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Thanks to you we are now proud owners of our factory, and we are also much relieved of stress because of the professional way you have conducted and handled our affairs. We also appreciate the way you have shown person...


Finding Balance in a Busy World

Dr Adam Fraser is one of Australia's foremost experts in the area of amplifying workplace performance. He has spent the past 13 years focusing on improving people's physical and mental performance. In this time he has worked with individuals from all walks of life, ranging from athletes at the Australian Institute of Sport to company executives. In addition Adam writes for a number of magazines including "Men's Style". He is a regular radio presenter, including ABC 702, and is a regular presenter on TV including Seven's "Sunrise" program.

Life is getting faster and there are no signs of it slowing down. Individuals and companies are being asked to do more but given less time and resources. In this commodity focused and competitive world staying on the cutting edge is vital, so businesses that slow down will inevitably get left behind. Businesses need to out-create, out-innovate and out-market their competition. How can we avoid burn out in a world where work/life balance is dead?

The bad news is that business owners and employees are not working any where near their potential. Hewitt's report found that less that 50% of us are engaged in our work. This lack of engagement is often due to fatigue and burn out. When we feel tired and burnt out we often say "In need work/life balance."

80% of Australians believe that it is difficult to achieve work/life balance - and they are right. We are working longer hours ad filling our leisure time with more responsibilities. Our preoccupation with being busy has even changed the way we greet people. It is common place to hear "Hi, how are you? Keeping busy?"

Charles Handy described the business environment in the 21st century with the following formula:

½ X 2 = 3

Translated, this means that half the number of workers are doing twice the number of work and they are expected to achieve three times the result.

Yet there is no shortage of people out there who tell us that this elusive balanced life is possible. They are usually speakers and authors with pearly white teeth and an orange tan. They tell us that we can have the perfect life. All we need to do is to enrol in their impossibly long and extremely expensive course.

Work/life balance is dead. And it doesn't look like there will be a resurrection in the near future. What is the solution? How do we avoid burnout in this time poor world?

The key to staying on top is greater and sustained performance. This can be achieved by using time efficiently.

One thing leading very quickly to burnout and fatigue is trying to work and entire day without a break. This practice is the norm now with meal breaks a distant memory. Not only is this physically unhealthy, it also dramatically reduces our productivity.

Two Harvard researches, Robert Yerkes and John Dobson, examined how to structure a working day in order to avoid burn out and stay productive.

When we focus and work hard our body gets stressed. This is a good thing as adrenaline and cortisol are released. This stimulates brain activity and improves performance. However, this only works up until a point. After prolonged exposure to these hormones we reach our "productivity peak". Following this peak the brain starts to become fatigued, we lose focus and the high levels of stress hormones start to damage our brain. An example of this is practice when we are in a meeting that goes for over an hour and we find ourselves daydreaming about our weekend.

Productivity research shows that when we arrive at this point (approx. after 60 - 90 minutes of hard work) it is important to take a short break and relax. An ideal situation is doing five to ten minutes of relaxing activity where the mind is no longer focusing on work. To do this it is not necessary to get out the meditation cushion and incense candles. All we need to do is sit and relax for five minutes while focusing on breathing slowly and deeply, then get up and walk around for a couple of minutes. This is an obtainable goal as it is only five minutes; anything more would be unrealistic in this time poor society. What will stop us doing this is our fixation on how much time we are spending at work rather than how effective we are at work. Are we time driven or performance drive?

Relaxing at the point of our "productivity peak" stops the production of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and produces nitric oxide instead, which stimulates the release of neurotransmitters such as endorphins and dopamine. These chemicals make us feel better and improve our ability to focus and think clearly.

In effect, we are exercising our brain hard then relaxing it. This restores chemistry and helps the two brain hemispheres to communicate. This is not about loafing during our day. It is about working hard and recuperating to prepare for the nest period of intense focus.

Thus, it is possible to achieve greater performance, become more efficient and create more time for ourselves.

This article is reprinted from our quarterly published "Financial Matters" Newsletter, Winter 2006 issue.

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