What would happen if you played with Barbies?

I’m working with a company whose managers regularly put in 12 or 14 hour days. They stay at the office till late or bring home a big pile of work. No choice about it, they say — there’s just too much to do.

That made me think (again) about Terry Gross’s interview with Jon Stewart. Stewart not only explained how he and his team use a seriously structured process to plow through the vast quantities of media and write all those jokes each day, he also talked about how he places a hard stop at the end of each day when he goes home.

Terry Gross: You work so hard on the show. It’s so obvious how much work you put into writing and performing it and how long your day must be and how it probably never ends, particularly doing an event like this rally [the Rally to Restore Sanity].

Jon Stewart: You’d be surprised how easily I turn it off when I go home.  I’ve gotten really good at when I go home, the kids and I watch “Wizards of Waverly Place,” and I don’t think about it again.

TG: Have you changed the amount of time you’re willing to devote to the show and to work now that you’re the father of two?

JS: What I have decided is when I’m home, I’m home. And to me, that’s the difference. You know, I can’t not be at work but the real challenge is when I’m at work, I’m at work. I’m locked in, I’m ready to go, I’m focused. When I’m at home, I’m locked in and I’m ready to go and I’m focused on home. And we don’t watch the show. We don’t watch the news. We don’t do any of that stuff. I sit down, I play Barbies, and then sometimes the kids will come home and play with me and then….

So here’s Stewart — a comedian — with both a rigorous process to write jokes and a total focus on the job at hand. “Locked in, ready to go.” And that combination allows him to go home and play with Barbie dolls (with or without his kids).

How about your day? My guess is that you don’t have such a structured process for your work, nor do you have such single-minded focus on your job. (I know that I don’t.) And as a result, when you go home, you bring your work with you. At the very least, you check email at night — and you probably do a whole lot more.

Okay, I know that your job is so different from Stewart’s, that you get urgent emails that have to be answered at once, that the company will very likely collapse without a steady stream of your trenchant business insights.

And yet.

Isn’t it possible that the very reason you need to handle email at 11:30pm is because you’re not totally focused during the day? Or conversely, isn’t is possible that your willingness (even if it’s somewhat reluctant) to answer email at 11:30pm is part of the reason that you don’t have that focus?

I’ve written before (here and here) about what Toyota calls “lowering the water level” — reducing the inventory/resources in a system to expose the problems. What would happen if you lowered the water level by reducing the time you spent at work, and instead committed to getting locked in, ready to go, and totally focused on being home?

Isn’t worth an experiment?


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