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.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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47 Replies to “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. This looks good. Integrated rather than fragmented , a jazz quartet. Great analogy. Love the diagrams. Tim , you are a wonderful enthusiastic resource. Continued good thanks.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. “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)?

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. 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…

  10. Interesting, but I’d like to see some practical tips to arrange this synergy you’re talking about.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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.


  14. 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?

  15. 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!

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

  18. Hola, Tim.

    Vivo en España. He leído la versión española de tu libro y estoy impresionado por lo bien que te lo montas. Pero hay una cuestión muy importante: tu experiencia y la de los nuevos ricos sólo puede ocurrir en un país como USA, no en España. En USA hay más libertad para los ciudadanos, más posibilidades, un mentalidad diferente. Creo que en España tus consejos son difíciles de hacer.


    Con Dios.

  19. Maria — one of the consistently happiest people I knew was an old school janitor.

    He was probably not typical of janitors — but he was spry, had predictable work that he could handle without it eating all his life, had time and energy for hobbies and volunteering.

    So, it’s possible, though I agree likely not standard.

  20. @Jaime,

    Gracia por su comment.

    Lo interesante es que este sentimiento existe en qualquier pais donde haya salido este libro.

    En realidad, los principios funcionan donde sea aunque algunas cositas (detalles) sean ideal para los norte americanos.

    No te rindas! 🙂

    Mucha suerte y un abrazo,


  21. Totaly agree with all the comments about work and personnal life balance : you should not try to separate them. They are both part of you and it’s better to find a way to make the both fits together.

    Since i read tim’s book (which is fantastic), i have cut down some useless tasks that my boss used to give me. Even if i haven’t converted this time in free time, the process is on and this is my next move.

    Leadership is close to focus : one of the quality of a great leader is to be focus on the big picture and on some details at the same time : that’s how you can manage work and personnal time.

  22. Tim, shouldn’t the self circle be the largest. I know it sounds, well, selfish, but one should not neglect one’s self. Just a first impression, but I think the self circle should be the perimeter within which the other circles reside. Just as our awareness does not exist beyond our brain. What, you think what you are aware of is the real world? No its just a simulation created by your brain, based on input from the nervous system.

  23. Hola Timoteo/Jaime,

    En parte Jaime tiene razon. Hay cosas que solo en EEUU se pueden lograr. Al menos por el momento. Pero como tu dices No te rindas! y mucho menos antes de intentarlo. Creo que una de las claves estan en algo de lo que tu haz hablado, que se llama Geo Arbitraje. Si bien en españa es muy dificil implementar algunos de tus principios, tal vez Jaime puede mercadear sus ideas, talento, trabajo, o producto en EEUU donde hay un mayor mercado para todo y vivir a un corto salto de su pais en Africa del Norte o en Eurpoa Oriental donde los costos de vida son mas baratos. mientras que cobra su cheque en Libras.

    Yo estoy haciendo mi intento en Mexico donde el concepto es ampliamente conocido y utilizado por residentes de la frontera norte con estados unidos. Hasta el momento lo mas divertido ha sido pensar como resolver los retos que implica el poder vivir mi estilo de vida ideal.

    Saludos y Gracias,


  24. Another great Post.

    For a while now I have been struggling to come up with a better way of thinking about work and life and the relationship between the two. I think Dr. Friedman’s Jazz band analogy is perfect. It captures the dynamicity of the relationship between the different parts of our lives – at times some parts of it coming to the fore, at other times other parts taking the front seat.

    But what is important is that at any point in time, the pieces are working well together. It’s sometimes a big ask, and I’ll be interested in reading the book to see how it can be done, but for many its becoming a vitally important question.

    peace out!


  25. It’s great to see these ideas about the jazz quartet analogy. Keep riffing!

    A few more quick notes about leadership.

    First, anyone can do it; anyone interested in mobilizing people toward valued goals, that is. Leadership doesn’t belong to people on top of hierarchies.

    Second, you can always get better at it. Leadership–like sports and music–is a performing art. Have you ever heard of a great athelete or musician who thought he was done learning? I haven’t. I’m often asked this question: Are leaders born or made? My answer: Yes. All are born, and all are made. You have to make your self into the leader you want to be.

    The more you think of yourself as a leader in all the parts of your life, aiming to create harmony among them, the more likely it is you’ll actually bring the parts together in ways that make beautiful music.

  26. Well now, I just have to read your book even sooner. I love this whole concept. I really think this a discussion that could make a difference in our culture. Wouldn’t that that tweaking you suggest translate into a healthier nation overall?

  27. Yes indeed, Janice! In the very last chapter I write about how we have to “get back to the garden”; how, if you extend the basic principles in the book to our society, you start to see new opportunities for creating sustainable families, organizations, and communities.

    I’m so glad you picked up on that theme.

  28. Then there is nothing more important. Thank you. We are a self correcting nation. It would be great to see this discussion go mainstream in a huge way. Just days before the storm in New Orleans, I was with a group headed by our Lt. Governor, discussing sustainable initiatives in a cultural economy. How to lead with our best selves. I cannot wait to read your book.

  29. I agree with this all too much. There was an article on lifehack-dot-org that talk about monks and “living in the moment.” I was inspired by that article and have done two things to improve my “living’ instead of just “being.” First, I make it a point just to pay attention while showering, because that’s where my mind tends to wander the most. Second, I no longer use an mp3 player while walking outside, but actively pay attention to everything.

    It’s good to know that there’s some research and results behind this now! Great!

    On your about page, I’ve seen and read about all the listed things you’ve done, except one: it says you are a political asylum researcher and activist. I have no been able to find any videos (obviously, it’s not a martial arts match or anything) or further information, not even on this blog…

    I was wondering if you could elaborate on that aspect, either in a reply or a full-blown post. You know, how you got interested, have you helped anyone, your experiences, how you help… It’d be more helpful than you know!

  30. My sense is that this discussion is really about personal responsibility. We all come out of the womb into a structured world (the structure depends on your location/society/etc.) that expects things of us respectively. We can either “sign up” for those items or go explore to find new paradims that best fit with who we are.

    Personal responsibility factors in for each of us as we have to face the truth of our lives based on the decisions and belief systems in which we have invested. If we don’t like the results then it is up to us to change, but my guess is that it is REALLY hard for people to view themselves objectively and thus understand what to do next. It is often easier to expect change from outside of ourselves. (ie., “winning the lottery will make my life better.”) But expecting and hoping for that outside change is a fool’s game. Simply put, people need to be honest with themselves and if each person realizes in the aforementioned categories of Self, Work, Home, Community we are not satisfied with the results, then the change must come from within.

    In Tim’s book he accurately describes our modern worker society as believing that responding to email is doing actual work. We’ve become a society of digital bit pushers that have no more found a way to be happy than the pencil pushers that have come before us, except now EVERYTHING buzzes, flashes, beeps and demands our attention. And it feels good to engage in that finite moment of Pavlovian validation so we keep doing it. But in the end we have accumulated nothing but a digital log of empty experiences that have done nothing to advance our respective goals in life and we wonder why we are so miserable.

    The Venn diagrams are nice, but until we can pare back our daily knee-jerk-work and decide what we value our lives will twitter away into so much white noise.

  31. Outsourcing, the new buzz word makes us really feel that there more hours to a day than 24 by freeing up our time and letting us maintain a healthy work life balance.

  32. if find it interesting that as we acquire more things, we long for more meaning in our lives. maslow had it right, self actualisation rules!

    the idea of linking our work life, family life and community life and our self actualisation is not new. speak with anyone who lives and works in the country. to experience yourself and to understand who you really are get out into the community, share your skills and reap the benefits.

  33. Tim:

    I have read your book and been following your blog for a little less than a year. Great diversity of content and perspective!

    The jazz quartet analogy along with Victor’s Venn Diagram depiction nails it – best visual I’ve seen of a component of my personal vision.

    Here’s the challenge I’m facing – as I pursue the 4HWW (even a 40HWW would be an improvement!), the time demands of work, family, self and community form a gravitational life suck that results in a frustratingly slow tempo of progress in achieving my vision. I can’t simply walk away from my current work/position within Corporate America and provide for my family for an extended period of time. With that, I do have ambition and vision toward ideas and projects that I believe will result in sufficient income for the overall life I desire for my family and self – I just need to execute…

    My question(s) – in addition to implementing the appropriate suggestions of 4HWW, what have you heard from others from your travels, blogs, interviews, etc… that they have found to be useful to break through the invisible wall of “corporate inertia”? Have there been any common themes, philosophies or perspectives that you detect as the “fuel” or results in the ability to break free from the day-to-day demands that prevent dedication to one’s vision?

    Would love to hear what you – or your readers – think…

    With sincerity – Thanks…

  34. “… if we are not satisfied with the results, then the change must come from within.

    In Tim’s book he accurately describes our modern worker society as believing that responding to email is doing actual work. We’ve become a society of digital bit pushers that have no more found a way to be happy than the pencil pushers that have come before us, except now EVERYTHING buzzes, flashes, beeps and demands our attention. And it feels good to engage in that finite moment of Pavlovian validation so we keep doing it. But in the end we have accumulated nothing but a digital log of empty experiences that have done nothing to advance our respective goals in life and we wonder why we are so miserable. ”

    We must stop beating ourselves up. We cannot get out of our respective ruts unless our physical bodies are balanced first.

    Tim addressed his personal diet on a previous poat which I remember as being monotonous, but adequate for 6 days of the week, with a “free day” to binge.

    While that might work for Tim with his adventurous lifestyle providing the variety for a happy existence, most others probably need to eat a variety every day of the best foods for their blood type. While my adult child can function optimally on a monotonous diet much like Tim does, I need a variety of colorful, strengthening, and tasty meals day by day!

    To 4HWW aficionados, any one of these resources is a good starting point:

    • Dr. Peter D’Adamo

    Eat Right 4 Your Type, The GenoType Diet


    • Michael Lam, MD, MPH, ABAAM, CNC

    Insiders Guide to Natural Medicine


    • Dr. Joseph Mercola


    • Dr. F. Batmanghelidj at


    • Dr. Bernard Jensen, “Foods that Heal”

    • Dr. Jordan Rubin, “Perfect Weight America”


    Jackie @ The Vegan Diet


    • Google “acid/ alkaline balance” http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=acid%2Falkaline+balance&btnG=Search

    Many thanks to Tim Ferris and Dr. Friedman for showing us that life and work can and should coexist harmoniously!

  35. Interesting. I think the psychological theories are always worth a read, and although usually I take them only worth a grain of salt, once in a while you get a gem like this one.

  36. I don’t leave many responses, but i did a few searching and wound up here Dr. Stewart Friedman on ?Time Bind? vs. Psychological Interference and More. And I do have some questions for you if it’s allright.

    Is it just me or does it look like a few of these remarks appear like left by brain dead visitors?

    😛 And, if you are writing on additional sites, I would like to keep up

    with anything fresh you have to post. Could you make a list of every

    one of all your social pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or

    twitter feed?