How Can Ad Execs Achieve a Saner Work-Life Balance?

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As I write this on Labor Day I'm sitting in a cottage overlooking Keuka Lake in the famed Finger Lakes region of New York State. It's pouring rain outside and I'm in a house that has no cell phone, internet, Blackberry access and, because of the coverage of storm clouds over the valley, is also lacking any TV stations or FM radio. So I'm left to listen to the rain hit the roof of the house, and a static version of Frank Sinatra on the AM radio, watch the pools of water gather and sip an opened bottle of wine. And it's bloody marvelous.
Noelle Weaver
Noelle Weaver

All this has inspired me to think about work life balance that continues to grow amiss as we fret more and more over making the numbers and keeping our clients happy.

Sure everyone faces the issue of time management at one point or another, but as more people are dealing with working at one or more jobs, fighting long commutes, managing a household, attending school, raising kids and responding to increasing work and time pressures, the days often seem to last long into the night and vacation and leisure time seem to be consumed with issues other than relaxation and personal fulfillment.

Americans now rank second, only to New Zealanders, in the number of hours we put on the clocks and some would argue that if we looked at the advertising industry alone, that would put us far ahead of the pack. 14 hour days, 7 days a week are not that unusual for many of us.
keuka lake
Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York on a sunnier day. European vinifera grape vines stretch across a hillside. faux hr


In my case, I'm a bit of a self-professed workaholic. I also love what I do which leads me to believe that I think about my job in my 'off' hours' more often than most. But when people ask me about work life balance, especially when working in New Business, here's what I tell them.

You must balance your mind. So many of us feel guilty about taking any time away from work that we eventually stop doing it. Think differently! A mentor of mine once told me that we treat our cars better than we treat ourselves. At least when our cars get low on fuel, we take the time to fill them back up so they can run properly.

Put time blocks in your schedule and stick to them. I put a half hour on my schedule several days a week. These times are to make personal phone calls and answer emails. Maybe even just step outside of the agency to go get Starbucks at 3:00 in the afternoon. A boss of mine used to take a 4:00 walk on Thursdays so he could smoke a cigar and think. I call them mental breathers. And they make a world of difference when it comes to focusing on what needs to do the rest of the week.

Establish parameters between work and home. Many of my friends will not check their email until after they have put their kids to bed so family time is spent as together time.  My own rule is to turn the Blackberry off at 10:00 pm because if it keeps buzzing on the coffee table I'll keep checking it. It also turns back on promptly at 6:30am so I have 15 minutes before I start my commute to check for any urgent email messages. Just like I need to be fully engaged when I'm at work. I need to be fully engaged when I am home.

Find what you love about your job. To me this is the most important and often the least done. It's too easy to focus on the negatives and so we lose sight of why we went into this business in the first place. To me this is the greatest secret to staying sane... once you find the things you love to do...it's easy to dive right in and enjoy your job.

Ask your client if tomorrow is okay. Why is this the hardest for so many individuals? I can't tell you the number of new business phone calls that I was witness to in my earlier years where the Director promised to put something in the mail overnight to the prospect. Why such a rush? Today I simply ask 'when do you need this by?' and am amazed at how often I'm given several days to gather materials

Okay, some will argue that this is [and has always been] a client service business and there will always be aspects of our jobs that require late nights and putting out last minute fires. But if working at a small agency has taught me anything it's that a.) it doesn't have to be this way and b.) spending a couple more hours outside of your job actually makes you a more productive and informed and most importantly interesting person.   

Think about it. Part of our jobs is to know about technology, entertainment, politics and creativity -- the very forces that shape and influence consumers and culture. How well can we truly make informed and relevant recommendations to our clients when, in fact, we haven't really experienced them for ourselves? When you're sitting at a desk, night after night after weekend you begin to lose sight of what's really going on in the world. How do you become proactive about your clients' business when so much of your job is based on reaction?
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