Staying At The Top Of Your Game: Switching From Work-Life Balance To Life Maximization Create a meaningful day at work by seeing it as part of your daily life, rather than a separate entity.

By Nathan Farrugia

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Work-life balance for CEOs and business owners saw a significant shift during the COVID-19 pandemic. The numbers we track globally in areas such as health, wellness, personal life, and business indicate that this period offered an unprecedented opportunity for better balance.

However, within just two years of adapting to the "new normal," these numbers are once again pointing to the struggle to balance work and life. This challenge is not surprising, given the ever-increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity (VUCA) of the environment we operate in. From issues like "quiet quitting" to talent scarcity, stakeholder demands, environmental, social, governance (ESG) requirements, and the rise of hybrid workplaces, it is, as Charles Dickens would perhaps say, "the best of times, the worst of times" to be a business leader.

This dual outlook implies that we have a choice in how we perceive our circumstances. It's not just a matter of psychology, but a fundamental necessity for our brains to adapt. Ignoring the fast-paced world around us is not a viable option, akin to an ostrich with its head in the sand.

Daniel Kahneman, in his work Thinking, Fast and Slow, explains that our minds operate at two speeds: fast thinking for instinctive responses, and slow thinking for planning and strategy. However, when stress takes hold, our brains shift into "System I," focusing on immediate challenges, rather than long-term prevention. Over time, our brains adapt to this pattern, known as neuroplasticity. While this is crucial for recovery after physical damage, it also happens when we develop bad habits and routines that become part of our subconscious.

Related: How To Tell If Your Work-Life Balance Is Messed Up

To shift from constantly firefighting stressful situations, we need to change our habits, both personally, and for those we lead. Engaging in "thinking time," and engineering one's day or week to accommodate strategic planning can help in stepping off the hamster wheel, and engage our forward-thinking, creative brain (the prefrontal cortex), while calming the amygdala, the fight-or-flight center. Developing these habits requires self-discipline and consistency.

Another area of contention in the search for work life balance is the value of time. Since time is the limiting factor for all of us, both 24 hours a day, as well as our time alive, we need to prioritize its use among our value drivers. Despite most executives ranking health and family as their top priorities in life, these often take the back seat in practice, leading to cognitive dissonance, guilt, and stress. Achieving work-life balance often feels like an unproductive tug-of-war, with little progress until one side gives way. You can choose to prioritize your health, relationships, or business, but not all three simultaneously.

Shifting the paradigm to focus on "self" enables us to maximize life, instead of compromising. Consider this: on an airplane, in case of a pressure drop, you are advised to put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others. It's a natural instinct to protect loved ones, employees, customers, and stakeholders before oneself, but neglecting self-care ultimately hampers your ability to be of service to others. Prioritizing the "self" might seem irresponsible, but it's essential to be at your best for others.

Now, we've explored the neurological reasons why we need to create new habits, which will also save you time by training your subconscious to function more effectively. We have also explored how work-life balance using time as a measure is futile, and that we have to put ourselves first to be able to shoulder the burden of leadership and responsibility. But, so far, we haven't explored how- and this is where technology comes in.

In his book Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clark depicts a utopian world where people only work 20 hours a week, and spend the rest of the time learning, being creative, and pursuing hobbies. And this is because artificial intelligence (AI) and robots have taken away all the laborious tasks, and significantly increased productivity and wealth. All of this sounds good, of course- but we're perhaps a way away from that dream.

Related: To Transform The Way You Work, Focus On These Five Life Skills

We can, however, use technology to start to free up time that can be better used to be more effective. Apps that break down tasks and organize our calendars, virtual AI assistants that help with our daily routines, ChatGPT-powered routines that sends emails on our behalf, and other technologies that should make our life easier are becoming a reality. We need to outsource less meaningful things in our life to free up time to focus on the important. As we begin to trust these methods more, we free up time to focus on more sustainable life practices. Unless of course, you choose to fill up that new time with more of the same work.

Many CEOs and leaders develop methods and practices to stay on track. In our work at Vistage with such individuals, we've identified four key elements that lead to a meaningful day at work, which we refer to as FIRE- each of the letters represent the flow state, impact, role modeling, and effort towards excelling, respectively. The overlap of these elements in daily practices enhances fulfillment, both in professional and personal life.

Flow state is that optimal mental condition which, while fleeting, gives us that feeling that we are "in the zone," ultra-productive, and effortlessly creative. It requires us to be focused under pressure (not the same as stressed), and it often happens when we have a fixed deadline, and a clear deliverable, usually with a high consequence.

Impact is the motivating force we experience when we are clear about our purpose. Measuring the impact of our actions turns our performance into a motivating game, and encourages us to continuously elevate our performance.

Role modeling is the self-awareness we have when we see ourselves as the best version we can be, taking responsibility and ownership of our tasks or teams. With this "best self" in play, we don't slack, complain, or tap out as easily.

Effort towards excellence, similar to a Kaizen approach, is thriving for excellence through continuous improvement, always seeking to be better tomorrow than we are today.

This FIRE approach significantly enhances the quality of life as well as the likelihood of success for individuals who work under pressure and embrace responsibility. It's a framework that can be applied both in our professional and personal lives. But regardless of the methodology we employ, the technology we embrace, or the habits we cultivate, the pace of change remains a challenge for those who aspire to be at the forefront.

In the end, the choice between work and life is profoundly influenced by the human condition- our innate need to feel valued, have our egos boosted, and measure productivity in terms of time rather than value. Until we integrate work within the fabric of our lives rather than seeing it as something separate, the struggle will persist. The decision rests in our hands.

Related: Here's How Managers Can Role Model A Good Work-Life Balance For Their Teams

Nathan Farrugia

Managing Director, Vistage UAE and Malta

Nathan Farrugia is a multifaceted individual- a seasoned entrepreneur, influential business leader, TEDx speaker, accomplished author, dedicated philanthropist, and a world-record breaking endurance adventurer. Throughout his extensive career, he has demonstrated his leadership prowess by steering both businesses and non-profit organizations across diverse industries, including healthcare, technology, hospitality, and education.  

With an extensive career dedicated to guiding CEOs, fostering corporate growth, transforming executive mindsets, and helping employees discover their purpose, Nathan currently holds the position of Managing Director of Vistage UAE and Malta. Under his visionary leadership, this globally recognized CEO peer advisory and executive coaching organization has achieved remarkable growth, expanding tenfold since his acquisition of the franchise in 2015. With a highly proficient team of coaches, professionals, and unwavering member support, he continues to make significant strides in the region.  

Nathan’s career is marked by exceptional achievements, including his roles as CEO of Shireburn Software, and the founder and CEO of INSPIRE, the largest non-profit organization in Malta. He is a sought-after consultant and executive coach, with a client roster that includes Big Four firms, national airlines, leading banks, and numerous top 100 local businesses in Malta. As a dynamic keynote speaker, Nathan has delivered high-energy presentations in prestigious locations worldwide, from New York to St. Petersburg, and across Europe, the UK, and Asia. His talks have garnered rave reviews from audiences across the globe, including the UAE. Nathan captivates audiences with compelling storytelling, sharing valuable life hacks and tools that have fueled his success as an entrepreneur, executive coach, business leader, husband, and parent. He is dedicated to motivating teams, inspiring them to elevate their performance, and equipping them with the mindset-shifting skills they need to thrive.  

A philanthropist at heart, Nathan has served as the Chairperson of the Malta Paralympic Movement, and of the Council for the Voluntary Sector where he has supported in raising millions of euros through multiple fundraisers, social enterprises and through record breaking challenges. Additionally, Nathan is the trustee and founder of the Lino Spiteri Foundation, a leading employment service provider for disabled individuals, where he champions greater inclusion through the employment of vulnerable persons.  

In his personal life, Nathan authored A Million Steps, chronicling his remarkable journey of setting a world record by running 27 marathons in 27 consecutive days across 27 different countries. This inspiring book offers profound insights into pushing beyond perceived limits. Whether you’re a business executive or striving to elevate your life, A Million Steps poses fundamental questions to help you step out of your comfort zone. Drawing from brain science, leadership literature, psychology, and spirituality, the book encourages introspection and challenges you to unlock your fullest potential.

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