Is Work-Life Balance A Myth? With David McNeff

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TBT 175 | Work-Life Balance


Is Work-Life Balance a myth? Penny Zenker’s guest today is David McNeff, the President & Founder at Peak Consulting Group and the Author of The Work-Life Balance Myth. David explains to Penny why he believes that work-life balance is a myth. Why? Because your life doesn’t just revolve around work and family life. Rather, it revolves around seven aspects: professional, family, personal, emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual. The most common reason you could never seem to balance your time between work and family life is that you shortchange yourself. You neglect the five other critical aspects that make up your life. Result? You no longer have anything to give to your work and family. So listen to this episode, achieve harmony in your life, and take back control of your time. Tune in!

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Is Work-Life Balance A Myth? With David McNeff

On this show, I always tell you this, we’re looking for the greatest ideas and for people who are going to challenge the way that we currently do things. I am excited to talk about the myth of work-life balance. We’re going to be challenged as to what that is what we think that is. David McNeff is with us. He is a thought leader and executive coach, a high-profile jury trial consultant. He’s a profiling expert, workshop facilitator and author with that new book that came out called The Work-Life Balance Myth. He’s also a keynote speaker. Interesting enough, he’s also a former collegiate athlete, who’s fascinated with peak performance. We’re going to hear more from Dave about all of this and how it relates to work-life balance. Dave, welcome to the show.

Thank you for having me, Penny.

I’m excited to have you here because work-life balance is more important now than ever because of the pandemic, you hear people saying that they’re working more than they ever were because they’re not turning off, there’s no transition now and they’re working later and longer hours. Why did you write this book? Is this a new thing? Has it been brewing for several years?

Yes, to all the questions. The history here is I started using this method that’s in the book, The Work-Life Balance Myth, several years ago because the work at the time, was the post-financial debacle in 2008 and 2009. A lot of people on Wall Street lost their jobs. The country was in free fall financially for a while.

That was not a good year for me either.

It was not a good time. I assumed everyone knew and use this method. I accidentally drew the seven-slice pie on a whiteboard with a couple of executives and I said, “This is how you manage stress. You have seven slices of your life.”

The wheel of life so to speak.

I said, “The myth is that you only have two lives. You have work and family, work at home.” There’s no balance because most of your time if you’re going to try and balance your time, that’s impossible to do because work takes up so much. If you look at your other five slices, which people go, “What are you talking about? What are these five?” I would write down in each slice.

Results are based on a decision to do something. Click To Tweet

Inform our readers what are your slices.

There are seven slices. Your professional slice, family slice, personal slice, emotional slice, physical slice, intellectual slice and finally, your spiritual slice. These other five slices, it always seemed to me were part of our lives that if we spent any time in them at all, would help reduce or manage all of the stress that in general, for most of us, gets manufactured out of work at home. That’s where all the pressure, deadlines and money is that people need to survive.

When I started using this little wheel of life and asking people to put their percentage of time that they spend at all seven, it was hilarious because they would come up with 330%. I go, “It’s 100%. Start with 100% of your time. Where does it go?” The shock to them was the zeros that were in more than one slice. They would look at their emotional slice and go, “I don’t even think about my emotion.” “Spiritual.” “I used to meditate. I don’t do that anymore. I used to go to church.” “Physical.” “I used to be an athlete and run and now I don’t do anything.”

All of the things that helped to create that balance or make us have more meaning and feel good about ourselves, we squeeze them right out. What’s up with that?

The culprit is everyone surrenders to time. I don’t have the time. Work and my family take all of my time. Therefore, I end up shortchanging myself and ignoring the benefit that I could get from physical life. If I took a walk with my partner or spouse twice a week for twenty minutes, will the world come to an end? Would you get fired for doing that? No, I don’t think so. If you spent ten minutes a night reading a book that you’re curious to learn intellectually more about, would you suffer some terrible consequences? When I wrote the book and I’ll go back to why and the COVID and so forth, I write about the case studies. I probably write about 10 or 15 of these case studies.

The lawyer in you.

I wrote up these case studies of people who use the method who was in tremendous trouble, health problems, financial problems, career problems, what have you. The pitch that I have for everyone in the book is I can’t help the level of stress that you have. Stress is going to keep coming because it seems to be part of our life but there’s nothing that can certainly help any one of us manage ourselves through it.

TBT 175 | Work-Life Balance

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

The case studies proved the notion that though balance doesn’t exist,  people felt balanced. It was harmony. This method creates a sense of, “I’m living a whole life now as opposed to a myopic narrow life. As a result, perspective. I have a sense of calm. I have a little bit more myself.” That feels like balance when in fact, in reality, it’s not. I gave a talk on this subject before I wrote the book.

Before you go on, let me interrupt you. I want to come back and talk a little bit about the why. When I talk about this with people, I feel like the reason that things and I want to get your feeling on it, that we squeeze out those other things is it’s because we’re so desperate to look to control things. We try to control the things that we can’t control and that exhausts us. The things that we can control, a little bit of time for ourselves, doing things that make us feel better, eating right, are all things. We choose what goes in our mouths. We choose if we move our bodies. We get caught up in this learned helplessness. It’s like a cycle. That record player plays that says, “I don’t have the time.”

My position on that is this. It comes up about once or twice a week in my actual professional work. It’s simply a decision. When you and I wake up one afternoon and take a look around and go, “I am so overwhelmed. I am out of control. This is crazy.” I ask, “How did this happen?” I go back and say, “You made a decision to let it happen.” It’s like the frog boiling slowly in a pot of water. It’s not like on a Tuesday, you became suddenly overwhelmed. Over the course of twenty Tuesdays, you did but you didn’t notice it and you made a decision. In my opinion, we make decisions to ignore the obvious sometimes. My position is if you make a decision that, “Every week I’ll spend some time and at least 2 of those 5 slices, a funny thing happens.”

You got a benefit from it but the result is based on a decision to do it. Some people do it by scheduling. Some people do it by sharing the experience with someone else like, “We’re both going to do this together.” I’ve had teams decide to do it for a month to give it a try but it’s the decision to change your mind and say, “It’s okay.” You mentioned a fabulous point. That line between work and home got blurred because everybody was in lockdown and then due to hybrid, you’re still at home working though you might go in the office.

That line is still blurred. In the pursuit of efficiency, we over. We overwork, over-Zoom, overschedule but you don’t have to. You could still make a decision to have a boundary like I stop work at 6:15. “Dave, there’s still more to do. It’s due by noon tomorrow.” I got that but if we were in the office, you’d be going home now, not working.

If you were in the hospital, you’d be doing nothing.

Worse, you would be in trouble.

We forget that if we make ourselves sick then we’re going to be way further behind than if we take care of ourselves. In that, we’re going to be working quicker when we do that.

Downhill companies don't lead from the bottom. They lead from the top. Click To Tweet

I can’t agree with that more and part of the decision-making is that. Let’s say you don’t make a decision to do it. Let’s play that up. Why don’t you keep working on this current schedule? What do you think you’ll be like by January 2022? What shape are you going to be in? “I’m sure it’ll straighten out by that.” I go, “Why is it going to straighten out? What’s going to happen?” The people who I wrote about in the book were in trouble but none of the examples were casual, “Give this a try because of perhaps some lapse. This was, “I need something now or I’m going to go wonder.”

Like on the verge of burnout, which a lot of people feel that they’re there because there’s all that extra emotional stress that’s tugging around about the concern about Delta now and what does that mean? New disruptions. Now, kids are back in school but the buses aren’t running properly because they have a shortage of bus drivers. Even though I’m supposed to go to work, I have to drive my kids all over the place. There are these new things that are creating this extra emotional pull on us.

The pull is going to keep going. The new normal is going to change every month. I’m convinced of it from whether we go back, we don’t come back, you need a vaccine or you can’t come in. Whatever is going on is going to add, not take away, stress. I’m one of those, why don’t you accept it and then decide, “What am I going to do about it?” If I can’t stop it from coming, I got that. What do I do about myself so that I can be a good spouse, parent, friend, sibling? Whatever my roles are in my life, I’ve got to understand if I’m upset and under stress, it has a ripple effect on others that you’re engaged with.

Other people who talk about that circle of life with the different slices that they talk about, do you feel that when you dock off, how much time you spend in each, they say it should be round.

I get that analogy but no, I don’t. I accept it but my observation is you can’t hit a home run every time off of the plate, to use another analogy. If you wander into two slices every now and then, it’s a benefit. It’s going to help whatever is going on in your two main events in your home and your professional life be a little bit better. What’s the risk thereof taking a few minutes each week to do it? Would it be great if you could be in all seven every week?

You’d probably be a very relaxed, happy person but if you can’t because of circumstances, two isn’t bad. Three would be phenomenal. 3 more than the main 2, that’s pretty good. Give that a try. If I’m listening to my clients who are reading the book and I recommend in the book, you read it in chunks because if you read the whole thing in one sitting, you forget things. What they told me is, “I’m on Chapter 4 on the personal slice. I’m leaning into that. I’m starting to do a thing for myself. I’m going to see how that goes.” A month later or two months ago, “I’m going to lean into Chapter 5 now and Chapter 6. I believe in incremental, continuous improvement rather than searching for the Big Bang Theory of doing it all at once.

That is one of the things that keeps people from making progress. Their expectation is all or nothing. “I’m either going to do it all and I’m going to have it all and I’m going to have that full circle.” It’s not realistic. I love the book, The ONE Thing but it’s not realistic. I have different roles in my life and it’s unrealistic for me to say, “I’m going to focus on one thing.” Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. We’re going to have many things. The first step probably for people is to give themselves permission to dip their toe in and maybe take ten minutes for themselves if that’s all they have but it doesn’t have to be an equal share across the board.

McGraw Hill, the publisher, put pressure on me in COVID to finish the book because they felt that eventually, people were going to suffer stress, burnout. One of the interesting things is with a hybrid return, a lot of the clients that I work with who saw the people come back in, went, “These people are burning out.” Their energy level is down. Their enthusiasm is lower. Their difficult time concentrating.” Let’s say we deal with COVID for 2022 in one form or another, some people are getting, maybe not out but worn down by it without a way to release it in a healthy way. Life is replete with coping devices, from drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, all kinds of things you can do.

TBT 175 | Work-Life Balance

Work-Life Balance: It’s better to have incremental continuous improvement rather than searching for the big bang theory of doing it all at once.


All of those favorites that we like to go to.

We love those. Those can get control of the negative impact. These things are innate in all of us, your emotional and your spiritual life, none of those things are negative to spend time in. That’s what I have found.

This topic of work-life balance, it’s been around forever. I’m wondering what your opinion is on this. What’s the company’s responsibility? It seems to be it’s all on, “You, individual, you set some boundaries. By the way, I’m going to email and text you at night and in the morning before you wake up, I’m going to give you more than you can handle in one day for capacity.” There’s a lot of people that are like, “What am I supposed to do?” What would you say to companies? What’s their responsibility?

Leadership flows downhill. Companies don’t lead from the bottom. They lead from the top. Every culture sometimes has lip service, “We care about work and life and balance and so forth,” but in actuality, they crush you. What I’ve seen is large companies literally invest money in the form of programs almost as a way to socially check the box, “We are serving our employee base with massage therapy schedule, free lunches every Wednesday, your birthday they’ll put in programs,” for the large companies.

Midsize companies have said, “Great idea. Have every VP address it the way they want to. Let us know how you do it.” In small entrepreneurial companies, the leader makes the decision. They build their value system around it. “We’re a company. We’re creative. We’re going to have to work in the office. We can work at home. We want you to stop working at 7:00 at night. No weekends.” Versus the next company goes, “We’re going to do whatever it takes. We’re going to climb the mountain. If you need 100 days vacation, takes on 100 but your work done.” Every culture has its own approach that’s unique for their size of what they think they can provide and control.

What I’m hearing is that’s true but it’s lip service. There are a couple of companies that are leading the charge and doing something about it but I’m talking to a lot of the people who are like, “There might be this program but I don’t have any possibility to take advantage of it.” By the way, I’m playing also that listener who’s saying, “Yeah, but,” and the person who’s the leader for their team, who has an opportunity to put something more in place, as opposed to like, “Here’s a yoga class,” give everybody off and no emails will fly and everybody has off half a day a week to do self-care.

I’ll be curious to get your reaction to this. I call it assuming versus confirming. Whenever I’ve provided feedback to a leader to say, “By the way, your team is pretty stressed out and they can’t believe that you don’t know it and you keep piling work on them.” They look at me dumbfounded and they go, “If I need time off, they know they can take time off. They don’t have to get it all done.” I go, “I know but you’re sending weekend emails at 9:00 at night and they feel they have to respond.” “They don’t have to respond. I’m busy. That’s just me. They can do what they want.”

I go, “Are you assuming they know that?” “Yes, I do.” I go, “You should go confirm that.” What I’m finding is most leaders are assuming you and everyone else know that they don’t have to stress themselves out without confirming, “Here are the expectations. My expectation is if I send you an email on the weekend, you don’t have to respond until Monday. I just want to get it off my desk.” I go, “They don’t know that.”

Leadership suffers if everyone's at home all the time. Click To Tweet

They call it the hot potato. It’s a hot potato, they don’t want to hold it and they’re going to hand it over to somebody else. You can wait until it cools and then you can do something with your potato.

Leaders forget the ripple effect they have on their team if they’re upset. That being upset upsets everyone else. “What’s wrong? What’s happening now?” This creates stress. This is where leaders forget how important their approach is in communication. A lot of times on Zoom, it’s brutal. They’re fact-based, A, B, C and D. “Is everyone fine with that? I got to go. I’m double booked. I’m off.” The team is left with, “I have no idea how I’m going to do this. What happened to me in a ten-minute Zoom call?”

That’s the burnout thing. If that happens once a day for twenty days in a row, you’re a mess. On day 21, you’re like a mess. You’re despondent, discouraged and without optimism and hope that things are getting better. The clients I have to want their people back in the office talked about efficiency over efficiency at home versus effectiveness being in the office. The thought being, “If we see and talk to each other, we can talk to each other about what’s a priority and what isn’t rather than everything being a priority at all.”

In theory whether you’re at home or you’re at work, you need to have those conversations. If they’re not happening then they need to happen. I’m not a big believer that you have to be in the office to get stuff done. I know there’s a mixed feeling about that but our communication needs to reflect where people are and change accordingly, for sure.

I’m in the middle of the work hybrid, no hybrid, all work, no work at home. Each company has to figure it out based on what the needs are. Execution, clearly, is easier and more effective at home. There’s no question about it. Managing work, it can be done at home. Certainly, half the time you can manage a team remotely. Leadership, I don’t know how well you can lead 100% from home. People have to get the non-verbal and the sense of you. They’ve got to hear the tone of your voice in reality, not on a computer speaker. Leadership suffers if everyone’s at home all the time. That’s how I’m looking at it so far.

There’s something missing if people aren’t together, there’s an energy and a connection that you make when you were together with people, things that you experienced and do together. For sure, there is something that’s missing or different. Every company has got to figure that out and they better figure that out fast because people are not wanting to come back and they’re leaving their jobs because they’re not wanting to come back.

This is an interesting time. Maybe, what’s your opinion on this? Are people finally setting boundaries for themselves? Are they saying that, “I am worn down and I realized that, in some ways, I can get more done at home and this is the way I want to work in the future?” Is this a mass setting of boundaries, a correction for years of not setting boundaries?

TBT 175 | Work-Life Balance

Work-Life Balance: Leaders forget the ripple effect they have on their team.


What I’ve noticed for the first time but certainly maybe I wasn’t paying attention to it but clearly, everyone asks themselves, “Is this working for me? Does this work for me?” The answers are different. Some people are, “It’ll work better if I’m in the office.” Those are the people who want to go. “Because it’ll work better for me in there.” The next year it goes, “This is great. I want to stay home forever.” There you go. The next year it goes, “I wouldn’t mind having Friday at home and one day at home. I like to do both.” Other people go, “I’m in the wrong business. Now that I’ve paused at home, I don’t even like this. I’m moving and changing careers. If I’m going to do something I’m not that crazy about, I want more money while working at home.”

We’re seeing a lot of this what we’re calling poaching. IT specialists are the main event. IT specialists, they’re going for the highest dollar. “You could stay at home. Would you run our IT thing? I’ll pay you $20,000 more than you’re getting now.” “I’ll do it. What’s the difference? I’ll make an extra $20,000 doing the exact same thing from my home.” I’m not seeing a universal anything but I’m finding people all asking themselves the same question, “Does this work for me?”

I’d love to keep talking about this but I know that we have people with short attention spans. Let me ask you a couple of questions that I like to generally ask to see your opinion on that then we’ll wrap it up and let people know where they can go to get your book and hear more about you. What’s your definition of productivity and why?

It’s a great question in terms of the sector to sector, continuous, consistent improvement. Productivity measurement is always around what is improving. I tend not to think about, “What did we produce this afternoon?” It’s, “Are we growing? Are we hitting and meeting expectations? Are we exceeding? If not, why not? That’s a productivity issue.” I tend to look at it, it’s the result-based question about how productive are we. Your numbers tell you what your productivity level is and whether it’s fabulous and leave it alone or it needs improvement.

What it brings up for me is a whole host of questions. If that’s one slice, what’s productive for me as an individual. You’re talking about it from the overall company perspective but as an individual, I may be more productive doing less and be able to reach my goals and still be able to produce. There’s a point where it tips over and you become very over-efficient or over-functioning and then you no longer are as efficient and effective as you once were.

I was addressing the results. What you’re talking about, I’m threading the needle a little bit but the question that runs with it is, “Am I productive? Am I developing?” The individual versus the work I view as two separate. Being productive can be great but I’m not learning anything new. In other words, I’m cranking out 10% more every quarter but I’m not growing. I’m unhappy. I tend to look at productivity and development as a leadership responsibility.

Being productive is fine but your talent needs to grow because they get bored. Once they master something, they’ll get bored and go, “What’s next?” Both run hand in hand. In COVID, development has been a challenge because, with everyone at home, it’s harder to develop people’s talents because I don’t have as much daily, weekly contact versus Zoom once or twice a week.

Your talent needs to grow because they get bored. Click To Tweet

You could. It’s what somebody sets up, how often they’re checking in and what questions and conversations are being had.

I’m finding now a lot of my clients are scheduling more 15-minute meetings versus one 1-hour meeting per week where we were saying to one subject, “Thank you very much. I’ll see you for another 15 and 15. A lot of people are finding that more productive and I feel I’m developing because I’ve got a better, more frequent relationship with my supervisors.

You’re not flipping from thing to thing. It’s about one thing and then you can have another short little meeting on another thing. It keeps from task switching. From a mind perspective, it helps you stay clear in your head and stay focused.

One of those 15-minute meetings is about them versus the work. How are you doing? Are you bored? Are you interested? What do you need from us? How can I help? Those meetings are occurring a little more often through the summer and now September 2021 than they were in 2020 in COVID. We keep evolving. I mean it. The pace of play is so fast, it’s incredible.

Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you’re like, “You should have asked me this?”

The one question that I always think people should ask is, “What’s the history here? Are people using it?” Two things. I have found some people when it works so quickly, feels much better right away. The stress level goes down. They drop it.

When it’s too fast, they drop it.

Versus this incremental leaning into it, if you will. Not slowly but methodically, let’s say. “This month, I’m going to try this slice and then I’ll add rather than take away.” I have found people who do that, it lingers. Myself as an example, I’m a planner guy. I like plans. I plan the time each week so I don’t even think about it. As a result, I’m very fortunate. I’ve got good health and I’ve got a pretty good attitude and things are going on.

I’ve got mountains of stress pouring over me every day but I’m not running, screaming from a building. The benefit is this works. If you believe it works then it should work long-term. It’s a valuable, short-term break because it helps the 6-month or 3-month period that you had a tough time but it’s a lifestyle. It’s like the permanent diet versus the crash diet.

TBT 175 | Work-Life Balance

Work-Life Balance: Your numbers tell you what your productivity level is.


I was going to say it’s the ice cream effect. It feels good when you eat it right away and you get this instant satisfaction and gratification but it’s not necessarily good for you in the long run.

I do a number of these one-hour, no questions just, “Dave, talk for an hour,” which are hard to do but that’s the message. If you got to do this, make a decision to do it. See if it works. If it does work, keep it going.

Keep doing it. We know what to do, we just don’t do what we know. Anyway, where can people find you and your book?

The book is on Amazon called The Work-Life Balance Myth. Two clicks and it’s at your door in two days, which is great. My email is It’s in the book as well. I’m in the Boston area. I used to travel the globe. Now I don’t travel so much like everyone else.

Dave, thank you so much for being here and writing such an important book.

Thank you, Penny. Thank you for having me. This is great. Great questions. I enjoyed it.

Thank you all for being here because you know that this is something that you need in your life, a little bit more, whatever it is, harmony, balance, whatever you want to call it, we need that now and consistently throughout our life. Do check out Dave’s book and see how some of the tips and tricks that are in there may help you to focus. Pick off one thing, focus on that. Focus on doing something for yourself. A few minutes here and there and then see how that feels and keep doing it and adding onto it. We’ll see you in the next episode.

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About Dave McNeff

TBT 175 | Work-Life BalanceDavid J. McNeff is a thought leader, executive coach, high-profile jury trial consultant, profiling expert, workshop facilitator, author, and keynote speaker.

A former collegiate athlete fascinated with peak performance, Dave founded Peak Consulting Group in 1995 to develop executive talent and bolster performance of executive team dynamics for companies all over the world.

Previously, Dave spent fifteen years in the financial services industry selling and building sales organizations for two major financial institutions on the East Coast.
Dave was recognized for his outstanding sales achievements with several national awards unique to the financial services industry. He also built two successful sales companies that experienced rapid growth and achieved similar national recognition, as well. In this capacity, Dave spent years working with the venture capital community participating in the growth of many emerging companies in the technology and internet industries.

Peak Consulting Group focuses on Behavioral Management Consulting, Sales Training, CEO Mentoring, and Management Team Building for mid to large corporations. Dave has an unusually close relationship with his clients where the engagement typically lasts over a number of years and includes work as a CEO coach and trusted adviser, as well as executive leadership team talent development. In each case, the relationship includes senior-level executives and almost always an ongoing relationship with the CEO and/or BOD. Over the past several years, a significant amount of new business is coming out of Private Equity firms where assessment and merger integration consulting is at a premium value.

In addition to the advisory/coaching work, Dave also specializes in two other areas: Corporate Conflict Resolution and Litigation Consulting. Conflict Resolution work usually involves work in the M & A sector and the Litigation Consulting is primarily focused on Jury Selection and Legal Team Management consulting, almost exclusively in the pharmaceutical sector. Dave is also a sought-after speaker for company and organization events. His style is engaging and very funny which has led to many repeat events including hosting company annual meetings. Dave holds a BA from Providence College and an MEd from Boston University. Dave still enjoys a regional USTA tennis ranking and remains very active in paddle tennis and is respectable on the golf course, as well. Dave has three children who are all now safely launched and reside in LA, Chicago and Boston.

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