On a weekend home from college I had borrowed my parent's car and driven into the small town of Pryor, Oklahoma to run and errand. On my way home, soon after I passed the city limit sign where the speed limit increased from 35mph to 55mph, I noticed I was approaching 65 and let my foot off the accelerator. The car went faster. I tapped the pedal a few times hoping it would engage but the car continued to speed up - along with my heart rate and breathing. Now it was 80+mph and in desperation I tried using the brakes to no avail. Thankfully the road was straight, this was after all Oklahoma, but I knew it was possible that this wasn't going to turn out well.
Somewhere above 90mph and still accelerating, I got the idea to try putting the car in neutral and turning off the engine. I didn't know if it would work but by this time I was on my way to 100mph and out of options. I shifted to neutral and heard the engine rev to where it sounded like it would explode. A second later I turned the key and everything went quiet. The car was just coasting now. The brakes were working and I was able to bring the car to a safe stop on the side of the road. My heart rate and breathing took a few more minutes to slow down though. Disaster averted. As it turned out a small pin that linked two important parts in the connection between the accelerator pedal and the engine had broken. It was about the size of a paper clip but almost cost me my life.
I suppose there are a lot of things I could learn from this experience, most of which include some version of "Slow down or die!"
When it comes to work-life balance, evidence abounds supporting the importance of slowing down and having a good plan for alternating between periods of work and rest. In an article on the value of going slower, Carey Dunn cites the following:
"One study from Illinois Institute of Technology in the 1950s found that scientists who spent 25 hours per week in the workplace were no more productive than those who spent five. Scientists working 35 hours a week were half as productive as their 20-hour-a-week colleagues, while workers who put in 60 hours or more were the least productive of all."
For those careful readers who notice Dunn's quote is from the 1950's, I would suggest that, while technology may change, basic human nature does not and the evidence cited is still relevant. A 2004 study by the CDC on workplace safety and health looked at the comprehensive impact of working beyond 40 hours per week. Some of their findings include:
Working more than 10 hours a day is associated with a 60 percent jump in risk of cardiovascular issues.
Working more than 40 hours a week is associated with increased alcohol and tobacco consumption, as well as unhealthy weight gain in men and depression in women.
Little productive work occurs after 50 hours per week.
In white collar jobs, productivity declines by as much as 25 percent when workers put in 60 hours or more.
All this to say, living a life that is in harmony, one that has a healthy rhythm that includes times for renewal is the key to both personal and professional success. I'll say more on the value of living in balance and harmony next week. In the meantime, how do you balance the competing needs for your time and energy? What challenges do you face? What helps? What gets in the way? I'd love to hear from you.