Clock-watchers have been sniffing with more than a hint of disdain at President Bush's "short" workday (in at 7:15 a.m., out by 6 p.m., often with breaks for exercise). That may be short indeed for a president, though it's right in line with the classic time-management advice of Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson: "Work only a half a day, it makes no difference which half." But is nearly 12 hours of work really too short? And what does this whole discussion say for the rest of us — from moms to mega-managers — who put in such days?

It is possible for the CEO of the United States, and others for that matter, to keep "shorter" work days and still be profitable, performance-driven, and balanced in work and family life. In fact, it's not the hours you work that are crucial to success at all in business (even presidential business); it's staying focused on fundamentals and quality.

Bush is showing us that you can be president of a country and not lose sight of clearing your head and knowing when to quit — in other words, having a life outside work. For a society that emphasizes quantity of work hours over quality of work hours, this is encouraging.

After all, fundamentals do count. At a recent luncheon, Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, observed that when fundamentals are solid, performance will correct itself. When those same fundamentals are missing, he added, no amount of intervention will help. He was talking about that delicate balance we call the economy — but the same is true of the equilibrium in our lives.

"Remember the fundamentals" was one of Lee Iacocca's eight commandments of management when he was CEO of Chrysler. Vince Lombardi, the late great Green Bay Packers coach, shared with his team the fundamentals of solid football: blocking and tackling, good play execution, and mental discipline.

In business, the six "balance-critical" fundamentals that drive excellence and high performance are values, emotions, attitude, lifestyle, health and fitness, and time skills. A person is most efficient and high-performing at work when those six areas are in balance. The more integrated your life, the better your overall performance.

Performance quotient predicts success for our sports Olympians, too: Their valuing of excellence in performance is integrated with staying calm, keeping a positive attitude, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, eating well and exercising, and using time wisely each day. This equates to stellar performance.

The fundamentals of time are the same for everyone. Rabbi Kalman Packouz describes it this way: What if you had a special bank account where every morning you were credited with $86,400, with just one caveat — you had to spend it all or lose it. What would you do? Believe it or not, you do have a special bank account called the Bank of Time. Each day, you have exactly 86,400 seconds, just as Bush, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett do. What you don't invest wisely is written off each night. You can collect dividends, but you cannot go into overdraft.

The problem is that many Americans are living in "overdraft" every day. The symptoms of "time overdraft" include sleep deprivation, anxiety, falling behind at work, home and with family, and cardiovascular problems that include heart attacks, hypertension, angina and migraines, not to mention a lowered immune system. It is no coincidence that the growth in heart disease tends to follow the rise in the gross national product.

Studies tell us that time overdraft creates stress overload, and this stress in turn saps creativity, increases burnout, hampers one's ability to solve problems and handle emergencies, and eventually, generates costly mistakes, work-related accidents and increased health-care costs.

By limiting his workday, Bush makes time for exercise and family; for church and values; and for friends who feed his emotional well-being. However, he is on call 24/7. Whatever you think of his politics, he's offering us a great role model for a solid performance quotient — and for getting more done in less time. He's focused on results, not how late his employees burn the midnight oil.

Workplace fundamentals are shifting as people begin to redefine success not only in financial terms but in quality of life. A survey conducted by the Families and Work Institute titled, "The National Study of the Changing Workplace" asked employees what they considered to be "very important" in deciding to take their current job. Surprisingly, not one of the top three reasons was salary. Instead, in order of importance, they were the following: open communications (65 percent); opportunities to balance life (60 percent); and meaningful work (59 percent).

Limiting hours in the workplace has been shown to lead to better employee performance, higher retention rates and lower health-care costs. Those are the natural benefits of emphasizing "time quality."

By recognizing the value of time quality over time quantity, our new president should be able to handle challenges more successfully, avoid costly mistakes and keep illness at bay. He is leading by an example that says you can have a balanced life between work and family through integrating the essential ingredients that create a high-performance quotient. The Oval Office and Corporate America are made up of people, like you and me, where fundamentals and quality remain a treasure trove. And whether the end result will affect the president's "retention rate" . . . well, that's an issue for another election.


Ruth Klein is a corporate and personal performance coach and author of several books, including "Where Did the Time Go?"