Escaping from The Elusive Peace of Overworking's Hamster Wheel

Feb 22, 2022

Although the intention might be noble, sacrificing time and presence at home to speed up things at work to create space for quality time with our family is a plan doomed to fail. It never works; we usually get stuck at work, sinking deeper every day, surrounded by things that look urgent and important, but they are not. The good news is that getting out of there is completely possible, and the better part of it is that it depends entirely on us.  

In today's episode, we talk about the struggle most of us face at some point, becoming great leaders and providers without neglecting our families. We analyze the three main factors responsible for leaving us without time for what we care about most. We go through statistics that reflect entrepreneurs' hard time spending more time with their kids due to work-related issues, and we rehearse a couple of possible solutions. I also share a valuable and painful lesson I learned and the life-changing decision it helped me make. 

What You Will Learn In This Episode:

  • About how what was supposed to be short springs become running in a treadmill that never stops (3:41)
  • The cold numbers don't lie. Most entrepreneurs wish they spend more time with their kids (6:55)
  • The struggle of being a great provider, an excellent leader, and a loving and present parent (7:39)
  • How lack of extreme clarity affects us (8:23)
  • What is the cost we pay by failing at making quick decisions (11:38)
  • The crippling anxiety we create around artificial urgency (14:11)
  • About the lesson I learned and how a mindset change improved every aspect of my life (18:06)


Let's Connect!


Clint Hoopes: Welcome to the Flavor of Leadership podcast. So excited that you are here joining us once again, this week. Have you ever felt overwhelmed at work? It's probably a stupid question because if you're leading people and managing people, the answer is most likely an emphatic yes: “Yes, I have felt overwhelmed.” “Yes, sometimes it's daunting. I don't know if I feel quite up to the challenge.” So, in that same case, have you ever felt like you're giving your all at work? You just keep giving more and more because you want to achieve more. But yet, it seems like there's a point, almost a diminishing return, where, “Holy cow! I'm giving more and more, but I don't feel like I'm actually achieving more.” In fact, you find that sometimes your work is becoming something that will pull you away from your family or from the things that you love, all because you're trying to get ahead, get to the point where you say, “Look, if I can just sacrifice for a little while, I will get everything to a point that then I can have even more time with my family or more time to do the things I love.” Ever been on that hamster wheel? I've been there. I've been there, I tell you. It is hard not to keep getting into that over and over in life. Because typically, what really ends up happening is you start working harder and harder to get to this elusive piece that you're hoping to achieve, that you're going to be able to work to the point where then you have all of this free time, and you'll be able to spend more time at home, more time doing those hobbies and doing those things you love. And in the end, what really happens is you just find that you're spending less and less time at home, but really not necessarily getting those better results that you wanted so badly. The reason you were putting in those long, long hours. Now, was this the case in every case? No. Are there times at work where you have to work long hours in order to get something done in a short term? Yes, this happens. 

I'm talking about when it becomes a continuous thing that you can't stop. There are reasons for this. There are reasons that this just keeps happening over and over again. So, instead of them being short, little sprints, they become these long seasons of time that take you away from the things that you want most. I believe, most of us, if we have families, would say that our families are the most important thing in our life; they're the reason we're doing all of it; they're the reason that we're fighting hard at work to accomplish great things financially, and great things for the business that we lead. But do our actions reflect that? Do our daily actions reflect what we would say is truly our top priority? Now, I can tell you that throughout my life, I would say that I have always had that as my goal, but that my actions haven't always matched up. And I am here to tell you, after coaching many leaders and looking at my own life, that those that I coach, that are incredible, high-performing leaders, as well as myself, have experienced these same things and continue to experience these things over time. The difference is that as we experience them today, they don't stay in our lives as long as they did in the past. In the past, these things would trip us up and we would stay in for long periods of time, letting these things distract us and keep us from what was most important. But as we grow and mature as leaders, the hope is that we're getting better and better and that these same things that will continue to come up throughout our lives will trip us up less and less, and we'll be able to get back to what's most important, more and more quickly.

So, today, I have a few ideas for you that can help you get back to where you want to be more quickly. But before we can get back to that place, we have to define where that is, and we have to define what's actually tripping us up in the first place. And you may know what it is for you, you may have some great insight. So, listen today, and let's see, I'll share a few things, and see if it prompts you to change or modify something in your own leadership, either at home or at work. So, if you're experiencing these things, you're not alone, like I said, so many top leaders with families experience this. And me, most of my experience is in my world as a father. And so I actually have some studies that I have as a father. And these same studies, they don't include women, it says here, but I imagine that especially in our world right now where there are so many women that are providing financially so well for our families, that are the main breadwinner, or they are a huge contributor to the finances of a household – this becomes more and more a factor. So, some of these same statistics, even though they're specifically speaking about fathers, I imagine, they're probably very similar for you mothers that are listening out there as well. So, this is a Pew Research Study, and it said that over half of working dads find it challenging to balance work and family life, and that 76% of men face a lot of pressure to support their family financially. That's been true for me, where you feel that pressure that can just weigh on you as you try to support your family. It also goes on to say that most dads said that they spend too little time with their kids – it's how they feel. And 62% of those said that that is mostly due to work obligations. Man, that's tough. Those are real statistics, real men that are out there struggling to be the best fathers they can, while also trying to be the best leaders and providers for their family that they can, but they're struggling. 

And so in order to avoid becoming part of these statistics, and to also excel at work at the same time, there are a few things we can do and look at. And in my mind, there are three big factors that, for me, have impacted myself, as well as many of those that I have coached and continue to coach. In their ability to not get home or to not have time for those things that are most important for them, there are three big factors. Now, obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. There are so many things, so many factors that can impact us. But these are three big ones for me. So, here's a big one: Lack of extreme clarity. The next one: A failure to make decisions quickly and move on. And number three here: Artificial urgency. Now, let's unpack each one of these. 

So, the first one – lack of extreme clarity. We have talked a lot over the many episodes about having extreme clarity with our employees, making sure that they know very clearly how they are being measured. They want to know what a good job looks like for them. And to have it so clear that they can't be mistaken, that when they're asked what a good job looks like, in their role, it's the same thing that you would say as their leader. So often, we don't have extreme clarity, or we have times where we feel like there needs to be additional clarity but we haven't taken the time to make those things clear. We also have the vision, the overall vision of our organization, and people that feel engaged in the vision of your organization or of your team. If they don't feel engaged, little things happen, little problems happen. They're not clear on how to make decisions because they don't have the whole picture in their mind. So, Patrick Lencioni, author and speaker, I've shared much of him in the past. He talks about a Chief Reminding Officer or a CRO. And who is that? That is you. That is you as the leader. You are the Chief Reminding Officer. Now, does that mean that if you're in a large organization and you have employees; lots of employees, you have managers and they have employees, and it goes all the way down; that you have to be the primary Chief Reminding Officer for every single individual? No, in many places, that is not feasible. When you start getting up to hundreds of employees, you need to be able to use your team to be able to spread that message on. But you must be consistent in sharing your message so that it can get down to everyone else within your organization. If you're not extremely clear on what's expected, as well, that this vision is to be passed on and continuing to expect the same things from your managers, or if you're in that role, it's not going to happen. So, extreme clarity on expectations, extreme clarity of vision – without those things, it's going to be very difficult to have your employees operate without you there because that's what you need. That's what's keeping you from being able to get home in the evening or being able to be present at home in the evening because there are unresolved things at work. Maybe everyone's home and you’re at home, but you just can't get work out of your head because your employees don't have that extreme clarity. 

Or there are decisions that you have not made that you need to make, which is the next one: Failure to make decisions quickly and move on. I'm telling you as I've coached leaders, when they're sitting in a funk, very often, a question I will ask is this: Is there any decision that you know you need to make that you haven't made? And I'm telling you, sometimes they will knee jerk and they'll say, “Oh, no, no, no, I've done everything.” And then I press them a little harder and they'll say -- Almost every single time when someone's in a funk, or they're stopped, or they don't know what to do, almost every single time, they will reflect for a few minutes and they'll say, “Yeah, actually, yeah. I need to speak to so and so and it's gonna be a tough conversation.” Or “There's this employee, I've known that they're in the wrong seat for a long time, but it's just so difficult to be able to move them.” And there are all these excuses that follow, but they already know the next move. And so failure to make these decisions quickly and move on is going to hold them back – is going to occupy mental space in your brain. And you're going to be at home at night, even if you were there physically, you will not be there mentally and present with your family. Or because you have the wrong person or you failed to make some of these decisions, you will end up working late, filling in the gaps, when you could have just made the decision, whatever it is, and moved on. Very often, your employees will actually see these decisions that you're holding off on, and they won't understand why. At first, they may think, “Oh, I'm sure they're looking at it.” And then as time goes on, they're thinking, “Is he blind? Does she not even see what's happening here? It's so obvious to the rest of us.” And it's often that fear – letting fear drive our decisions. Because not making a decision is a decision. Very often, sitting there without making a decision is fear – fear inside your head. What is the story that you're telling yourself inside your head that's keeping you from making some of these decisions, especially if you're in a funk like that? We've all been there. Ask yourself that question. 

Number three: Artificial urgency. Now, this is something that pops up from time to time for all of us. We may have other pieces of our business that we can't really impact – or that we're waiting – or that we feel like we can't impact, and so we get anxious because we're sitting there not sure what to do next – or we have employees that don't have clarity – or we have a decision that’s been made that were not made. And so what happens is because we feel uneasy, we don't feel settled about where we're at with our leadership and about our direction – we will create artificial urgency in our work. So, we'll have times where we will elevate something that we do know how to do, something that we can make progress on; we’ll elevate it up to where it is urgent and important, it's got to be done right now. And it makes us feel like we're doing something, like we're really making progress and we have to work super late. When really, it's something that could wait till the next day. It is something that we could take the time to plan out properly: Go there, execute it, do it, move on. But instead, what happens is, we try to accomplish it later at night, thinking, “Everything's so busy. I can't do it, I can't do it. Everything is so overwhelming.” And that overwhelm and that fear drives this artificial urgency. Whereas taking the time to get clear on everything, get extreme clarity with our people, identify the decisions that need to be made and make them if possible; that artificial urgency will begin to dissipate. That artificial urgency is also driven by fear of the unknown, fear of what might happen. So, get clarity, and you can help eliminate that fear, which can help get rid of some of these things. Some of us, also, on the artificial urgency, just have a desire to always be moving. And so we feel like we're going to miss something. We feel like if we don't keep doing it, we're going to miss something. The same way that often people are checking emails all the way into the night at work. And they get to the point where this artificial urgency starts bleeding over to their other employees, and the other employees start feeling like, “Oh, no, I gotta check emails all night.” Even though there's no true business reason to do so, it begins to go back and forth. And then you, as the leader, before you know, your employees are emailing you or texting you late at night. And that's taking you away from your family and from other things you want to do, and you go back and forth. 

Once again, I understand that sometimes there is a true business reason to need to be able to do that: You have a 24-hour business; you have a work urgent emergency that cannot be avoided. Things like that happen, that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the normal course of business; you allow those things to happen, and you don't clearly define what is urgent. You have to ask some questions to make sure you're not falling into artificial urgency. Once again, this is not a complete list of things. But hopefully, some of these things got you thinking. I know, for me, I've had different times in my career where these very things have plagued me, and where they just weighed so heavily on me. And you get to the point where you feel like it's crushing. And you might be at that point, you might be sitting here listening, thinking, “Yeah, I can see clearly that those things are happening, but I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do next. I don't know where to go.” I know, for me, this has been the case in the past. Several years ago, I know that I was with my wife. We were actually at the hospital. Luckily, no one was hurt. It was a wonderful day. We were there having a beautiful baby. We had a beautiful baby. I can see it now in my head, my wife was sitting there on the hospital bed holding her beautiful baby. And me, where was I? Well, I should have been by her side, just staring down at this beautiful child. But where was I? I was over by the window. I was looking down at the cars passing by on the road, mindlessly staring, and just thinking about work. Thinking about work. The story hurts, I tell you. I had each one of those different things we just talked about were impacting me – all, except for the artificial urgency because guess what? It was actually urgent. I had not created extreme clarity with my employees on several things, and I had some decisions that I was holding off making, and it was beginning to pile up. It was beginning to crush me. And it went from being not urgent to extremely urgent. And our performance was good, but it was going to cost me so much more in my family life, trying to keep things going. I was there working extra hours, working super hard, trying to keep things going when really I should be relying on my team. And I was starting to feel like my team wasn't going to help me; when really, it was me, as the leader, not being extremely clear with my team. 

I had some decisions and people that were in the wrong seats that needed to have changes made, and they needed to have changes made yesterday, but I had held off and not made those decisions quickly. So, as the leader, I was the one causing the holdup, I was the one causing the problems. And it was going to be a major problem if I didn't go and make some of these decisions – decisions I already knew needed to be made – and start to trust my people. Trust them that is I gave them clarity of direction that they could be up to the challenge. And all these things were going through my mind. I was feeling the weight; it was crushing me there at the hospital. Finally, my wife, my wonderful wife, talked to me, and she said, “Go back to work.” I'm like, “No, no, I'm here. I'm going to be here. I'm making this happen.” And she said, “I know what you're thinking about.” Because we had talked about some of these things, she said, “Go to work, take care of what you need to do, make those decisions, and come back to us so you can be here with us.” That's a hard one to hear. I have this new baby, it's a few hours old, and my wife's telling me to go take care of it, which I so appreciate. But it hurt that I had to, so I did. I left. And I'm telling you things that I had been not making decisions on for weeks. I went in within a few hours, made those decisions, created additional clarity with some of my employees, and made some of these moves that needed to happen. All the fear that I had before dissipated with action. And all of a sudden, things started looking a little bit brighter. All because I wasn't letting some of these things, some of this inaction hold me up. Not having that clarity with my people was costing me not just at work, not just in performance, but costing me at home. I was able to go back to the hospital, and we were able to have a great time together as a family with me having a clear mind, or at least clearer because I wasn't able to fix it all in a few hours, but I was able to make a big start. And then over the coming days and weeks, I was able to help to improve my leadership in such a way that we had the clarity in each of the roles of my people. They knew what a good job looked like. We clarified our vision. We clarified what needed to happen. And I began to be able to be home a little earlier each day, be more present in the evening. It was an amazing thing. It was transformative. I was able to put my family where they belonged: First, in my life. First, as my priority.

In the end, it didn't cost me performance at work, it actually made me a better performer at work. I was able to think clearly. I was able to have better ideas and be creative again. I wasn't feeling like I was being crushed in all parts of my life at home and work by playing small and being a poor leader in both places, by getting the clarity, making the action in both parts of life, in both places – home and work – allowed me to have the success that I hadn't had before. Then, over the course of months and years, the effect of changing my mindset began to change my life. It'll help me to be a better leader, a more focused leader, consistently, over time. And the impacts, the positive impacts got better and better. I was happier and happier at home. My family also was happier at home. And at work, I was a better leader; I was able to lead people more clearly; they were happier in their work. And it all happens over time, and it continues to happen for all of us. Well, look at these leaders. I know I look at these leaders that are just incredible, the people that I respect so much, and I see all that they've accomplished and all that they've done. But the thing that impresses me most as I dive deeper into the lives of these leaders is that they are better today than they were yesterday, or than they were a year ago or 10 years ago. And they are better tomorrow, consistently, than they were today. They don't plan on being the same leader, they don't plan on being the same father, the same mother, the same person tomorrow as they were today. 

I want to be able to look back – weeks, months, years from now – and be so grateful to me, today, for making a decision to be a little better each day – to be a little better leader – to make it a little more of a priority – to be a strong father and leader at home – and to take hold of what I can do at work so that it can impact all parts of my life for the better. I want to look back and know that I did everything possible, and that, at that point in my life, I'll be reaping the benefits and continuing to be better and better, seeking to improve, better, and more and more as time goes on. That's what I want for myself and I want the same for you. 

If you want it, start right here, reflect. Maybe your list is not the same as mine. But maybe as I was telling my story, maybe a few things started pricking in your brain, you started thinking, “Man, I don't struggle with the same thing as Clint did. But man, there is something I can do. This is holding me back, I can tell. It's holding me back from becoming the leader that I want to be.” So, take that thing. If it's one of the things that I said today, fantastic. If it's something else, even better, you know exactly what it is that you need to do – it's in your brain, you've already known it for a while. So, take the chance to make the change. Decide today. Commit to do it. Don't wait again. Don't wait like I did. Don't wait for things in your life to fall apart, or for your priorities to get mixed up, and for your actions to not show where you want to be; don't operate from a place of fear. Take the thing that's in your head right now and make the change. You can do it. I know you can. I believe in you. It's true. You can do it. You can do it. So, take hold, make it happen. I'm right here, always by your side. You got this. Until next week.