My son is 9 years old. One morning not too long ago, he asked, “Why do I have to go to school before the sun is even up?” He loves school, but he doesn’t hit his stride until sometime between noon and 7 p.m. I remember feeling the same way as a kid, but at some point, I stopped wondering about the reasons and just fell into the routine of rising before I was ready.
I couldn’t change my son’s school policy, but his question forced me to question the status quo and even put work in a new perspective: As an entrepreneur, I could change the work environment for my team. I instituted a policy of complete time flexibility as long as employees had no pressing meetings and got their work done. My team was a lot happier as a result—all because my kid questioned the way the world worked and I took his query to heart. Here’s how I’ve changed the way I work based on his observation:
If there’s one thing I know about kids, it’s that they’re great at asking, “Why?” Why do we make our kids get out of bed before sunrise? Why do we follow society’s expected routine? Why do we just go with it, never bothering to change it up? My son’s question sparked many more “whys” for me. I stopped and asked myself why my team had to be at the office by 8 a.m. and out by 5 p.m., and I found no answer other than, “Because that’s the way it is in business.”
As a parent, I’ve had to consciously find ways to communicate with my child so that he’ll understand me, especially when he asks me tough questions. But I’ve become much more intentional about the way I communicate with the adults in my life, too. When I’m dealing with the rest of the world, whether it’s friends, family members or co-workers, it’s easier to get frustrated when someone doesn’t understand me. Now, I stop to ask myself why I’m getting frustrated. And I think it’s partly because we aren’t as attentive as we should be when it comes to general communication.
Now, I’m certainly not suggesting you talk to fellow adults like they’re children. Talking down to people of any age is disrespectful. But talking through problems, solutions and the “why” behind them all with the patience and respect you’d give a child could foster understanding and build deeper connections. Just imagine what you could do if you took the time to listen carefully to other people’s thoughts and ideas rather than dismissing them with one short sentence. The possibilities are enormous.
Last time I checked, we’re the masters of our own destinies, right? Perhaps it’s time we remind ourselves of that fact and make small changes as we can. We all know the saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Even if you make a change that’s far from dramatic—such as eating breakfast at home instead of on the go, taking a mid-morning coffee break or moving to a common workspace at the end of the day—you might still shift the way you view your daily routine.
Like my son asking why he had to wake up before he was well rested, I asked myself what I could do if I took charge of my routine. I quit following the herd that migrates to offices and high-rises every morning during rush hour, and I allowed my employees to do the same. I work best at night, and I’ve now embraced that fact.
There are certain things we cannot change, and that’s OK. This article won’t suddenly change every CEO’s mind and make flexible scheduling the norm worldwide. But if you can take control of your own routine, you can make a big difference in your world. You might improve your work-life balance, you might be more productive, and you might even start to find solutions before problems crop up. Use your free time to work toward something you want to do, not something you have to do.
As I said, my son loves school. But he also needs his sleep. I get it. One thing I need most is some time for myself at the gym. When I first transitioned to working in an office, I’ll admit that I stopped going to the gym as often as I wanted. But I realized that I couldn’t be at my best if I wasn’t taking care of myself. So while it still feels like a selfish decision sometimes, I make sure to get away from my desk to hit the gym regularly.
Even if you just spend 30 minutes a day doing something you love, I bet you’ll notice a difference. Considering that in a recent study, 43 percent of participants said their work had a negative impact on their stress levels, it’s clear that taking care of our mental and physical health by engaging in activities that relieve stress is important. Try going for a walk, shooting hoops with your co-workers or reading for fun.
At first, you might feel like the pressure of completing your tasks on time and living up to your company’s expectations makes taking time for yourself impossible. But I can’t stress enough that the time you spend focusing inward is truly productive. I use my time to clear my mind, find my center and refocus on what matters. If you do the same, I bet you’ll find the people you work with—and those you live with—see a better version of you.
My son might be just 9 years old, but when it comes to wisdom about work-life balance, I believe age is just a number. He inspired me to make changes to the way I work, and I’d wager that the advice I gleaned from his simple question could help you work better, too.