I had an interesting chat at lunch today about work / life balance. Those of you who follow my twitter stream will find this ironic, but I actually feel like I have a pretty good work / life balance.
I don't log in after I've come home for the day, and I don't work on the weekends, and I don't carry a blackberry. There are, of course, rare times when I do all of those things (except for the blackberry), but its not very often. I'm also happy to say that the same statements apply to my teams at work.
Yes, some people stay later than me, some come in earlier, but generally we are all pretty balanced with work, and I actively throw people out of the office in the evenings because I don't want them to work crazy hours.
There are people, however, who put in long hours, check email every few minutes, and log on all weekends. I'm willing to bet that this isn't really required, and in my mind is a symptom of one of two possible team problems:
Its either a lack of distributed knowledge, or a lack of trust.
In the first case, the obsessive emailer has become a locked source of knowledge in the team. Everyone comes to her with their questions, and she feels compelled to respond so that others aren't held up. On the surface she feels like she is helping the team, but in the long run she is hurting the team. She is training people to rely on her when they don't immediately know the answer to their own questions. In effect, she has become the safety net. This leads to her working longer hours because she has to handle disruptions during the day and her own job at night.
In the second case its a lack of trust or empowerment in the team. In this case the obsessive emailer has become a locked source of decision making for the team. He has to weigh in on every decision no matter how small, and will become offended if others take action without consultation. He ends up working long hours because sometimes its just easier to do it yourself.
In both of these cases the obsessive emailer is really suffering from the idea that they are more important to the project than they actually are or they have made themselves critical where they don't need to be.
In my teams, I encourage everyone to use mailing lists, wikis, and documentation to overcome the first problem. If you are going to answer someone's question, make sure at least one other person learns from your answer, that helps to distribute knowledge throughout the team and makes it much easier for individuals to rotate in or out.
I also avoid weighing in on every decision in my teams. I encourage people to make their own decisions. Yes, sometimes they'll screw up, and that is ok. The best people you can have in your teams are the ones who screw up in a new way every time. That means that they are taking risks, and learning from their mistakes.
Don't let yourself become a team bottleneck, and don't loose your own work / life balance. Take a step back and see what people do without you. I'll bet you find that they get on ok.