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James Davis comments on current issues of business principle.

The Principle of Disengagement

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." - Exodus 20:8-11

You don't have to be Jewish or Christian to see the wisdom here. You don't even have to believe in God. But many of the world's religions have distilled out important human and spiritual truths and codified them in their teachings, and this is one of them. I call it "The Principle of Disengagement." When I was a child, I never understood why we weren't supposed to work on Sunday. As a young adult, I was depressed that stores and entertainment were closed on Sunday as well. Well all that has changed. There's very little you can't buy on Sunday. There's very little you can't do on Sunday. Only a few traditionalists like Joe Lieberman are willing to adhere to the principle and actually suspend his activities on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

The word "Sabbath" comes from Hebrew, Latin and Greek verbs, all of which mean "to rest." A sabbatical year is one in which land lays fallow. How many great books and projects have been accomplished as academics, and now even business people, take sabbaticals?

The Sabbath is a time for standing down. Reuniting with the creative force in the universe. Contemplation. Prayer. Planning. Family. Meditation. Recreation. Rejuvenation.

Rest and relaxation are critical to the health of any organism. In our 7 by 24 world, business has conspired to eliminate our home lives. Cell phones, pagers and e-mail have made us always available, no matter where we are. Business expects people to be on call, no matter what.

I say STOP. ENOUGH! You cannot be productive if you are always working. Effectiveness diminishes. The saw gets dull and must be sharpened and rested.

A few anecdotes. During my stint with a high powered management consulting firm over the last several years, the common expectation was work from 7:30 AM until 8 or 9 at night. One of my colleagues resigned, disgusted by a Vice President who would position his desk at the door on a client project site, emotionally intimidating any consultant who would dare to leave before 10PM. All this while traveling and away from family too for 4-5 days each week.

Once I was working on a big system implementation project. The Project Director didn't really understand why our team, again traveling away from home for 4-5 days a week for a duration of 6-12 months already, wouldn't routinely stay in town on weekends and keep working seven days a week. There were deadlines every week, so every week was crunch time. For how many consecutive months can you expect people to do that? The first couple times make sense, but after that, it is abusive. The fundamental problem is that the company had underbid the job, promised an unrealistically short schedule, and was taking it out of the hides of the staff. Many of the staff were already working 'til 11 or midnight while in town on the project.

I looked at my Daytimer Notes for that period of time. I still have a page entitled "10 Things I Will Do Starting Immediately to Put My Family First." Here are 4 of them:

What is the common element here? A desperate need to rebalance work and family while traveling every week to a high pressure, out of town project.

So what is the point? For people to be healthy, balanced, happy and to live life with their families, they have to have the time. We have to discipline ourselves to have leisure and to disengage on a regular basis. Whether you call your Sabbath Sunday or a few hours each evening to play with the kids, it is imperative that we disengage, put our stress and brains in neutral, and have some rejuvenation time.

I have found it is absolutely critical each day while on the road to unplug, leave the project or the office, go have dinner, listen to music, work out, volunteer, whatever does it for you. Many of my best ideas for work spring from the unstructured time when I am relaxing in the evening and my mind is spinning free without meetings, pressures or other obligations. We have all spawned great ideas on cocktail napkins while we are relaxing.

Better balance is good business too. "Staff who believe work is causing problems in their personal lives are more likely to make mistakes than those who have few job-related personal problems (30% compared to 19%)." (Montgomery, MDWork-Life Alliance)

A study by Johnson & Johnson found that "absenteeism among employees who used flexible time and family-leave policies was on average 50 percent less than for the work force as a whole." And they found that 71 percent of the employees who used the benefits rated them as "very important" in their decision to stay at J&J."

What can companies and projects do?

What can staff members do?

"Some keep the Sabbath going to Church - I keep it, staying at Home - With a bobolink for a Chorister - And an Orchard, for a Dome." -- Emily Dickinson, 1862