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Beating the 24/7: How business leaders achieve a successful work-life balance, by Winston Fletcher

I don’t really know what I was expecting when I ordered this book, I suppose, having recently returned to work after having a baby I was looking for some help in combining work and family life as I have suddenly become aware of the organisation required!

As well as some general tips on creating a healthy work life balance for yourself, this book contains 16 chapters of work/life interviews with business leaders from Sir Dominic Cadbury to Sir Richard Branson.

Each chapter covers their thoughts on the main areas which are important in creating this work life balance: questions over working hours, working weekends, how contactible you are, whether you are interupted in your holidays, how you deal with technology such as email and mobile phones, whether you make it to your childrens’ sports days etc.

In retrospect I was naively expecting a book with all the answers, and I didn’t think these would involve getting up at 4am every morning in order to be able to do it all! The interviewees don’t really encourage this, but I would definitely say that this book is full of real practical tips rather than airy-fairy ones that don’t actually involve any effort on your part. To quote the author Winston Fletcher:

“…but the real secret is there is no secret. Nothing works better than working at it: aim to improve your work/life balance and your work/life balance will improve.”

Of course, work/life balance isn’t just for people with children, it’s for people with lives and without that balance you won’t have a life! Friendships, extended family, hobbies, time on your own are all discussed in this book, and the interviewees all seem to have gone through a process of prioritising what they want to spend their time on.

Of the 16 business leaders only 4 are women. The support of the partner is an integral part of the success for all of these people as they tell of their own experiences. One sad fact I would say is that generally speaking the person who has made a success in their business life has had a partner who has been able to totally commit to that success rather than someone who is themselves trying to achieve a business career. It would appear to be the case that we do not live in a culture where a couple can both combine career and family life easily. On the whole, it seems that one person has to take responsibility for family life (usually the wife in these examples) to run smoothly.

Each chapter ends with the interviewee’s top tips for keeping your balance, so it is a great book to refer back to, just to make sure you are still on course. Here is a selection of some of the top tips, they demonstrate the diversity of experiences and opinions in the book:

Sir Richard Sykes

(Formerly Chief Executive and subsequently Chairman of GlaxoSmithKline)

“Emails, mobiles and faxes are not intrusive at all. A mobile phone only works if you turn it on. So I use my mobile, it doesn’t use me.”

Michael Grade CBE (Formerly Chief Ececutive Channel 4, Controller of BBC1)

“If you need time to unwind when you first get home of an evening, or to wind yourself up in the morning, explain this to your partner. A single explanation will avert a thousand misunderstandings”

Baroness Hogg (Chairman of 3i and of Frontier Economics)

“The more I look back on my working life, the more convinced I am of my dependence on good fortune. If you are working and bringing up a family, having luck, in terms of one’s children’s health and the general ability to run one’s life on a continuing basis, without having to drop everything and concentrate exclusively on them – and I was well aware at all points that something could easily happen that would mean I would have to do that – was just very fortunate.”

Sir Christopher Bland (Chairman of BT)

“The more often you work through lunch, the less often you will need to work late or take work home.”

Sir Richard Branson (Chairman of the Virgin Group of Companies)

“Spend as much time as you can, while you can, with your parents.”

“Being able to sleep well at night is quite a good way of judging whether one is leading a good life or not. One day you are going to have that last night before you go to sleep permanently, and it will be quite nice to know that you have managed to tick everything off in a fairly decent manner.”

Lord Stevenson CBE (Chairman of HBOS)

“Do not be too proud, too macho, or too scared to discuss your failures as well as your successes with your partner. A problem shared is a problem punctured.”

I found this book interesting and motivational. The work-life balance I want to achieve might be slightly different from the ones the interviewees talk about in this book, but one thing is for sure, the only person that can make my work-life balance work for me is me, and this book spells that out with numerous examples!


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