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CIO Unplugged – 10/1/09

October 1, 2009 Ed Marx No Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally, and are not necessarily representative of Texas Health Resources or its subsidiaries.

Work-Life Balance…Debunked!
By Ed Marx

The first thing we boys did after disembarking the school bus was head north for the neighborhood 7-Eleven. Liberated from a day of junior high classes and a numbing thirty-minute bus ride, we hungered for entertainment. Pinball was the current rage, and we all sought the coveted crown of The Who’s, “pinball wizard.” Grasping the corners of the machine, I’d let my fingers become one with the flipper-buttons, slapping the ball into the pins and rails and racking up points. In the heat of the moment, I’d jiggle and rattle the sloped table, eager to outscore my buddies. And then…it happened. My overzealous manhandling would cause the dreaded tilt—the machine disengaged—and my silver ball drained straight down the middle. Even as I write this, I can hear and feel the ominous skull-pounding, buzz. I lacked the perfect touch between allowable manipulation and sheer force. Tilt!

We all go through life encountering a fair amount of tilt. The abundance of balls we’re juggling come crashing to the floor because we can’t manage them all. The contemporary word for the phenomena today is “balance.” Stores carry dozens of books on the subject, and magazines print oodles of articles trying to help us live balanced lives and avoid a tilt scenario.

As CIO’s, our careers are demanding and change is a common constant. Yet families are our support and our hobbies provide fulfillment and, thus, both deserve our time. We desire to perform well in all aspects of life. It’s how we’re wired.

I never experienced as much imbalance, or tilt, until I tried to seek after the elusive balanced life. I’d read all the articles and believed the myth. Like the man chasing the end of the rainbow, I found a pot of disappointment instead of gold. In my stressed effort, I tried to run faster.

At last, it occurred to me. In this information age, the balanced life is not achievable. Nor should it be. We fool ourselves into thinking that life is made up of set components with solid boundaries that stack neatly together like Tetris, with micro interfaces where convenient.

I advocate a different approach—Life-Work Integration. We all look for ways in which to maximize areas of our lives without having a negative impact on our values and ideals. We all desire to live a life of significance. I had the privilege of speaking on this theory at a recent healthcare professional society meeting. The President had heard me touch on the subject a year back while giving a talk on mentoring; he thought the concepts would be of value to his society. Based on the session feedback, the ideas resonated with the majority of attendees.

Balance implies that you give up something on one side of a scale until both sides are even—an exchange. Integration, on the other hand, is fluid and dynamic, bending and blending endeavors—time sharing. I don’t want to allocate 50 hours for work, 10 hours for fitness, 25 hours for family, 50 hours for sleep, etc. I want to bend and blend—to work 60 hours one week but 30 the next. I want to symphonize the flow of all my roles and responsibilities. I may have a desire to get up early and complete an outstanding task, or catch all my daughter’s daytime dance recitals. I may need an extra 10 hours per week to perfect the Argentine Tango with my wife, made doable by combining practice with our weekly date night. I don’t turn off my connectedness to any aspect of life. It is fluid and dynamic, bend and blend.

Here are some everyday examples of integration. One that serves me well is my virtual office. This setup untethers me, further enabling bend and blend opportunities. I carry a single device, and my digital schedule reflects all of my life roles, including my “honey do” list. No more home phone, multiple email addresses, or home PC to slow me down. I network socially through a single portal. Ninety-five percent of my athletic events have, in some aspect, included one or more family members. And I try to bring at least one family member on every business trip. I leverage systems, as well. I belong to an athletic club offering multiple locations. Depending where I start my day, I find the nearest club, all of which are preprogrammed in my GPS. Then there are repetitive tasks. You can hard wire these so you have more time and energy to focus on things that will have greater impact. Andy Stanley states that “systems can have a greater impact on behavior than mission statements.” For some tips on how to maximize the time you do have, see Green Standard Time.

A strong foundation will enable life-work integration and help avoid tilt. Some key aspects:

  • Develop and maintain a strategic plan for your life
  • Make sure principles/values are well defined and unmoving
  • Ensure your life passion is identified and calibrated
  • Surround yourself with accountable relationships and mentors
  • Embrace technology to master time and leverage efficiencies (don’t let them master you)
  • Create margin and set boundaries
  • Develop systems to support your principles and plans
  • Expand your creative capacity
  • Adopt a consistent worldview and belief system (for me this is based on my faith)
  • Man up and make tough choices

The last one is the hardest. Many people go through the process of prioritizing and discovery but then fail in the execution because they won’t pull the trigger on the difficult choices that would propel them to the next level. No one can do everything; and creating healthy boundaries often means eliminating the “good” in order to keep the “great.” Yet, out of a fear of change, of hurting others, or other perceived pains, some continue down the same path, trying to find an unachievable balance.

Take some time to reflect on this post and the possibilities of life-work integration. Review the elements of a strong foundation and how they might keep you from Tilt.

You can do it!


Ed Marx is senior vice president and CIO at Texas Health Resources in Dallas-Fort Worth, TX. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. (Use the “add a comment” function at the bottom of each post.) You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook, and you can follow him via Twitter – User Name “marxists.”

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