When is Enough?

Do you feel you have a good balance between work and life? Dr David Posen has the following analogy.

Pinball machines have a terrific way of demanding respect. If players push them around too much, they go "TILT" and shut down. No second chances. That's a pretty impressive way of setting limits on the amount of abuse they're willing to take. When it comes to work-life balance we also need to set limits to protect ourselves. We could use the word, "TILT," but here is another suggestion. ENOUGH is another word we could add to our work-life balance vocabulary. The work day is getting longer and faster and more open-ended. To get control of this situation we need to start asking, "How much is enough?" How much is enough time spent at work?

Too many of us are on overload. Very few people can put in more than 10 hours a day (or 50 hours a week) and still be productive. After that, not only does everything take longer, but we become tired and inefficient. 

Some stress actually improves our efficiency. But past a certain point, the reverse occurs: ongoing stress impairs our effectiveness. In fact, working longer or harder beyond that point is not only unproductive, it's counter-productive. We might even call this the law of diminishing returns. To put it another way, would you consider driving your car from Vancouver to Calgary without stopping to refuel? You would likely end up on the side of the road needing a tow. With your foot constantly on your gas pedal (akin to constantly stimulating the sympathetic nervous system is which responsible for our stress response) you run the risk breaking down and needing assistance.


Our bodies and minds need recovery time to restore us to full function. Instead of peddling harder and faster, the best approach is to avoid the down side of the curve altogether. This is where setting boundaries and limits is most useful. Think about ways you can set boundaries in your own life. Perhaps using your outlook calendar more strategically, or limiting the number of evenings you go out to no more than 2 in a row. When there is no option but to work a longer day, perhaps plan ahead and schedule a lunch break sometime during the day to refuel and refresh. Even a short break will help you organize your thoughts, set your priorities for the rest of your day and help you stay in the "opitmum" zone.

Whatever the specifics you decide on, the important thing is to fix some kind of limits. Ask yourself "How much is enough?" (work, income, success) and set boundaries accordingly. You need to know what your limits are regarding energy and productivity. Then you need to say, "ENOUGH" before your body goes "TILT."

Reference: Dr David Posen, Work Life Balance: Setting Boundaries and Limits