I used to pull all-nighters, 120+ hour work weeks, and had a death wish to perfect everything I touched. Guess I always thought that was the way, and that the concept of a strong work ethic was defined by the number of hours someone spends behind the computer. When my son was born, my perspective of work-life balance was also reborn.
I’ve come to understand, and strongly believe, that the happiest people in the world are masters in scheduling the time they spend with family, their spirituality and on their craft (work). My hunt for a simple way to measure and balance my time between those activities each day has led me back to the old-school folding wooden rulers I had used growing up (I don’t think 80% of the planet has even seen these).
Split your time evenly between family, spirituality and your work
Let’s take a step back.
The reality is that most folks work long hard hours, at jobs they hate, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like. I’m quoting Nigel Marsh of course, who said it so simply in his TED talk. Which feels like the exact opposite of Thomas Edison’s thinking:
“I never did a day’s work in my life, it was all fun.”
I believe more people can get closer to Edison’s mindset than they would ever think, especially with all the tools and frameworks that are available nowadays. The trick is understanding what those tools are and how to use them correctly. Here is a list of concepts that can help kick-start your new year goals to manage work-life-balance:
Email & Slack
Slack has truly created great advances in communication within companies. It’s also created some new problems. Email continues to be used by companies for internal and external communication, so it needs to be addressed here as well. Here are my rules:
- Check email three times a day (first thing in the morning, around noon and after 7pm). Anything urgent? Folks pickup the phone, use Slack, or send a text.
- If you have to check email more than three times a day, don’t leave it running in the background. Email is a distraction, and a lot of requests via email can wait 24–48 hours.
- Use Slack for all communication, and use Slack integrations judiciously.
- Open new Slack channels regularly for a topic or reason.
- Archive and close older Slack channels if there hasn't been activity for longer than 45 days. Ask the team first, of course.
Meetings & One-on-Ones
It might seem counter-intuitive, but scheduling frequent one-on-ones with your team (I prefer weekly) can prevent subsequent meetings due to lack of information sharing. If you have too many direct reports to do weekly one-on-ones, that’s a different problem (see Delegation below). Here are some one-on-one meeting rules:
- Catch up; share information both ways.
- Get specific on a few topics, but not all topics. Some topics can be followed up on using Slack or other forms of communication.
- I love agendas, but leave 5 mins for open discussion.
For team and executive meetings, I recommend a few rules:
- If your calendar has too many meetings, the organization is likely having major trouble sharing information and/or is lacking autonomy rules.
- No laptops, cell-phones or distractions.
- Always have an agenda.
It’s surprising how much can get done with the right people, a vision and an agenda to follow. Running effective meetings and delegating ownership with action items during the meeting can actually help prevent late nights for you!
Keep track of what to do, what’s critical from that list and what's been done. I can’t urge this one enough. Without personal prioritization, you will focus on the wrong things and let the critical things drop accidentally.
There are lots of tools out there, but I use Evernote since it syncs across many devices without being boxed into a particular type of device (like Apple or Microsoft-specific software). I also love the simple design principles they use for their Mac and iOS applications.
I create a new to-do note every Monday morning and carry over stuff that wasn’t done the week before. I also take the time to prune out items that I don’t feel are important anymore (yes, this happens). Sometimes, I prioritize personal and work topics together to make it easy to understand work-life priority:
In addition to a shared list of to-do's, I might also have a work-only or personal-only set of to-do's that are shared with my wife or a colleague. I keep things in separate notebooks with sharing permissions turned on depending on the need.
I keep Evernote running all the time, and bring it up a few times a day to add and check off items. Checkboxes ☑️ FTW!
This is the key to it autonomy. You have to trust your team and delegate responsibilities evenly between everyone. Sure this means you’ll also need to hold everyone accountable to delivering against those responsibilities. But I’ve found everyone wants to do meaningful work and they want to do it well.
To delegate effectively, you need to set a vision and success criteria. There are tons of books and articles about delegation, but I’ve found those two simple ingredients to be the core needed for it to work right.
You start by setting a vision clearly, which will require using illustrations/visuals/write-ups/docs and mocks (if appropriate) for what needs to get done.
For example, if you are rolling out a new event, you should meet with the team first and discuss why it’s important to have that particular event. You might then ask a few questions that set the context and mood, which all tie back to the vision of increased awareness and recognition within the company. An example question might be: “Will having this event regularly help raise awareness for other departments within the organization?”
At that point, all you’ll need is some success criteria. Something like “Our new event will be successful if everyone walks out learning at least two things they didn’t know before, and that we’ve also recognized at least one individual in each department for above-and-beyond work.”
That’s it, with vision and success defined, it’s in the team’s hands to drive the success of that event, together.
Set a schedule, and stick to it. Get used to taking one day off on the weekend, some folks prefer Saturday, some prefer Sunday. Up to you as long as it’s consistent so you don’t go back to old habits of 24/7 work with no breaks. Your phone, computer and Slack all have a Do Not Disturb feature, so why not use it?
Boyfriend, girlfriend, kids, parents, brothers, sisters are all super important. We are creatures of family and community, and we need that time to bond, rant, laugh and cry with the ones we love. It’s important to dedicate certain hours and perhaps even entire days to spend with the family.
For me, early mornings are about breakfast with the family and taking my son to school. Evenings are all about dinner with the family, but I always catch up on email an hour before bedtime. I try not to write lengthy replies or take action right then, but rather add action items to Evernote for the next day. Of course, some things are urgent and need to get taken care right away!
Random thought: I’ve seen some organizations take working hours and Do Not Disturb a step further by shutting off corporate email between 8PM and 5 AM. If anyone has insight into how that’s worked out in the past, I’d be curious what worked and didn’t work.
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I don’t claim to have found work-life balance, but I do feel like I can better balance work, family and spirituality given the above topics.