What's a Healthy Work/Life Balance to You?

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"What's your personal approach and your company's approach to work/life balance—or does such a thing exist anymore? Is it possible to do the work without working like idiots? How do you personally look out for your non-work life?"

Harvey Marco ECD, Saatchi & Saatchi/Los Angeles

Last year, a friend of mine endured 18 hours of brain surgery. Her prognosis wasn't good and chances of a full recovery were less than 30 percent. But she lived. She's not exactly what she was before, but all the important stuff is there, including her sense of humor. When I think about what we do for a living and all the crap we put up with, I think nothing compares with that surgeon standing on his feet, staying focused through the night, without sleep, and some poor patient's brain at his mercy. I think about the waiting room filled with all those anxious people putting their faith in that surgeon and praying he'll make it right. That is pressure. (And then I thank God that I didn't go into medicine, or the military, or banking, for that matter.)

I'm the son of a workaholic perfectionist. I don't know how not to care. But I've learned that not everybody is cut from the same cloth or does their best work staying up all night and working weekends. A burned out creative is not going to create brilliance. Nor is a bitter one, or one who feels uninspired. Good work is hard to do and great work is nearly impossible. We shoot for the impossible and it fills the parking lot up at night.

When it gets crazy (which is daily) the balance has to come from the top down. Our CEO has a sign outside his office that reads, "Everyone Matters," and he means it. My mentor, Ralph Ammirati, always took the time to make sure the life part was in check, and he was adamant. David Lubars would break up the monotony by making us play basketball even if we sucked. A good manager needs to care about his people as much if not more than the work itself. They go hand in hand. It's not easy, but practice celebrating the little stuff and going to town on the big stuff. Last year was incredibly difficult, so when we came up for air, we sailed down to Ensenada, Mexico, and just let go. Good for the soul, not so good for the liver. There's no one answer to the work/life balance question. I sure as hell don't have the answer, but I do know this—if you don't keep it in perspective, life will do it for you.

Sebastian Wilhelm Co-founder/Creative Director, Santo, Buenos Aires

Not long ago, I made the following analysis: Argentina has been built mostly by immigrants. That's why the "hard working" culture is so valued here. "Working your ass off" is often claimed as a virtue. But I've decided to shift this notion internally. I mean, "working your ass off" should be a given, not something to be proud of. I prefer a "high talent" culture.

My hypothesis is this: what is having any talent good for, if it's not for working less? Granted, most of the time ideas need a lot of work in order to appear, and even more work after that. But talent should serve to make our lives easier and more enjoyable, not to put a ridiculous amount of pressure on ourselves.

I trust our talent. We have high standards and we don't fool ourselves, but I do believe that if we work hard enough during working hours (as opposed to fooling around, which in my experience is what happens at most places) and we allow ourselves not to work during personal hours, the ideas will appear. And they do. And after that, it's a joyride. You're in control of your work, not the other way around. In a nutshell, optimism and self-confidence are key. I don't think you need to be a psychopath to do great work.

Fritz Westenberger Co-founder/CCO, Sugartown Creative, New York

Simple fact: at a smaller entrepreneurial shop, everyone's going to work harder and have less of a life than they would if toiling for the man in a more corporate environment. When everyone, even at the junior level, feels closer to the clients and the work, they're going to be that much more invested in making it great—and great these days just takes a lot more sweat due to leaner staffs and lesser budgets. We'll relax when we win a car account, OK?

Seriously, in the end, clients are paying for inspiration more than anything when they choose a smaller, creatively driven agency to work with. So yes, there do need to be ways to get your head out of the daily bog of e-mails, details, logistics, management, etc., because inspiration comes easier to a rested mind. We handle it by just acting like a good tag team. If the creatives are spent, there'll be later mornings and the occasional day off (usually called Sunday), where the account side will make sure the client can slow down a bit those days. If the planners have been at it several nights in a row figuring out a brief on a pitch, the creatives will actually come in earlier(!) and take client calls directly. The goal is for everyone to feel they are working at the same level, even if that level is a lot more intense than in most work environments.

Linus and Paul Mother/New York

We're Buddhists when it comes to time management: "If you don't have balance, you will fall and probably hurt yourself." We have always kept a strict 9 to 5 regimen. When we lived in Minneapolis, we normally came into work between 8:55 and 9:00, and left around 5:30. That has changed a little since we moved to New York. Now, we normally show up at 9:45, but we'll stay until 6:15. It has really worked for us. What do we do when we don't work? Well, one thing we don't do is play hookey. Mainly because you're already off work and have nothing to play hookey against. Generally, we both like to enjoy everything nature has to offer in our spare time: rivers, forests, mushrooms and foxes.
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