Finding the Elusive Work-life Balance

Managing the barrage of stress and constant pressure to excel is all too familiar for construction executives. This sort of stress is not sustainable. It leads to burnout, health problems and even an increase in workplace accidents.
By Eric Herdman
December 3, 2018

Managing the barrage of stress and constant pressure to excel is all too familiar for construction executives.

Tales of working long hours to meet critical deadlines, managing change orders and preparing for the next new business interview lead to yet another cup of coffee and the mantra, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

This sort of stress is not sustainable. It leads to burnout, health problems and even an increase in workplace accidents.

In a 2017 Gallup poll, 53 percent of leaders said a schedule that allowed them to have greater work-life balance and better personal well-being is “very important” to them.

In a 2017 Randstad survey, 57 percent noted that down time is an important attribute in gauging how productive they are. In that same survey, “secure business” was named as important by only 46 percent.

Striving for work-life balance is a fool’s errand. It doesn’t exist. Instead, think of it as shifting from work mode to home mode as needed.

Simply put, work during work hours. When in home mode, spend time with family and pursue personal endeavors. Create this shift to get the most productivity when at work and at home.

Contractors, project managers and construction executives are under constant pressure to win bids, manage current projects, and hire and develop staff. To meet those critical demands, one needs to have downtime daily, even if it is only for a few hours.

This phenomenon of shifting modes is similar to exercising. The magic is not the workout session; it’s in the recovery time between the workouts. That is where the metabolic and physiological adaptations occur.

The same happens with a busy construction executive in work mode.

After working, grinding and hustling all day, it is time to switch into home mode, take a break, and approach the next day with fresh eyes and a fresh mind.
Following are six steps to help construction executives make this shift.

1. Take Three Minutes to Review the Present Day and Set Up Tomorrow

Prepare to shift into home mode 60 to 90 minutes before leaving work. Scan email for urgent and important matters only. Check in with key employee and staff members.

Get the next day set up and prepare for the shift to home mode by considering these simple questions:

  • What got done today?
  • What didn’t get done?
  • Why didn’t it get done?
  • Where do the items that didn’t get done go now?

Schedule them, close the calendar and go home.

2. Define Home Mode and Work Mode Time Blocks:

The Mr. Rogers Moment
There has to be a solid end to the workday and a switch into home mode. Mr. Rogers taught this to audiences every day. He arrived at work and changed into his work clothes: his trademark red sweater and casual shoes.

For 30 minutes every day, he was in full-on work mode doing only work things. Then he changed back into his non-working clothes and went home. The lessons and tricks are all right there in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

3. Have Rock Solid Triggers to Switch Into Home and Work Modes

When arriving at home, try doing something totally immersive: cooking, playing with the kids, walking the dog, or heading to an event or out to dinner—anything that requires full concentration on that activity.

4. Focus on the Mode at Hand

Stay with it. Don’t be a leftover parent, partner or spouse. A leftover parent is just like leftovers from dinner the night before: warmed up in a microwave is never quite as fresh and good as if it were right out of the oven.

This can happen with work as well. In construction, 10- to 12-hour days are not uncommon. After work and sleep, there are only two to four hours left to give to family and friends. Only two to four hours in home mode. Only two to four hours to have some downtime and recharge the batteries.

Don’t let these long workdays rob the vigor necessary to support a personal life, family and friends. Save something in the tank for them.

5. Where’s the Phone?

A project manager gets up from the couch, where she was watching Netflix, and goes to get something to drink. As she walks into the kitchen, she notices her briefcase, where her phone was appropriately placed.

She thought it would be alright to take a quick look at the updated Gantt chart software, see if there were any new change orders requested and quickly check the progress being made on the project. In a brief lapse of control, she diverts from refreshing her drink and grabs her phone.

Like a scene from the TV show COPS: Hands up, phone down. Caught trying to slip in some work in home mode? It happens.

Just recognize there was a slip and quickly get back into home mode.

6. Set Two Alarms

The number one productivity and stress management trick is no trick at all: It’s sleep, ideally seven to nine hours every night. Quality sleep is one of the best ways for high-powered executives to get the most out of work, avoid burnout, lower stress, reclaim a personal life and connect with those people from whom disconnections have occurred.

Many construction executives use an alarm to get up. To get quality sleep and optimal sleep duration, it might be necessary to set an alarm to go to bed as well.

Trying to cut sleep to get more work time or home time is just robbing from future productivity and adding stress.

The benefits of sleep are astonishing when it comes to bolstering sales ability, effective leadership and decision-making skills.

All cognitive functions are enhanced, and it is possible to move throughout the day insulated from many stressors.

Stop working toward the ever-elusive and likely unattainable work-life balance. Start focusing on work at work and home at home.

The result will be better quality in both camps—and that means less stress.

by Eric Herdman

Eric Herdman provides orchestrated solutions for productivity and leadership challenges. He works with Laurie Ricahrds & Associates and has more than 20 years or experience providing training solutions for companies and associations. For more on increasing your productivity, developing leadership skills and negotiating training, reach out to

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