Work-Life Link: A Plumber’s Got the Leakiest Faucets

My dad got his master plumber license when I was a kid because even though he worked as an industrial engineer, he needed it because there’s a lot of plumbing that goes into automotive paint finishing systems. Maybe that’s when he picked up the phrase “a plumber’s got the leakiest faucets.” If you’re not familiar, the idea is, just because you’re an expert in something at work doesn’t mean you apply those skills at home.

Why can’t we bring it home?

In fairness to any plumbers reading this post, the idea applies across the board. I’ve been in IT since college and have had my fair share of broken computers laying around the house. Part of it stems from the fact that after spending your whole day doing something, the last thing you want to do is more of the same in your downtime. That’s fair, but still, we should ask ourselves the question, “why can’t I apply my professional expertise to my personal life.”

When many people talk about work-life balance they imply that we have to cut the cord completely. What if balance was achieved through a healthy link rather than a false dichotomy?

(1) Make the skills link

As human beings we are particularly good at compartmentalizing. Work is work. Fun is fun. Past is past. Future is future. Etc… There are some benefits from compartmentalization. Psychologist Maria Baratta argues that many struggle to leave work at work resulting in no time for recuperation. This causes some to fall into the classic workaholism trap.

On the other hand many of us spend 8+ hours a day honing skills like: organization, management, problem solving, fixing, and the like. Rather than leave these skills at the office, they should fall into the category of transferable principles. Applying them to everyday life is not the same thing as bringing your Monday presentation home because it just can’t wait. Transferring valuable skills and approaches into our personal lives can bring happiness, not exhaustion. The key is making the skills link.

(2) Make the values link

Do you know what to do when you get a project at work? No matter what kind of project it is, I’ll presume that most of us have some idea of how to take a project and break it down into the steps necessary to get it done. There’s a decent motivation behind this in our jobs. If we continually fail to get something done, especially if we establish a pattern of such failures we’ll likely be looking for a new job.

When breaking work down in an Agile way, the work is not the end goal, the value is. If you’re just doing work for work it’s very possible that you either aren’t being efficient or adding much value. What good is that?

For instance, if I’m building a website, I would never (hopefully) add a button to a page just for the sake of adding a button. There should be some value behind it.

Now let’s think about applying that principle to your personal life. What am I doing? What value does it bring? If I have 4 computers and 4 people who need to use them at the same time it’s going to cause stress if 3 of them are broken. I don’t really want to fix computers on my day off, but I do want greater peace in my house. Reducing stress is frames the work in a much better way than a Honey-Do list ever could.

Work is always a lot more fulfilling when you can make the connection between the raw activity and the value it produces. If you don’t make that link it’s just more busyness and haven’t you had enough of that during the workday?

(3) Find your motivation link

In the Heath brother book Switch, they use a metaphor of a rider on top of an elephant walking down a path. No matter how hard the rider pulls the reigns (they choose an elephant for good reason) if the elephant is motivated to get off the path and go after that patch of green grass he’s probably going to win in the end.

The skills you have are useful to you as the the rider, but only if you’re elephant is properly motivated. Knowing where to go is important, but knowledge doesn’t necessary translate into action.

Wanting to walk my daughter down the aisle on her wedding day is incredibly motivating for me to want to work on my health. Eating a bowl of greens is not the least bit motivating to me, but imagining myself in a tux with her arm tucked in mine while we both beam for different reasons could motivate my elephant to crush through walls I didn’t know was posible.

(4) Linking it all together

After working so hard all day it can be very easy to just check out. But we don’t have to. We have learned how to tackle tough challenges on the job. If we can frame our personal efforts by the value they provide and find our motivation in the places we want to go; we can establish a healthy and beneficial work-life link resulting in far fewer metaphorically leaking faucets.

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