A few years ago, I had a little epiphany at home. It was a gorgeous morning and I wanted to take my three kids to the playground. They were up for the trip, they said, but asked if our brand new babysitter at that time could take them instead… because they knew I would just spend the whole time on my phone.
That moment was a huge wake-up call. We’re fortunate to live in a world where technology allows us to work from virtually anywhere, anytime. We’re no longer stuck in an office, constrained to our desk, waiting for a plugged-in phone to ring. The truth is, communicating and connecting has never been easier, which helps us handle schedules brimming with urgent deadlines, can’t-miss meetings, and of course, a never-ending stream of emails. But this also comes with a downside: It pulls us away at times we should be more present.
My family is the most important thing in the world to me. And they got me thinking about what it means to balance it all in a high-intensity world: the demands of work and life in our always-on age.
When I first started my career, it was widely assumed that the iron law of success was “more hours = better outcomes.” The secret to optimal performance was seen as more: more late nights in the office, more time away from home and family in pursuit of your goals. More, more more.
But modern sports science has given us some insights that apply remarkably well in the search for balance. In recent years, we’ve seen athletes across multiple sports embrace high-intensity interval training. By alternating sessions of intense exercise with short breaks and then periods of intense rest and recovery, you can make meaningful improvements in conditioning and overall endurance in less time (and with fewer injuries).
If we apply some of these learnings to our lives, it would mean balancing sessions of intense work with equal commitment to rest and recovery. We often find ourselves in the office, completely engrossed in work where high performance is necessary. These moments are unavoidable. But high performance is only sustainable if you apply the same intensity to your recovery time. That’s why it’s important to deeply understand what balances you and commit to it.
For me, it’s intense experiences with nature, like kite foilboarding, backcountry skiing, trail running. I also get energy from meditating, volunteering, and most importantly being present with my family. It’s actually rather easy to stay focused when you’re flying over the water on a foil board or skiing down steep backcountry slopes because it requires singular concentration to succeed, and avoid injury. But it’s equally important to commit to being fully present when hanging out with the kids, spending time with friends, or when meditating. Whatever it is that balances you, the key is to commit to it 100 percent (by the way, notification settings on your phone can be your best friend).
I realize that I have it easier than many, and everyone’s situation is different. But if you commit to the intensity of the peak moments, it’s important to commit to the recovery. Also, smartly use the very short breaks within your day similar to the pauses between the high-intensity intervals. A minute of meditation in the office. A short walk outside to the next meeting. A moment of appreciation for the great people you get to work with.
Start by understanding what gives you balance. Then talk openly about it, with your boss, your colleagues at work, your family — don’t hide it. Do everything you can to protect those choices.
As I think back to that moment on the playground, I realized there was no point blocking off time for family if I wasn’t really present. So I made a new simple rule and told my kids right away: When they’re around, I can’t be on my phone… And trust me, they hold me to it.
We often can’t eliminate the pressures of work, or of life. The key is to understand that beyond a certain point, more does not equal better. Balancing high intensity with recovery might. But only if you commit to both, physically and mentally, protecting the things that balance you.
Philipp joined Google in 2005 and is Google’s SVP & Chief Business Officer. He oversees all global and regional sales and business activities for Google and YouTube, Google’s global technical and consumer service operations, and partnership teams. He was previously in charge of Google’s Global Sales & Operations based in Mountain View. Before that he ran the Google business in Northern and Central Europe, based in London. Prior to joining Google, Philipp was a Senior Vice President at AOL Germany, running the company’s marketing and sales activities and serving as a member of their management board for six years. Within this capacity, Philipp was responsible for one of the largest marketing and sales budgets in the country and developed a range of major sales partnerships. His responsibilities included direct marketing, traditional brand marketing, customer relationship management, business intelligence and data mining, and pricing. It was in this role that Philipp won the Golden Effie as well as several other industry awards.
Philipp earned a Diplom Kaufmann degree with distinction from the European Business School (EBS) in Oestrich-Winkel, Germany. He is also a scholar of the “Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes”. He won numerous industry recognitions, such as Wall Street Journal’s Top 25 European Technology Leaders (2011), one of Germany’s top 10 leaders under 40 by Capital Magazine (2009), and Germany’s most influential media personality voted by Germany’s largest advertising magazine W&V (2006). He currently lives in California with his wife and three kids.