Dr. Stewart Friedman on "Time Bind" vs. Psychological Interference and More


Do you want to spend more time with loved ones or friends, but you also have business goals that — under current models or habits — require 80 hours per week or checking e-mail at 20-minute intervals?

This cognitive dissonance leads to failure in both areas, but few people are able to fix the problem.

Dr. Stewart Friedman was recently profiled in the New York Times for his unusual field-testing of “four-way wins,” or goal structuring that integrates four facets of life–work, home, community, and self.

It’s not often that you see the phrase “rock star adoration” in the newspaper of record.

I reached out to Dr. Friedman, founder of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project and former work-family adviser to both Al Gore and Jack Welch, while writing The 4-Hour Workweek. He is absolutely brilliant with micro-testing and fixing two largely unaddressed issues for type-A personalities: psychological interference and conflicting goals…

He has written for publications like the Harvard Business Review, but today marks the publication of his first book containing case studies from people nationwide, Total Leadership. I have a strong quote on the back cover.

Here are a few snippets I thought you’d enjoy.

“Time Bind” vs. Psychological Interference

So what is it about the relationship among the four domains that affects whether you feel satisfied? How you spend your time matters, of course.

But, it turns out that, surprising as it might seem, managing your time is not the major factor. In a study described in Work and Family — “Allies or Enemies?” — Jeff Greenhaus and I found that while the “time bind” so often cited in the literature on work/family conflict is no doubt very real, there is a more subtle and pervasive problem that reduces satisfaction in the different domains of life: psychological interference between them.

That’s when your mind is pulled to somewhere other than where your body is. This happens to all of us. There may even be times when you’ve been reading this and your eyes are on the page but your mind has drifted off. You aren’t focused. Put differently, there are times when you might be physically present but psychologically absent.

If you reduce psychological interference, you increase your ability to focus on what matters when it matters, and you minimize the destructive impact conflicts can cause between, for instance, work and family. A main premise… is that it takes leadership skill to manage the boundaries between the different areas of your life–not just the physical boundaries of time and space, but the psychological boundaries of focus and attention–and to integrate them well for mutual gain.

Redefining Work/Life

[True ‘leadership’ in the sense of being an agent of change] is about having a richer life, but it is not about “work/life balance.” An image of two scales in balance is the wrong metaphor. First, it suggests that we need equal amounts of competing elements to create a constant equilibrium, and for many people, equality in the importance of and attention to the different parts of life makes no sense.

Second, it signifies trade-offs: gaining in one area at the expense of another. Even though it is sometimes unavoidable, thinking about work and the rest of life as a series of trade-offs is fundamentally counterproductive. When the goal is work/life balance, you’re forced to play a zero-sum game.

The quixotic quest for balance restricts many of us. A better metaphor for our quest comes from the jazz quartet: becoming a total leader is analogous to playing richly textured music with the sounds of life’s various instruments. It is not about muting the trumpet so the saxophone can be heard. Unless you seek ways to integrate the four domains of your life and find the potential for each part to help produce success in the others, you cannot then capitalize on synergies in places most of us don’t see or hear.

One Visual Example

The pictures of Victor’s circles, before and after his experiments, show that the work part of his life has changed in two important ways.

He now sees work as a bit more important to him and, after having made some changes by delegating more tasks to others, he feels that the goals he spends time on at work are more aligned with those he pursues in the rest of his life. Also, he’s now involved in a new project in his firm—one that gets him closer to customers—that builds his marketing and sales skills and so fits better with his longer term goal of running his own firm.

Paradoxically, he’s now spending less time at work while feeling more satisfied and performing better. The small changes he made in his experiments resulted in a greater sense of control and coherence among the different parts of his life, and he reports that he could not have succeeded in taking these steps without engaging the key people in his life by helping them to see how they would benefit from these creative moves.


Read and watch more from Dr. Friedman here.

Posted on: June 10, 2008.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

47 comments on “Dr. Stewart Friedman on "Time Bind" vs. Psychological Interference and More

  1. Yeah it always seemed to me, even before I quit my corporate job to start my own thing, that the whole “work/life balance” concept was a bit wonky. Even when I was doing the corporate drain rat thing, my work *was* my life, at least for 80 waking hours a week. I quit, started a media company, and for the last four years have worked from home, loving every minute of it. Your book has made it even more fun, so thanks Tim. I’ve outsourced about 10 hours a week to my VA and it’s exciting. I can now use that time to focus on bigger opportunities for the business rather than doing “busy” work.


  2. Tim, very intersting book!! I am not working now (taking care of my first child), but I can use tips from this book to change my husband`s emvironment. Like the jazz quartet, I want his 4 domains unite nicely to produce success in his life. I need to check amazon.com now!


  3. thanks Time, really interesting post

    Totally agree with the comments around ‘work-life balance’

    W-L Balance infers that ‘work’ is the opposite to ‘life. Which in the literal sense could me death (!) or something equally negative

    Which really is a nonsense

    The ultimate aim should be to do work that is interesting, fulfilling and meaningful whilst still enabling you to achieve goals and priorities in other parts of your life. ie work that compliments with other parts of your life – instead of competing

    Love the jazz analogy!


  4. Tim, leave it to you to uncover the great research that makes lifehacking tick. It still amazes me how people are so unconscious of their time and the way they spend each day of their life as though they are waiting for something to happen to (or for) them before they start actually living it.


  5. “In his class, Mr. Friedman guides students through exercises to identify their core values and to express ways that they are feeling out of sync with those values. Students then develop experiments intended to create what Mr. Friedman calls “four-way wins,” changes that will have positive effects in all aspects of their lives.” (NY Times article)

    This seems to be a mere issue of:
    1) identifying core values (whether one’s own, other’s core values, or newly discovered core values)
    2) leveraging one’s time, assets, trajectories toward these core values

    What am I missing here?

    Have we not all had teachers like Mr. Friedman who inspire us to find our passions? To stretch us beyond what we thought possible to service our core values? To challenge our core values to be more inclusive?

    Is there something profound about “four-way wins” that is truly profound (and that moves beyond the Organizational Leadership prattle)?


  6. wow! this is EXACTLY what I have been discovering as I’m working for balance in my own work/life. The jazz quartet example really hits home. I’ve been starting to do some work projects in my local community, that actually qualify as family time too. It’s a nice overlap! this is really reassuring that i’m on the right track! will get the book!


  7. I loved the jazz quartet parable, it really hit home something I’m just beginning to understand.

    You have one life with all of it in there. Not a working life + home life + social life, it’s all one life and making it an interesting one is the challenge of life!


  8. Tim, I was actually thinking about this concept yesterday and sharing it with you and the other readers. Opposed to what you write in the book, I actually have always tried to find work that is also my hobby. I’m an MSc in electrical engineering (my passion) and have always tried to find a job that allows me to travel overseas a few times a year (I’m an application engieer for a high tech company), all expenses paid and a additional day pay as well. The other good thing is that I get to spend a lot of time with the locals, both during the day and in the evening during diner.
    I would encourage every one to find a job that is or fits their passion(s). It is just like the four circles in Friedman’s book.

    BTW Love the book, reading it for the third time now…


  9. While the overlapping Venn diagram looks neat and very peaceful, I think it’s important to recognize that having work that is in alignment with the rest of your domains is an ideal that isn’t always reachable.

    For example, does a typical janitor find alignment between his/her family and community-based values in the course of a day’s work? It may be possible, but highly unlikely.

    In many cases, the best approach is to *limit* work time and keep it as far away from the rest of your life as possible.


  10. Thanks so much, Tim, for your generous comments and for posting these snippets from my book. And thanks, readers, for your comments!

    I’m really glad to hear that the jazz quartet analogy that I write about makes sense. I’m hoping that people stop talking about “work/life balance” because it reinforces the tradeoff mindset that inhibits people from trying to find creative ways of bringing the parts together in ways that work for all.

    The reason I call this Total Leadership is because it’s about developing the skills needed to create sustainable change (leadership) that’s good for the whole (total) person. Tina’s comment about needing more than will alone is exactly the point. You’ve got to have a clear and inspiring direction and bring others along with you by helping them to see how it’s in their interests to do so. That’s leadership.

    I’ve been lucky to have had experience as an author/teacher/consultant in both the work/life and leadership fields and this book is a blend of the two. Drawing on my work as both the founding director (early ’90s) of the Wharton School’s Leadership Program and former director (late ’90s) of Ford Motor Company’s Leadership Development Center, what I’ve done in this book is to provide a practical guide for how to increase your performance in all the different parts of life by integrating them more intelligently. The subtitle is “Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life” and the mounting evidence I’ve seen is that it’s a lot more possible to have success in ALL parts of life than most people think. The method described and illustrated with real examples in this book shows you how to do it. As i hope you’ll see, Daniel, it’s not your standard Organizational Leadership, because the focus isn’t just on leadership at work but in all domains of life.

    Through a series of practical exercises, best done with one or two others in a kind of peer coaching group, you build your skills with emphasis on what it takes to for you to: be real (clarify what’s important), be whole (respect the whole person, all the parts), and be innovative (continually experiment). I believe it complements Tim’s work well and can’t wait to read more comments from this amazing blog community!


  11. Tim –
    I’ve read your book and have actually applied some of what you’ve suggested in it to some success. I actually refer to it often. The whole work/life balance issue is something I struggle with constantly. I leave “work” at work when I’m at home but there is the tendency to find my mind pulled back to it. Thanks for bringing Dr. Friedman’s work to my attention. I’ll look at more if it.



  12. I agree with Dr. Friedman… though it all seems very esoteric. I would love to have some practical steps to achieve his “jazz band” analogy. Guess that’s why I will need to buy the book?


  13. Tim, Congrats on yet another book quote. I was at the book store yesterday and bought two books. On one of the books your quote was featured on the front, and the other you were featured at the top of the back. Look out Oprah, I think the Tim Ferris book selling machine has left the station. If they are 10% as insightful as your book, I’ll be pleased with my purchases. BTW…..Moving to B.A. in October!


  14. Tim’s post brings to mind the time I finally got a clue about my overall problem.

    I was beat down from working (sometimes fulltime) and attending (mostly nights) unstimulating business classes and not feeling I even had time for regular meals.

    By the time I completed a Masters degree I felt the only way to get my life back was to move to Alaska where I would be forced to keep a balanced schedule of eating, sleeping, and working (due to the cold and lack of daylight I’d heard about).

    Lo and behold, my first week of enjoying breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a regular basis cured me! Don’t laugh. It was serious at the time. I quickly forgot about Alaska and my energies returned full force!

    I have found that the way out of the “time bind” dilemma is to
    focus on the goal when I work
    and to “play” when I get time off
    all of which is not possible unless
    I eat regular meals of nutritious and satisfying foods!

    Surprisingly, this can be accomplished best on a shoe string food budget!

    Join my discussion at grocerydollar.blogspot.com!


  15. Wow Tim. Dr. Friedman came over to comment. Here’s the takeaway for me from his comment.

    “The reason I call this Total Leadership is because it’s about developing the skills needed to create sustainable change (leadership) that’s good for the whole (total) person.

    It’s not only an integrated approach rather that an either/or, it suggests reconfiguring priorities in our culture as a whole. The jazz quartet is brilliantly charged with possibilities. It’s that crossover with leadership that seems to set his whole concept apart. I love his Be whole, Be real, Be innovative position. We could see some great things from this. Some many variations on a lifestyle theme. Room for improvisation there. :)
    Thanks to both of you for bringing this book to my attention. Best wishes for continued success to both of you.