Buffett’s New Message: Damn the Deal, Keep Work and Life in Balance

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It must be great to be Warren Buffett, and not just for the money and influence. Recent court testimony in the insider-trading trial of former Goldman Sachs director Rajat K. Gupta elicited this gem: while negotiating a $5 billion investment in Goldman at the height of the financial crisis—an investment that would shore up the bank’s finances and possibly be the key to its survival—Buffett disappeared for a few hours of personal time.

“He promised his grandkids he would take them to Dairy Queen, and he did not want to be interrupted,” Byron D. Trott, a Buffett confidante and former Goldman banker told the court, as reported in The New York Times. The massive and potentially bank-saving investment could wait. The Oracle of Omaha, you see, was having ice cream with heirs. Now that’s making work-life balance a priority.

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Not everyone can live life on his or her own terms, but we can sure try harder and do better. The Organization for Economic Coordination and Development recently looked at the work-life balance of member nations and ranked the U.S. 23rd behind countries that include Brazil, Chile, and Poland. The chief offenses are that 11% of U.S. workers spend more than 50 hours a week on the job vs. an OECD average of 9%; and we spend 14.3 hours a day sleeping or at leisure vs. an OECD average of 14.8 hours. Countries at the top of list include Denmark (2% work long hours; they spend 16 hours a day at sleep or leisure), Belgium (5% work long hours and they get 16 hours of leisure), and Spain (7% work long hours and they get 16 hours of leisure).

In the U.S, we often take pride in our workaholic tendencies. A Mercer survey last year found that workloads are going up—69% now say their workload is reasonable, down from 74% who felt that way five years ago. Yet more say they are able to maintain a healthy work-life balance: 68% today vs. 64% five years ago. Can increasingly unreasonable amounts of work co-exist with greater balance? Perhaps our internal definition of balance is changing, and we have come to accept a new normal in terms of personal time.

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But have we really accepted it? Or is this just our way dealing with something that may seem out of our control? When work and life are out of balance, stress soars, according to the Mayo Clinic. Your health can become an issue. But you also become fatigued and your ability to work productively and think clearly suffer, which undermines everything you are working so long for—namely, advancement. You may also wind up missing important family events or milestones, leaving you feeling left out or guilty and adding to your level of stress.

So get control and get back in balance. Here’s a handy calculator to get started. You may not be Warren Buffett. But you can still draw lines and enjoy ice cream with the kids—without your smart phone.