‘996’ vs Work-Life Balance

There are two schools of thought when it comes to being successful at work: you can either give yourself entirely to your career, or you can strive for the elusive work-life balance. The former option is exemplified by people like Elon Musk and Jack Ma, who recently boasted about the “996” schedule that is popular in China: working from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week.  Who wouldn’t love that? Which is better: The 996 Schedule or Work-Life Balance? Click To Tweet

But when it comes to finding happiness in your career – and in your life – the other end of the spectrum isn’t much better. Feeling like you need to balance out your draining, horrible work with your uplifting, wonderful life will only leave you feeling inadequate at both. Work shouldn’t be exclusively miserable; just like your life outside of it most likely isn’t unequivocally positive. And if you ever did happen to find work-life balance, you wouldn’t feel happy, excited, or motivated to strive for more; you’d feel desperate to keep things exactly where they are. Which, I hate to tell you, is impossible.

So which is better – working the 996 schedule or striving for work-life balance?  It’s all a red herring. Instead, you should be striving for love-in-work. Your challenge is about moving through life – and work – in a way that invigorates you. Start striving for imbalance at work. Click To Tweet

It’s not about finding balance between work and life – it’s about achieving imbalance between what you love at work, and what you loathe. If you can take your loves seriously and deliberately imbalance your life to favor them, you’ll not only make a greater contribution in the world – you’ll do it in a way that invigorates and strengthens you.


  1. sandeep April 30, 2019 at 8:05 PM - Reply

    It does not matter how many hours you spent on the job what matters is the result, again if you enjoy what you are doing you will not worry about the time, time will fly. making work Fun/enjoyable is the leaders’ responsibility.

  2. Dee May 7, 2019 at 8:18 AM - Reply

    Love this concept. Find more of what you love and do more of that – and less dishes. Imbalance! Who wouldn’t LOVE that?

  3. GUNTUR SHARMA May 17, 2019 at 1:51 AM - Reply

    There is nothing as work and life.It simply boils down to “MAKE HAY WHILE SUN SHINES’ work from SUNRISE TO ONLY SUNSET then enjoy the night sky stars and cool breeze with your family children and parents this is what vedas taught us in India it is only the flawed western money minded people who invented and captioned ‘MONEY IS LIFE’ iN VEDAS ONLY GHOSTS AND BEASTS WORK after sunset.

    • dan June 17, 2019 at 3:57 AM - Reply

      errr Guntur, your statement doesn’t make sense one bit. you say “Make hay while the sun shines”.. the irony is in your comments .. the whole point is making hay while the sun shines.. make the best out of work.. no one is saying about after hours !!! not sure about the garbled statement about western money and all that,..

  4. Jonathan Wiebe July 17, 2019 at 2:10 PM - Reply

    This sounds wonderful. Do more of what you love, do less of what you loathe. But it’s not quite that simple. We all have responsibilities and obligations to do things that drain us. Trying to minimize these things can take us down a pretty dark path. And frequently, our work demands a results-driven mindset that doesn’t fit life away from work. So distinguishing between work and the rest of life isn’t quite as artificial as Marcus suggests. It is true that real balance is precarious and rare, if not impossible. But simply allowing our emotions (whether we love or loathe something) to dictate whether or not we do something will lead us to a very self-absorbed and hedonistic place with little or no regard for others. Instead of doing that, it makes sense to be keenly aware of the important responsibilities we have, including work and life away from work, and when they begin leading us down dangerous paths, adjust the force or emphasis we apply to them.

  5. Jim Ball March 3, 2020 at 12:00 PM - Reply

    Jonathan, I don’t think Marcus is advising that we shirk our responsibilities, or somehow become self-absorbed and focus only on having fun. Rather, we need to be intentional about understanding when we are at our best, and trying to maximize our experience in that space.

    Of course we have responsibilities, and not all of them will be enjoyable. There’s a shift that happens when we think about the red threads not as tasks we need to complete, but rather the ways in which we fulfill our obligations and achieve our goals. Two people lay complete the same task, with the same quality, but go about it completely differently, and may be motivated to do the work for completely different reasons.

    There’s a wonderful example in Nine Lies about an anesthesiologist who finds strength in his job, but not for what we would consider the obvious reasons. He fulfills his obligations and is exceptional at his work, but the underlying motivation is completely unexpected. Armed with that knowledge, he’s now has the ability to be intentional about doing more of the parts of the job that he loves, and strategizing ways to do less of what he doesn’t, or being clear that those other parts are necessary to allow him to do why he does best. Either way, that self awareness leads to superior results and something much more powerful than seeking balance.

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