Work Less and Be More Effective: Don’t Ignore Life’s “Middle Third”

Article by Make The Days Count Contributor Marie Monroe


Finding balance in a busy life is difficult.  Often we make temporary sacrifices in one area of life to focus on another more intensely.  It’s important to be flexible enough to do this from time to time.  However over the long haul, especially if work is our chief focus, very real problems can arise.


Don’t get me wrong.  A passionate approach to one’s work is great.  It’s workaholism I am talking about here – working instead of attending to other parts of life.


Continual overwork is not productive despite its outer appearances. While periodic long hours and tenacity can produce a knock-out presentation, for example, chronic long hours and doggedness do not always help our workplace.  In fact, workaholism can sabotage morale and mission for the workaholic and our workmates (not to mention the effect on our family).


Using Work to Compensate

True workaholics bring a personal agenda into their jobs – whether they are aware of it or not – that jobs are not equipped to fulfill.  Typically, they are compelled to overwork (or at least overstay at work) to compensate for other parts of their lives.  


What seems like an apparent zealous commitment to work can really be a desperate need for refuge, companionship or meaning.  For the workaholic, work is expected to meet needs that are more appropriately met through our family, friends, recreation, spirituality, rest and self-care.  In reality, the workplace is an inadequate and inappropriate place to meet many of our personal needs.


The Unhappiest Employee

The first one in and the last one out – the ever-present employee – is very frequently the unhappiest employee in the workplace.  Her constant presence can eventually allow the unhappiness to seep into the office and into her performance.  This can begin to erode the morale of others in the office:


∙ Such intense and needy investment in the workplace can lead to inappropriate emotional behavior;

∙ Workaholics can begin to feel ownership of the office environment, overstepping hierarchical boundaries and alienating coworkers;

∙ Workaholics often feel unappreciated and depleted, blaming the workplace for not meeting these needs.  


Such behaviors and attitudes end up alienating others.  They become self-fulfilling prophecies.  A “longsuffering” employee pulls at the vitality of everyone and makes collaboration difficult.


Re-Evaluating the Entire Day

Managers can help the workaholic employee by stressing the need for workday boundaries.  Employees themselves can readjust priorities to respect these boundaries.  Scheduling time off in regular intervals is important.  Re-evaluating how our entire day is spent can begin the process of finding more balance in everyday life.  


One way to combat workaholism is to change the way we view the hours after work.  Seeing our off hours as for essential and nourishing activity helps limit the unrealistic expectations we may place on work, coworkers and the workplace.


It can help to think of a full day (24 hours) as divided into thirds – with specific needs being met in each third.  For example, typically, the workday is only one-third of the entire day.  This leaves another one-third for spirit, body, family, friends, recreation and self-care while the final third of the day is set aside for rest.  


The “Middle Third” of the Day

It’s the “middle third” (between work and rest) where the remainder of life is attended to and where, if used well, we can make great strides toward increasing our productivity during work hours.  This ‘middle third’ of the day helps us find and maintain the middle ground of our lives. Very simply, it helps us find and maintain balance.


Protecting this middle ground, and cultivating it, will increase our vitality, renew our passion, improve our concentration and boost our morale.  This means taking time away from overwork to be with family and friends, to enjoy recreation, and to nurture our spirituality will help our work.  Our personal needs will be met more appropriately outside work hours.  


Leaving work to its own time – respecting the boundaries of the work day – will energize us and our work.  In the long run, we can also nurture our coworkers, and the work environment, without inappropriate expectations.  Refreshed and nourished in the other parts of our lives, we can minimize the negativity that we bring to work.  Having a life that we treasure outside of work makes us thankful to have employment that supports our life.  Being regularly nourished and rejuvenated by the “middle third” of the day will help us to actually work less, and accomplish more, when we are working.  


It’s only when we are rested with a balanced “middle third” life that we can improve productivity.  When we are nourished by the rest of our lives, productivity becomes a by-product of that rejuvenation and balance.  We won’t have to worry about being productive at that point.  It will simply happen.


“Every now and then go away and have a little relaxation. To remain constantly at work will diminish your judgment. Go some distance away, because work will be in perspective and a lack of harmony is more readily seen.”
-Leonardo DaVinci


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Posted on 28 November, 2008 in Balance, Career, Productivity
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2 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Phil
    November 28th, 2008 at 1:03 pm #

    Marie, keep up the good work! This article is very helpful. It puts things in a good perspective.

  2. Christian Nanz
    December 9th, 2008 at 2:31 pm #

    Marie – I really like the insight about the unhappiest employee. It seems all too often that management sees the employee burning the midnight oil all the time and assumes they love the job, are trying to get the new peomotion, or whatever. I don’t think many people take the time to see that employee as perhaps unhappy and feeling like they have no place to go.

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