Viewpoints

How to Hack Your Personal Life


Is work-life balance possible for a student in a stressful MBA program? Maybe, if you apply the principles of efficiently managing a company to your life.

Consider the case of Todd Pearson. Todd worked full time in addition to his family responsibilities while he was a student in an executive MBA program. Todd found himself sleeping only four hours a night, commuting daily to work nearly that long, and spending only 90 minutes a day with his two young children. He felt tired and lethargic when his children asked to play. His wife, Sarah, was feeling left out of his life. What could he do?

Todd applied the principles of lean thinking to his day by finding ways to reduce the muda, or wasteful activities in his life. In lean thinking, which owes its heritage to looking for ways to make manufacturing more efficient, waste is defined as anything that does not add value to the outcome. It is critical to define and measure waste.

Todd worked as hard as humanly possible, but he spent too much time on unproductive activities. He and his wife mapped out his day and discussed his goals and priorities. Todd determined that he wanted to reduce his commute, get more sleep, and be more engaged when he spent time with his family.

Todd and his wife identified schedule changes that would reduce waste. Todd shifted his commute to earlier in the day because he realized that the Beltway rush hour was a big source of lost time. He also switched gyms and joined one within walking distance of work, which served the double duty of forcing him to leave the office during his lunch hour to refresh himself instead of working through it. He moved activities such as readying the next day’s lunch and clothing from the beginning of the day to the end because they did not take as much brainpower as studying, which he scheduled after the kids went to sleep.

Through a series of small, incremental changes, Todd’s home life improved. The big surprise came when he realized that the benefits were spilling over into work, too. He and his staff began to use the same techniques to eliminate waste in the office, including setting up a common database (which reduced overprocessing); moving furniture and equipment (reducing excess motion); and creating a more effective system for office tasks that grouped similar activities—all of which, taken together, allowed his staff members to leave the office early enough to skip rush hour as well. Todd was better able to manage his energy, spend more quality time with his family, and produce results at work. What’s more, he slept seven hours every night.

The lesson? Improvement principles—personal or corporate—are meaningless until they are linked to metrics that we decide best reflect our goals. Todd’s case illustrates that managing our energy (not just our time) and working to preserve some free time are just as crucial as the business metrics we all live by: net profit and sales growth. And maybe, as with Todd, some of the benefits will spill over to work.

Goldberg is a consultant and management educator.
Weiss is the Oliver Wight Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. The full version of this case study will appear, along with 17 others in the book: Living Lean: A Primer for Continuous Improvement by Goldberg and Weiss to be published late in 2014.

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