[In 'Barking Up the Wrong Tree'] we’ll explode the myths, look at the science behind what separates the extremely successful from the rest of us, learn what we can do to be more like them, and find out in some cases why it’s good that we aren’t.
Eric Barker launched his successful blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree, an exploration of what the world’s most successful individuals do that’s different from you and I, back in 2009. So, it makes sense that when he decided to distill his findings into one volume, Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong, he’d borrow the same name. Over six chapters, Barker’s book covers the following ground:
- Should we play it safe and do what we’re told if we want to succeed?
- Do nice guys finish last?
- Do quitters never win and winners never quit?
- It’s not what you know, it’s who you know (unless it really is what you know)
- Believe in yourself… sometimes
- Work, work, work… or work-life balance?
What makes Barker’s book unique is that it shows both sides of the same coin. “Both angles will present their case, much like a trial,” explains Barker. “Then we’ll settle on the answer that gives the best upside with the least downside.”
This summary will focus on that most elusive of subjects: work-life balance.
“Work, work, work… or work-life balance?”
"Perfectionism aside, one cannot work 24/7. We all need to rest. A hobby. Something approximating work-life balance."
From the time he was a young boy, legendary baseball player Ted Williams knew he was destined for one thing. Williams pursued his dream of becoming one of the greatest baseball players of all time with a single minded, steely determination, devoting almost every second of his waking moments to improving his abilities. He eventually achieved greatness, but he also paid the price. His intense perfectionism caused irreparable damage to his personal relationships, namely with his wife and children. While all of us want to excel at whatever it is we’re devoting our lives to, most of us aren’t trying to be the Ted Williams of our chosen field. We simply can’t sacrifice the time, energy, and endure the mental and physical toll it takes to attain that level of greatness.
This notion of a work-life balance is a relatively new concept. From 1986-1996, the term appeared in the media a total of 32 times. In the year 2007 it garnered 1,674 references. So what accounts for this surge? It’s probably obvious: we’re all now constantly connected to our jobs by that little device in our pocket that’s become like an extra appendage–our phones. In the past, for most members of the workforce the day ended when you clocked out. Now we’re constantly faced with the decision of whether we want to play with our kid or spend time with our significant other, or respond to the unceasing barrage of emails that assault us nonstop. As valiantly as we’re trying to win this work-life battle, it’s a struggle many of us are losing.
As Barker reminds us, “Hours alone aren’t enough. Those hours need to be hard. You need to be pushing yourself to be better.”
The Insights below offer two ways for you to make the most of your time and achieve some semblance of work-life balance.
Ditch the To-do List and Schedule Everything
"Most of us use our calendars all wrong: we don’t schedule work, we schedule interruptions."
Barker agrees with Cal Newport: To-do lists “are the devil’s work.” Why? “Because the lists don’t give any consideration to time. Ever wonder why you never seem to get to the bottom of that list? You can easily list twenty-eight-hours worth of activities for a twenty-four-hour day. You need to be realistic about what you can get done in the time you have.”
So, what should we do instead? Schedule everything. As Barker points out, most of us tend to schedule those pesky things that interrupt our work (meetings, phone calls, doctor appointments, etc.) but rarely take time to block off the actual work. “If real work is the stuff that affects the bottom line, the stuff that gets you noticed, the thing that earns you raises and gets you singled out for promotion, well, let me utter blasphemy and suggest that maybe it deserves a little dedicated time too.”
Barker also advocates blocking off an hour each morning (when the majority of us are at our most productive) as “protected time.” Switch off your phone, close out of the browser with your email open, put a “Keep Out!” sign on the door—whatever you need to do to remain undisturbed for at least an hour. You’ll amaze yourself at just how much you can accomplish without anyone else making demands on your time.
Ending Your Day On Time
"Unless you want to hate your job, how you end the day matters a lot more than you might think."
Warning: this might be a little counterintuitive. So many of us have been inculcated with the notion that the one who arrives at the office first and is the last to leave is the one who climbs the ladder of success the fastest, and in many respects that’s true. But adhering to a set “end time” each day is a crucial component to achieving a work-life balance. When you fix a time to wrap things up each day, you make better use of the time you’ve allotted to get stuff done.
A “shutdown ritual” is an important step to ensuring a successful end time. Part of my shutdown ritual is responding to emails. This is also the ideal time to jot down and schedule those outstanding items that still need completing in order to preempt the “rehearsal loop” that will undoubtedly prey on your mind if you don’t. The rehearsal loop is that the voice that repeats itself interminably, keeping you awake at night or distracting you during downtime with friends or family (you all know what I’m talking about).
With its conversational style that often veers to the irreverent, Eric Barker’s Barking Up the Wrong Tree demolishes our preconceived notions of success. Achieving a work-life balance is just one of the areas it tackles. Pick up the book and blaze your unique trail to success.