get the results they expect, but here's how to do it through a simple phrase.

Read More

The Four Keys to Earning Your Team’s Trust

Some leaders try to exert their influence through their authority, but great leaders create true followership by continually earning their people’s trust.

Read More

The True Meaning of Courage Isn’t What You Think

True courage is not the absence of fear, a mindset, or even an emotion. It's a principle of action.

Read More

Four Simple Ways to Awaken Your Focus and Concentration at Work

Here are four ways to increase your leadership effectiveness at work by cultivating the skill of consciousness.

Read More

You're Not an Imposter

If you’re struggling with self-doubt, the first step is to tame your monkey mind.

Read More

What to Do When a Rising Star's Team Can't Stand Him

To learn to play well with others, this corporate tyrant had to gain a “view from the balcony.”

Read More

Three Simple Steps for Making the Right Call Under Fire

To know how to respond in high-stress situations, you've got to start by getting into flow – just like a professional athlete.

Read More

Knowledge Is Good – But It’s the Enemy of Great

How openness to being wrong serves as a force multiplier for the smartest leaders

Read More

To Become More Successful, Open Your Eyes to True Success

There are levels of winning beyond just winning.

Read More

Leadership Doesn’t Happen by Accident—It’s a Choice

The difference between being a leader and being a victim starts with mindset.

Read More

How A ‘Work Persona’ Undercuts Your Long-Term Success

Your genuine self is more effective than your fake self. Learning to dial into your talents and values is the surest way to speed up your career growth.

Read More

How My Personality Almost Wrecked My Career (And How I Fixed It)

The behaviors that limit us are often rooted in the same traits that've made us successful.

Read More

Authenticity at Work: Is There Such a Thing as “Too Real?”

Choosing authenticity at work can be a risky move. Here’s how to know when it’s right.

Read More

What I Learned From (Almost) Getting Fired As CFO Of Microsoft North America

Yesterday’s recipe for success isn’t enough to master today’s challenges.

Read More

How My Near-Death Experience Sparked The Biggest Career Change Of My Life

When life hangs by a thread, we realize what really matters most.

Read More

Services

Executive Coaching

Team Coaching

John assesses teams through qualitative and quantitative measures, then helps you build the path to high performance.

Build your Team
Executive Coaching

Executive Coaching

John's coaching draws on more than 25 years in senior leadership roles at Microsoft, Novartis, and Kodak.

Maximize Your Potential
Leadership Assessments

Leadership Assessments

As a Certified Practitioner of the Leadership Circle, John utilizes best-in-class tools to assess and develop you and your team.

Learn More