Work / Life Balance

Strategies for Success by Work-Life Balance Expert Martin Bjergegaard

By Helen Russell 

Life can be exhausting. We work longer hours than ever before, and even in our downtime the office is but a swipe away via smartphone. But does it have to be this way?

Denmark is famous for its work-life balance, with a workweek of just 37 hours and the happiest workforce on the planet, according to a study by And happiness, it turns out, is good for business. The University of Warwick found that people are 12 percent more productive when they’re feeling positive, so it comes as no surprise that happy Danes are ranked third in the world for productivity by the OECD. Short of emigrating, it’s always been hard to see how the rest of us can get a slice of that Danish work-life balance. But now, successful entrepreneur and self-professed “happy Dane” Martin Bjergegaard has come up with a series of strategies to help everyone have a fruitful career as well as a harmonious personal life.

Bjergegaard was working all hours for an international management consultancy firm when he became stressed and struggled to sleep. “By the end of night number three of being wide awake, I just thought ‘I need to make a change’,” he says. “I had to stop being in a work environment that was making me unwell. The day I quit, I slept like a baby.” Suddenly finding himself with time on his hands, he got to wondering what exactly the recipe would be for work-life harmony. He loved the idea of being a serial entrepreneur, but didn’t want to be a slave to his smartphone, seldom seeing his friends or young family. “I thought it must be possible to be successful in business without sacrificing your home life,” says Bjergegaard, “so I got in touch with people who had done just that.” He scanned the globe for the best examples of role models who had financial and personal success and put together a series of life lessons—not just for entrepreneurs, but for all of us.

Bjergegaard found that by learning to be more efficient and prioritizing leisure, you can leave the office on time and return rested and ready to be productive the next day. “We don’t work as well when we’re tired or under constant stress,” he says, “so it’s important to get away. I get many of my best ideas when I’m out running.” He advises everyone to ‘pretend’ they have children, giving leisure activities the same attention that a family would demand and creating artificial deadlines to increase efficiency. He’d also like to add that salary will only take you so far: “Above a certain threshold, money doesn’t have an impact on happiness levels,” he says. 

In his book, Winning Without Losing (2014, Profile Books), Bjergegaard lays out 66 rules for a more balanced life, from checking email only at certain times to working close to where you live so you don’t spend hours commuting. 

As a travel fanatic, runner and hands-on father, Bjergegaard has been living by his new doctrine for two years now. He works 40 hours a week, takes eight weeks off a year and insists that a part of every day be spent recharging, napping, playing sports or seeing friends. Tall, tanned and fit, he is the picture of health. He insists that the rest of us can get there too, by making simple changes to realign our work-life balance. After half an hour on the phone with him, I’m sold. 

Winning Without Losing - 66 Strategies for Succeeding in Business While Living a Happy and Balanced Life, by Martin Bjergegaard and Jordan Milne, is published by Profile Books.

Helen Russellis a journalist and author of The Year of Living Danishly published by Icon Books, January 2014