Three Insightful Books Offer Perspectives on Work and Life

This piece was originally published on October 16, 2021.

Achieving some semblance of work-life balance is never easy. And when achieved, it is often fleeting. But experts acknowledge that it’s essential for our mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. Recent studies have shown that about two-thirds of working Americans are concerned about their lack of work-life balance. While we might assume that executives and upper-level managers can flex their schedules or delegate tasks, in practice that doesn’t often happen.

According to the Harvard Business Review, work-life balance is “a cycle, not an achievement.” As our lives progress and priorities shift, we should be reevaluating our work-life balance regularly, making sure to calibrate our activities in each of the two areas. An ideal balance leaves us feeling satisfied in our ability to devote sufficient time to our jobs, families, personal passions, and other priorities.

Several recently published books have helpful perspectives to share. Here are summaries of only a few of the best of these, as described by a cross-section of business writers and editors:

1. 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week

24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week is Tiffany Shlain’s guide to helping you take yourself offline — literally and figuratively — so you can concentrate entirely on the needs of your loved ones and yourself. Published in 2019 by Gallery Books, this 250-page book is packed with Shlain’s insights drawn from research in neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy, and anchored in the ancient concept of a day of rest.

24/6 is based on the author’s own experiences that testify to the value of turning off screens and smartphones one day a week. For more than a decade, that’s exactly what she and her family have done. The tangible benefits she has noted include fewer feelings of burnout, a boost in productivity, and a better overall quality of life.

Tiffany Shlain is a multi-award-winning filmmaker and the founder of the Webby Awards. Her original series The Future Starts Here, on the meaning of being human in the digital age, garnered an Emmy nomination. She is also the daughter of the pioneering surgeon and polymath Leonard Shlain, who wrote books that blended science, art, and anthropology in a quest to find an integrated way to view the world.

2. Work-Life Brilliance: Tools to Break Stress and Create the Life and Health You Crave

Work-Life Brilliance: Tools to Break Stress and Create the Life and Health You Crave offers executive coach, podcast host, and popular speaker Denise R. Green’s practical hints on reducing stress, learning how to “tame” our brains, and finding fulfillment in important aspects of our lives. Published in 2017 by Brilliance Publishing, the book was written for the “super-busy” which is a state of being many can relate to.

Green focuses on how to find contentment among multiple aspects of life, including our jobs, relationships, and health. And she does it by telling us not to waste our time trying to “balance” all these things. She looks at techniques for lifting our thoughts out of negativity, lowering stress levels not just in the moment but for the long term, and using a little brain-rewiring to change unproductive habits. For many, the section on learning to say “no” gracefully and without feelings of guilt will be worth the price of the book.

Denise Green’s podcast bears the same title as her book. Green’s storytelling engages listeners and pulls them into the heart of whatever topic she discusses. Episodes include overcoming fear at work, eliminating unnecessary “shoulds” directed at ourselves and others, and practicing meditation to renew our energy and heighten positive emotions.

3. The Work-Life Balance Myth: Rethinking Your Optimal Balance for Success

In The Work-Life Balance Myth: Rethinking Your Optimal Balance for Success, consultant David J. McNeff disassembles the entire concept and reassembles it in a more detailed and relatable way. The 2021 work, published by McGraw Hill Education, identifies seven central “slices” of our lives: family, professional, personal, emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual. He leads readers through a discussion on how to manage each harmoniously.

McNeff is the founder of Peak Consulting Group, dedicated to enhancing the development and performance of executive leadership teams in terms of communication and other skills. He has worked with major brand clients across multiple fields, served as a jury and trial consultant, and worked as a conflict resolution facilitator for the private equity sector. This complex set of experiences gave him an insight into the complex nature of what we traditionally call “work-life balance” that led to the book.

McNeff found out that most of the people he talked to over the age of 42 had so much of their time taken up attending to their professional and family lives that they had only a few minutes each week — or none at all — to devote to the other important aspects of their identities.

He begins the book by noting that a certain amount of stress and tension is inherent in all aspects of our experiences. McNeff argues that our essential selves are made up of much more than a constant seesawing calibration between “work” and “life.” He gives us his well-honed strategies for reframing how we view our lives and how we can best move through the multiple challenges we face at every turn.

McNeff’s point is that each of his seven “slices” is essential to our nature as healthy human beings. When we pay attention to each, it, in turn, empowers and serves us.

Any, or all, of these books offer avenues to insight that can make our lives more fulfilling, especially as we begin to juggle the extra-complicated schedules of the holiday season.

Co-Founder and Partner at Mission & Data; Chief Advancement Officer at Minerva Institute for Research and Scholarship