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An Easy 12-Step Program to Keep Leaders Healthy

executive-health-work-life-balance-wellbeingCall me hopelessly naïve, but I think it’s possible to run a major corporation and still work less than 15 hours a day.
There is no leadership message more destabilizing than hearing that a chief executive is unexpectedly taking time off because of “fatigue”. Taking a sudden unplanned break is bound to raise doubts about a leader’s ability to manage his or her “work/life balance.”

That phrase “work/life balance” has always annoyed me because it suggests that work and life should be and can be kept separate. They absolutely cannot be isolated from each other for many people, especially most highly successful people.

A better term might be “work/health balance”. This helps leaders focus on the fact that too much time and energy spent on work can be detrimental to one’s health, something almost everyone understands already. If you are a CEO the precarious state of your health, of course, pose a great risk to the whole organization.

Imagine you’re the chief executive on a multi-million dollar compensation package. How might you arrange things to keep yourself healthy while still working 12 or 13 hours a day? Here’s a checklist:

Step One: Ask your personal administrator to find a top-notch nutritionist who specializes in working with senior executives

Step Two: Have two one-hour appointments (in total) with said nutritionist (they’ll of course visit you in your office if you pay them enough)

Step Three: Have said nutritionist design a daily and weekly meal plan and, in cooperation with a local high-quality restaurant or caterer, arrange for them to deliver two to three ultra-healthy and highly palatable meals (it *is* possible!)

Yes, this is expensive compared to trying to subsist on daily sandwiches and conference room cookies, but the cost would amount to about 0.2% of the average CEOs compensation. In Google-speak this is known as a “rounding error.”

Step Four: Eat as many of these meals as you can. When eating with others be extremely minimal with what you actually consume that isn’t part of your plan. This will mean you spend less time chewing and swallowing, giving you more time to hold-forth and speak in a leaderly fashion

Step Five: Take three or four one-hour lessons in mindfulness focused breathing exercises (in your office, of course)

Step Six: Ask your PA to hire a personal trainer to work out three times per week for 30 minutes in the morning before being chauffeur-driven to your office (again, at the cost of a rounding error)

Step Seven: Practice focused breathing (yes! in your office) for about seven minutes in the morning and about seven minutes in the afternoon *every day* (yes, I know, that’s a bit more than a total of 60 minutes (!) per week)

Step Eight: Take 10 minutes a day to walk around the block at approximately 12 noon to get some unfiltered daylight on your face and into your eyes (again – slightly over 1 hour per week)

Step Nine: Have a real family meal once during the week, even if it means dragging your whole family over to a restaurant near the office for a one-hour dinner at 7pm and you go back to work at 8pm.

Step Ten: Spend at least 10 minutes per week speaking *mindfully* with your spouse in person, face-to-face, with no distractions during daylight hours. Spend a similar amount of time speaking with each of your children

Step Eleven: Stop consuming caffeine (and other stimulants) by 2 p.m. This will help you sleep better; the next day you will eat and drink better, then you will sleep better, and so-on and so-on…

Step Twelve: (This could also be Step One) Dial down your ego and never forget that we, all of us, are replaceable in our organizations, if necessary. Even Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Jack Welch. The corporate show must and will go on. We are, however, much less replaceable in our families than we are in our companies.

Optional: Hire a tough, independent-minded executive coach who will keep you on track, help you vent constructively about work problems, be an independent, objective sounding-board and take some pressure off your spouse, who might now be acting as your only confidante. Approximate time per week 45 minutes and/or 90 minutes every other week.

Cost: Total amount of time taken out of your busy week: 6-7 hours. Still leaving you with *at least* 12 hours a day for work.

Benefits: You get to keep your job, your reputation, possibly carry out some positive changes for your organization and maybe even stay alive long enough to see your children finish their education.

Here’s how the hours stack up:

168 hours total per week (7 days x 24 hours)
49 hours: Sleep (7 hours per night)
7 hours: Basic hygiene and grooming (1 hour per day)
7 hours: Basic food consumption (1 hour per day)
9 hours: Health-focused activities (1 hour per weekday; 2 hours per weekend day)
96 hours: Left for work and related activities (13 hours per day, seven days per week)

And there probably are some unexpected benefits of a better work/health balance: Clearer thinking, better decisions, more creativity for innovation and problem-solving, greater consistency of mood, energy and sustainable contributions, enabling you to lead for year and years rather than a few frantic months.

If you can’t run your business effectively on 96 hours per week, there’s something wrong with the business, or with you or both.

Topics: Work/life balance, executive health, workplace wellbeing, healthy leaders, executive wellness