These local go-getters decided they were missing out on too much while at the office
|Morgan Bartlett’s story is that of the prototypical workaholic: 80-hour weeks, inability to delegate, an ever-increasing taskload — but he ditched all that when he realized his children were growing up in front of his eyes and he wanted more time with them. He now works far less and delegates far more while still having time for high-profile, in-depth projects like Bakerview Square.|
Working 80-hour weeks, experiencing stress and anxiety, eating meals hunched over the keyboard, cell phone ringing until midnight … all normal side effects of success, right?
Well, that depends.
It depends on whether spending quality time with family, making time for hobbies and friends, and living a healthy lifestyle are part of the equation, as well.
Despite the fact the American work week has progressively gotten shorter over the last century — we work an average of 33.9 hours a week — a certain demographic has bucked this trend and actually increased work hours per week, specifically high-wage-earning men.
According to a study of working men by the National Bureau of Economic Research, beginning in 1970, the number of employed men regularly working more than 50 hours a week began to increase, from 14.7 percent in 1980 to 18.5 percent in 2001.
Karen Aronoff is a Bellingham psychologist with an MBA who has 15 years of corporate management experience, and also owns a coaching and consulting business. Many of her patients and clients deal with work-addiction issues.
She defines a workaholic as someone who works compulsively at the expense of other pursuits or relationships.
“Workaholics sacrifice everything for their work addiction,” she said. “They have usually learned somewhere that this is the way one should behave in the world, and it’s very reinforced in our culture because people who work a lot are rewarded financially and emotionally for it.”
So what is a normal, healthy amount of work?
Aronoff said it varies from person to person, but it should always include a work schedule that allows the person to restore their energy and maintain relationships.
The following former workaholics have made life-changing alterations to their work lives, from outsourcing duties to switching careers, all in the name of improved quality of life.
Here is how — and why — they did it.
Morgan Bartlett, Bakerview Square developer
At the peak of Morgan Bartlett’s workaholism, he awoke at 5:30 a.m., worked until 7:30 or 8 p.m., ate dinner and then hit the sack by 9 — six days a week.
This schedule didn’t leave much time for seeing his two sons, J.J. and Brandon, or his wife, Laurie.
From the beginning of his career as a real estate agent and developer, Bartlett wanted to do it all. He developed his first apartment building after moving to Bellingham in 1989.
“I started in the development business wearing all the hats,” he said. “I’d do everything in the equation from A to Z.”
He would find the property, do the paperwork on the deal, design the building, build the building, manage and maintain it.
For the first three to four years of his sons’ lives, Bartlett said, he wasn’t around much due to his increasing number of work hours. His relationships with his family and friends deteriorated quickly.
“It was desperation,” he said. “It was either make changes, or there was going to be serious fallout.”
Bartlett also credited 9/11’s profound impact on his psyche, saying the incident made him realize life can be over in a second.
“It began to hit me pretty hard that I needed to change my priorities,” he said.
And that’s when Bartlett began doling out the hats he’d been wearing for more than a decade. The first step was hiring a property-management company to oversee his apartment buildings’ tenants. From there he began tossing out the hats like frisbees.
“If there’s one word that would describe my mantra now, it’s efficiency,” Bartlett said.
“Now I surround myself with a team of professionals and I’m going to use my God-given gifts to their max. I minimize the amount of work I’m lousy at and I maximize the amount of work I’m good at. I’m the big-picture guy now.”
For Bartlett, this means working much less — about 25 to 30 hours a week now instead of his previous 80, but using several intense 12-hour work days to focus.
In order to do this, he set up a work environment that shuts out distraction. His shades are drawn even on hot summer days in his 100-square-foot-office.
He doesn’t grab coffee drinks at the cafe two storefronts down, and he doesn’t chat up coworkers or take leisurely business lunches.
The efficiency mantra trickled over into his personal life, too. Tuesdays are “guys’ day out” with his sons, packed with swimming, Pokemon-card buying, pizza and movie matinees.
“We do more in one day than I used to do with them in a month,” he said.
Bartlett also recently bought a cabin on Whidbey Island where he spends four days a week with his family during the summer. The culmination of Bartlett’s new lease on life came when he decided to develop Bakerview Square, a project he has almost completely outsourced.
And while he’s taken a pay cut from the distribution of duties, he said he considers value in a different light now. The challenge came recently when Bartlett considered developing a 35,000-square-foot mixed-use building in Fairhaven, but chose to forgo the project.
“The bottom line is, four or five years ago I would have made that decision based on money,” he said. “Now I make decisions based on quality of life.”
Ultimately, Bartlett said, he thinks the problem with overworked Americans is their lack of efficiency.
“If people focused more on productivity versus number of hours worked, quality of life would go up,” he said. “I think I’m living proof of that.”
Teri Treat, Garden Home
Working 70-hour weeks most of her life as owner of the former Il Fiasco restaurant and as a Trillium project manager, Teri Treat said she remembers loving every minute of it.
“I got so good at handling huge amounts of stress, I thought it was normal,” she said.
And she also thought, at the time, that it had no effect on her personal life. She realizes now she was a workaholic, that she was overcommitted, and that was all she knew in life.
That is, until she started burning out and realizing her husband was suffering because of her lifestyle.
“I got to a point where I knew I wanted more freedom, fewer hours, and to eventually be a mom,” she said.
After her stint at Trillium, she took three months off and then started working for Haggen in a consulting position — this time only 30 hours a week.
It was hard at first. Treat said she feared not having “the big job, the big title and big salary,” but slowly began to realize she could still accomplish important professional achievements without pushing herself to the limit.
When she gave birth to her son, Cooper, who is now 15 months old, Treat was ready for a life change.
“I knew I would never not work,” she said. “But I knew that I wanted to build a career with a lot of flexibility.”
She and her husband owned property in north Bellingham and decided to develop and manage an apartment building, which allows Treat to work a flexible 30-to-40 hour week now.
She said she feels lucky to have the means to downsize, and that many of her friends who have employers find it more difficult to do.
She is constantly surprised at what a homebody she’s turned into. She cooks, gardens, rides horses and, of course, spends more time with her family.
But Treat said she’s discovered that downsizing does not equal a total personality change. Although she has more free time now, she rarely uses it to sit and relax.
“I never sit,” she said. “I’m still gearing down, I haven’t perfected this.”
Treat said she needs to beware of letting commitments such as board memberships, community involvement and business opportunities take over again.
“Every segment of my life could potentially take over,” she said. Even special play groups and library readings for Cooper can get out of control when she knows she really just needs to spend quality time with him.
“I’m learning how to say no every single day,” she said.
Michael Bode, owner of Bode’s Bavarian Sausages
Originally from Germany, Michael Bode has a purposeful, animated demeanor and a continual knee bounce. When he speaks, thoughts race out of his mouth — it’s easy to see how this former hotel manager spent 12-to 15-hour days supervising employees at high-caliber hotels.
He described his passion for opening a new hotel — the training, cleaning, organizing and management — as a high. At a position at the New York Marriott, he won the “Duracell award.”
“It’s like you’re a junkie,” he said. “People in the hotel business complain, but they actually love it, they thrive on it. But it burns them out, too.”
As director of operations at the Hotel Bellwether and co-owner of its restaurant, Harborside Bistro, Bode worked up to 17 hours a day, which meant he didn’t see much of his wife, Susan, and found himself admiring the people around him who made time for a personal life.
After years of working long hours for other people, Bode decided to make a substantial change — one that came with a large pay cut — and started his own business, Bode’s Bavarian Sausage, with his wife two years ago. While he still works hard, he insists his quality of life has changed for the better.
For example, he has started running and said his health has improved greatly. Last year he ran the Vancouver half-marathon, and this year he’s training for November’s full Seattle marathon.
“I’m healthier, I feel mentally better and physically better,” he said.
He and Susan also decided to take January and February off to spend time with family in Germany where Bode can be the “cool American uncle” and spoil his nieces.
“My personal bottom line is, you have to have a dream and follow it,” he said. “I don’t need a shiny car or a motorcycle to do that.”