The question of work-life balance for legal professionals often draws a wry smile. Long hours, preparation for client meetings and intense pressure to deliver with little or no margin for error are the realities of life. Work-life balance, they tell us, is a luxury they can ill-afford.
The elite performer model
Having worked with elite performers in both sport and business for more than 20 years, I know that the best possible performance in any environment requires a number of factors to be in place. This realisation goes to the heart of the matter, because only when all the factors are in place can anyone perform at their peak. The legal profession is superb at making sure the ‘technical’ component (the skills required) is in place. However, other aspects of performance are too often overlooked, ignored or entirely misunderstood. These other vital components of performance have as much to do with activity outside the office as within it.
Preparing the mind is vital – all our clients use imagery tools to prepare – and the time they most often do this ‘work’ is when they are at play. Whether at the gym, cycling or just out for a walk, high-performing corporate clients say these activities are where they get their best quality mental work done. Their minds are clearer and the release of the ‘happy hormones’ during even moderate exercise enables them to use their mental powers to their full capacity.
Making sure that the body is in the right condition to meet the incredible performance demands made of it is just as essential. Grabbing lunch on the go, skipping breakfast, a lack of quality sleep or rest, drinking gallons of caffeine and carrying round a bit (or a lot) of excess baggage are things we see all around us. The effects are obvious: tiredness, irritability, poor concentration, low confidence and a lack of self-esteem – all hardly likely to lead to great performance at work.
Remember the celebrations of the victorious England rugby side at the 2003 World Cup? On the pitch with them were their friends, their partners and their children – the players understood how vital emotional support is for a world-class performance. It is no different at work: emotional support at work is a vital performance factor – and for many of our clients, their coach is often the only source of this vital component. When it comes to support outside the office, it is pretty difficult to get authentic emotional support from friends and loved ones if you don’t spend any time with them, or if the time you do spend is more likely to involve you falling asleep on the sofa watching TV than actually talking to them.
Take home lesson
The take home lesson is clear: if you want long-term, sustainable, consistent and intense performance, you must ensure that the physical, mental and emotional components of performance are in place – and that the best time and place to do this is often at ‘play’.
These workplace and personal arenas are not at war, competing for your time with you stuck in the middle. They are part of a whole, each benefiting the other and both vital for your professional performance, as well as for your personal and emotional well-being. No doubt you acknowledge that having time to have fun is a function of success at work – just remember that the opposite applies just as much.
Keith Hatter is chief executive officer at K2 Performance Systems