Management Musings

Court-House Balance

The poet laureate of Hawaii, Don Blanding, describes a fanciful dwelling in his poem “Vagabond’s House.” A lengthy elegy that details the vestiges of his travels and the people he encounters, it is what he dreams his home to be, but in the final stanza, we find that it never materializes into anything other than the words he so eloquently shares:

I’ll go. And my house will fall away
While the mice by night and the moths by day
Will nibble the covers off all my books,
And the spiders weave in the shadowed nooks.
And my dogs . . . I’ll see that they have a home
While I follow the sun, while I drift and roam
To the ends of the earth like a chip on the stream,
Like a straw on the wind, like a vagrant dream;
And the thought will strike with a swift sharp pain
That I probably never will build again
This house that I’ll have in some far day
Well . . . it’s just a dream house, anyway.

For me, reading Blanding’s poem conjures a walkway made of rough stone that brings visitors to a French country-style door, where a cat greets guests in the foyer doing somersaults on their feet. There are wind chimes made from long bamboo chutes that carry the breeze back from Kauai. Tiny fingerprint smudges on furniture and fixtures throughout—evidence of balancing acts and inquisitive, expanding minds. First molars crunching down on Cheerios. A Tuscan-inspired kitchen designed for cooking recipes old and new. Natural light punctures the open floor plan during the day, and soft light, perfect for reading, fills the space at night. A deck to perch and watch the sunset poking through strong evergreens. And an office with books lining the walls with tsundoku on full display.

Dream homes are built to suit the individual dreamer, and while the material value might come to signify what it is to be “successful,” the true importance is its restorative power. Maya Angelou described home as that “safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Indeed, chief among all in which it represents, I imagine it to be a place of refuge—somewhere one could worry time to their true selves and separate, if even momentarily, from the world’s stage. Home is so much more than the four walls it encloses; it’s where, as Vernon Baker would say, “the heart can laugh without shyness” and its “tears can dry at their own pace.”

In the Harvard Business Review article “Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life,” Groysberg and Abrahams discuss the findings of interviews conducted with 4,000 executives across the globe in determining how they balance a personal life and a successful career. Many respondents stated that it is a tenuous process to say the least, while others claimed that the work-life balance is a myth. In a word, the data showed that the balance required work and lots of it. The executives found that reconciling time between the office and home required careful management to ensure that each had what it was owed “over a period of years, not weeks or days.” Many of them found that to reach and maintain a senior position required judiciously allotting time to not “lose themselves, their loved ones, or their foothold on success.” Knowing all this, can conscious choices be made by the court administrator to employ strategies to create distinct boundaries between work and home, or is it as elusive as some suggest? To the extent that it can be accomplished, to what benefit does it serve, if any at all?


I pulled the screen door open, and before I could knock, Toni shouted, “It’s open!” I walked in and saw that she was over by the kitchen island sifting through a canister of loose tea leaves.

“You know it could have been an ax murderer you just told to come in.”

“First of all, you’re forgetting that I was expecting you at this precise hour. And second, I saw you pulling into the driveway from the window, so I knew my life was not in imminent danger. But I’ll be sure to batten down the hatches in case any ax-wielding killer hacks your calendar—no pun intended.”

“Hahaha. I already know that you’re not scared of anyone—ax or no ax. What are you doing there?” I peered over and took a pinch from one of the small mounds she had measured and brought it up to my nose to smell. “That’s some strong peppermint. If I hadn’t bothered to smell it, I would have sworn that you were doing something that’s illegal in some states,” I joked.

“Good one.” She shot back. “I’m making us some peppermint-bark tea. There’s still a chill in the air despite March’s best effort to welcome the spring, so I figured this would hit the spot. And I’ve got some excellent dark chocolate for us to pare it with.”

“I hate to see you go through so much trouble just to make me a cup of tea though.”

“It’s no trouble at all. Wrapping these bags is therapeutic during the winter months—it’s not unlike gardening. Besides, I find making these individual tea bags is better than using an infuser. The strainer is fine if I’m enjoying tea on my own, but the bags are better for company so that you can judge the potency for yourself.” She slid a few across the counter to me and said, “Here—grab some and make yourself useful while the pot comes to a boil.”

“My preference is the same as yours—the stronger, the better.”

“I thought so, but I don’t take anything for granted, because tastes change over time,” she said, placing the completed tea bags into the mugs.

I followed Toni’s lead proportioning the bags evenly and then pulling the drawstring to seal the leaves inside the organic fiber. I was much slower—barely filling one for every three of hers. I was just about done with my third, when the kettle began to shrill. Toni made her way to the stove to quiet the intensifying whistle and poured the water into the mugs. The peppermint bark instantly wafted through the kitchen as she walked them over to the table, “Let’s sit and chat while these simmer. I can use the rest of it with my strainer.”

We sat down, and Toni snapped a piece of dark chocolate from the asymmetrical bar she had in a small saucer and slid it over to me. “Try this,” she said, taking a bite. “It’s fabulous—a perfect complement to the tea.”

I took a piece and held it in my mouth while I took a sip. “Mmm. It’s delicious—like a breath of fresh air.”

“It’s good to see you,” Toni said after a moment. “It’s been a long time.”

“Indeed—I’ve been going a hundred miles an hour for a while, so just sitting here for a bit has convinced me that I need to make the change I’ve been thinking about.”

“What sort of adjustment are you thinking about and what brought it on?” Toni asked.

“Work has been encroaching on my time outside the courthouse for some time, but it really came to the forefront of my mind when I attended a court security training last week. All the executive managers responsible for operations in the state were required to participate because of our collaboration with the sheriff in these matters.”

“How’d that go? I would think being made privy to those aspects of the courthouse is important, even though most people pay no mind to it.”

“I’ve been working with the sheriff long enough that I was familiar with much of what was being discussed. I found my mind wandering when the presentation turned to security around the court’s perimeter.”

“That’s understandable if you’re not learning anything new.”

“It wasn’t so much the fact that I’m already knowledgeable about the subject as much as the discussion made me think about its application to my home.”

“Are you thinking about getting a new security system for the house?” Toni asked.

“No, I wasn’t contemplating securing my home’s perimeter in the literal sense,” I laughed. “It’s more in the metaphorical sense. My concerns are about the way the line between work and home has become increasingly blurred. How did you manage these boundaries with all that you accomplished professionally? Was it even possible without compromising at least some aspect of your personal life?”

“The fact that you’re thinking about it and now talking about it, as opposed to simply ignoring your thoughts, tells me that you’re working hard to maintain your priorities—which is a good thing. Sometimes even I needed a reminder to jolt me.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“It’s the absolute truth,” Toni stated. “When I immigrated to America in the early seventies, the first bank where I set up a savings account was named Provident. People called it the ‘Beehive Bank’ because the purpose of it when it was initially established in the mid-1800s was to serve the laborers of the city. Almost 150 years later many of the clients were still people like me—immigrants and the city’s working poor trying to make a life for ourselves. There was a period where I was working so many hours that the days of the week melded together, and I forgot what day it was. Anyway, I’m in the bank on a Monday, and while I’m sitting in the cubicle of one of the associates, I look over at this small poster that she has framed. It’s a beehive with bees swirling around it. There’s a dictum going around the perimeter of the hive that says, ‘The most important work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own home.’ It immediately struck me that I was working too much and not spending enough time at home.”

“Just like that?”

“That’s all it took. I needed the money, of course, but I also needed a gentle reminder that it couldn’t come at the expense of other, more important things. The funny thing about that poster is that for years I thought it was the bank’s mantra, but it turned out to be a quote by Harold Lee, which was personal to the associate who was helping me.”

“It must have taken incredible discipline to compartmentalize and not be lured by making as much as you could, given where you were in life at the time.”

“It took a conscious effort to moderate how far work would encroach on my time outside of the workplace. I knew that no matter how much of my personal life I sacrificed, it would never be enough. There would always be more work tomorrow and the next day. And as far as money is concerned, remember that you could always make more, but you can’t make more time—and there’s no better time spent than the time spent at home.”


To be at home is an investment—one in which pays its dividends in subtle, impactful, and long-term ways. The shares of that investment are held not only by the court manager herself, but also by those who rely on her personally and professionally. As Toni suggested, individuals are obliged to provide those in their home life a commensurate amount of time and undivided attention if they aspire to have a positive influence on those they care most about. Moreover, a court manager wants to be in the state of mind to make the best decision, which is not necessarily the swiftest of responses. Resolving the perpetual range of issues that require the manager’s attention necessitates a beginning, middle, and end of the workday so that she can be fully rested to recommence the next business day. This means setting clear boundaries while at home (or on vacation) that represent bona fide time away from the office (sans email, phone calls, and work-related tasks) so that she can return and make all those important decisions on full rest with a clear mind. Failing to manage the proper court-house balance can only simulate gains in the short term.

The management literature on work-life balance subject discusses a range of guiding principles. The following paraphrases the five most noteworthy recommendations that were reiterated across multiple periodicals and books:

  1. Leave work at work. Focus on being present physically and mentally when at home by compartmentalizing the space reserved for your personal life. This means not checking your email or teleconferencing in “leisure” space. And while this may present some challenges when working from home, designating an area or room where all work is conducted can help to create that needed separation.
  2. Allot time for the most important tasks during peak hours of performance. Make an active effort to complete an assignment during a designated period, and then make a deliberate choice to move on to the next task.
  3. Establish a schedule. Advise members of the team on the clear distinctions in “work hours” and “personal time” and when corresponding with each other outside of the designated time frame is appropriate for work-related matters. This also sets an example that a reasonable part of the day should be reserved for a home life.
  4. Understand the difference between “urgent” and “important.” Some overlap will inevitably occur for administrators at the highest levels of the court, but those issues that warrant immediate attention outside of the designated workday should be reserved to only essential and pressing matters.
  5. Build a professional and personal support network. The idea that the path to success is a solitary one is a myth. Success at both work and home requires an aggregate effort from a range of people who can be relied upon.

All in all, what must be carefully considered along a long-term perspective is how to allocate time, drive, and ability to shape a holistic strategy to achieve an appropriate equilibrium in your professional and personal life. Doing so creates greater assurances that successes in the workplace are not in lieu of investments that should be made to oneself, family, friends, and community. The calculation is a personal one, but there is a tipping point to narrowing the metaphorical circumference around one’s home (less and less time devoted to the centerpiece of one’s life) to get ahead at work. Exceeding the threshold has a diminishing return and takes an indiscriminate toll on all aspects of the manager’s life. In the worst of circumstances, the injurious effects are irrevocable, be it at the expense of her own health and well-being, the fracturing of relationships, or complete burn out. Different methods may need to be experimented with before the right balance is struck. And, of course, as life evolves and circumstances predicate, schedules may need to be recalibrated.

Home is the place that enables the manager to slow down so that she can speed up. The home transmutes not only social location, but one’s state of mind. It helps to bring perspective on what is genuinely essential while reinvigorating motivation and boosting creativity so that she can continue to work diligently on the ancillary priorities of being a court professional. As it turns out, there is no place like home. The court manager must be sure to get there with plenty of time to spare and not just physically. Their career and everything else deemed important depends on it.

And those are just some of my musings on management.


Giuseppe M. Fazari has been musing about management concepts and practices throughout his career as an administrator, consultant, and academic. Contact him at