Joe Robinson is a man who spends his life teaching others how to live. As a world traveler, hiker, and salsa dancer he knows how to make the most out of life. He has also accomplished a great deal in his work life. Joe is the founder of the company Work to Live, that leads workshops training employees to manage stress and find balance in life. He is the author of Don’t Miss Your Life: Find More Joy and Fulfillment Now, a book detailing how to live life to the fullest before it passes you by. He is also the author of Work to Live, a guide to overcoming burnout and overload. His advice has been featured on several networks including CNN, and NBC and his articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Time magazine among others.
In a recent article for Huffington Post, Joe explains how to succeed at both work and play so that you don’t become a “life dropout”. He shares with us more secrets of a balanced and fulfilled life and how to get the most of your free time.
Q. What is work-life balance?
A. Balance means the important things in your life—health, relationships, family—aren’t being neglected by one-track focus on the task side of life. Work-life balance is a daily practice. You have to keep working at having enough time to recharge, connect with others, have fun, and get some exercise. That all upgrades your vitality and life satisfaction, which upgrades your work performance.
Q. How do stressed and overworked employees affect a business?
A. American businesses squander more than $344 billion on job-stress related costs every year, from health costs, to absenteeism, to new recruiting and training for burned-out people who have left. More than 40% of turnover in companies is due to job stress. Beyond the financial considerations, though, stress is contagious. It’s called pass-along strain, and it can quickly infect others. Stress constricts the brain to emotional, irrational thinking, which is costly for the employee and the company. Stress shreds attention and engagement.
Q. Is there anything a person can do once they have become burned out?
A. Burnout occurs when you have used up all your physical, emotional, and mental resources. There’s nothing left to help you cope. Burnout is the last stage of chronic stress, and it’s difficult to shake. Changing schedules, reducing the workload, taking a vacation, and getting help from a professional can all help build your resources back up. Just this morning, I was coaching an individual who had gone as far as he could go. He thought there was something wrong with him, because he didn’t have the juice anymore. The problem was too much overload and not saying “no” enough. Setting boundaries is a big part of keeping burnout at bay. Vacations have been show to fix burnout by regathering crashed emotional resources, like a sense of social support and mastery. But it takes two weeks for that process to occur.
Q. What are the biggest sources of job stress and dissatisfaction at work?
A. There are many stressors out there—overload, conflicts with colleagues, workaholic bosses, unrealistic deadlines, time urgency when there’s no need to rush. But the thing that’s important to know is that none of those things cause your stress. It’s your reaction to the stressor that causes the stress, the story you tell yourself about the stress. So the key to controlling stress is learning how to catch yourself when a negative event goes off—and not go with the irrational wave of emotion. Dispute the stress. Take a deep breath and breathe in a different story with each breath–”I’m not going to react,” “I don’t like it, but it’s not life or death,” “I can deal with this.”
Q. What can companies do to make workplaces better? Does it mean companies should be more fun or should employees have more fun on their own time?
A. They can follow what the science says is a more effective way to work. There are all kinds of researchers out there who have found task practices that are much more efficient and healthy than the reflexive way we work. We’re on retaliatory mode all day—reacting to email, reacting to what this person says. We wind up acting before we think. That plays directly to the automatic stress response. In my programs I teach something called sustainable performance, in which we have regular periods of recharging and refueling, where we set boundaries on an unbounded 24/7 world, and where we think before act and aren’t run by time urgency. Brains need a reset every 90 minutes, the research shows. MRI scans of fatigued brains look exactly like ones that are sound asleep. Companies need to encourage more autonomy support, allowing employees to participate in how they do their jobs. That builds satisfaction. Have more fun too. Studies show that playfulness on the job increases performance and innovation.
A. What steps can employees take to ensure they aren’t consumed by work?
Q. People have to get off spectating mode and participate in their life. Too many folks today are staring at screens all day. The research shows that we are at our happiest when we are participating in engaging leisure experiences. Carve out a time for a hobby or try out something that could become a passion. This is the best way to buffer the stress of the job, meet great new friends and discover something that can change your life. I have a new book out for which I went out and paddled dragon boats, did salsa dancing, played badminton—jumped into all sorts of passions with folks living optimal lives. These people are living full even in these hard times, even if they don’t have the money. We can’t wait for everything to be solved until we can live our lives. Studies show that you satisfy your core needs outside the job in activities that allow you have autonomy, competence and connection with others.
Q. How will telecommuting affect work-life balance? Is there anything that home-based workers should look out for and change to make sure they keep balanced?
A. Home-based workers need to set stop times, when the work is done and the life begins. Set boundaries. People working from home actually work more hours than the folks at the office. Part of that is guilt, part of it is default. Find other things to do than work, and your work will benefit from your brain’s recharge.
Q. Is there an optimal amount of hours to work per week or does it vary based on the job and the person?
Studies show that productivity dives after eight hours in a day. There are several studies that show that chronic 11 and 12 hour days can triple the risk of heart disease.
Q. Why are work hours in America getting longer?
A. There have been structural changes, like leaner staffing, but technology is a big part of it. We have to control the e-leash, checking manually four times a day, instead of being interrupted 96 times a day (if you have your email on autopilot every 5 minutes of an 8-hour day), The more control of it you have, the more attention, more time for life, and less stress. We have an unbounded work day now, and that has to change.
Q. Why are recreational activities such as dancing, vacation, and traveling so important?
A. This is the missing piece of life satisfaction. Active recreational experiences give our brains the novelty and challenge we need. We learn new skills, try new experiences, and live life in the moment, which is when we are at our happiest. Optimal experiences happen in this world off the clock when your skills match a challenge. What you’re thinking and doing is the same. That’s liberation from worries about what’s going to happen tomorrow or what we messed up yesterday. Experiences like vacations have been shown to make people happier than material things. You can’t compare your experience with anyone else’s, so it doesn’t lose its value. You also increase your social connection through activities like dancing, volleyball or travel. Everyone is on an equal footing, having a good time. It doesn’t matter what anyone does for a living. When that happens, that means you’re living.
Q. What projects are you currently working on and what do you like to do to keep things balanced?
A. My new book, “Don’t Miss Your Life,” just came out, so I’m doing talks and lectures about the power of participant experiences and how we can upgrade our lives. I have a new program called Optimal Life, which helps people balance their work and transform their life so they are living it to the fullest. My favorite project at the moment is a samba band that I am producing with my samba dance teacher. We’re having a lot of fun with traditional Rio Carnival style band with lots of drums and dancers. Samba is my passion. It puts me squarely in the life zone. No other worries. I also like to get out and hike, and I’m a travel fanatic, particularly adventure travel. Also a jazz fan. I have many interests. If you have interests, you’re guaranteed to find life interesting.
To learn more about Joe check out his website here. He is currently holding a contest for a free vacation to Brazil.
You can also learn more about his latest book here.