When I was working for a large company my main goal was to make it to the end of the day with as little interaction with people as possible. I just wanted to come in, get my work done and leave. Obviously there were some people at that company that I liked, and still talk to, to this day, but for the most part I just wanted to get my work done and go home. I was working to live.
I have found, now that I work for a much smaller company, that it’s a little harder to maintain that work/life balance that I had when working in the corporate world, and there are a couple reasons for this.
It’s a Small Company
Of course the fact that we are a small start-up marketing agency makes it a lot harder to step away from work if something has to get done. In the corporate world if I didn’t finish something and needed to finish it in the morning nobody was going to notice. Now, if it has to get done by the end of the day, it has to get done by the end of the day, it can’t wait until tomorrow morning. Sure there are some things that can still wait until morning, especially since I’m in an earlier timezone than most of our clients, but for the most part if things need to be done, they need to be done.
Sometimes this means staying up until 2am double and triple checking development work to make sure it looks correct on all browsers. Sometimes it means bringing the laptop out to the living room and finishing up some small stuff while we’re watching TV or something. Most of the time the hours aren’t that ridiculous, there’s only been a few times where I’ve had to work until like 2am, but those are still rough nights when you are used to getting off of work at 3:30pm and leaving work at the office… Which leads me to my next point.
My Home is My Office
When I first started with this company we had this amazing loft office above a bar in Chicago. It was a pain in the ass to drive to and park at (during the winter), but it was a big open office with lots of windows and tall ceilings, it was perfect. There weren’t a lot of people in the office at the time, but there were just enough to make it feel like an office and give you someone to talk to. About a year after I started, the company started to take a bit of a shift and we wanted to try and get some different clients. Most of our clients were in one particular space and we wanted to branch out a bit. It was at this same point that an opportunity presented itself in San Francisco, so our trusty leader moved out there to grow the business with the connections he had made in the Bay Area.
With this change came the loss of the Chicago office and the beginning of my full-time work from home strategy. It takes a lot of discipline to be able to work from home, which I have no problem with, but it’s a lot harder to get away from work when your home is your office. Especially when you were so used to leaving your work at the office in the past. And I have no problem jumping back on the computer later at night to take care of things, as long as I don’t have existing plans or my daughter is still awake. I like to spend time with her and my wife, so I have to get away from the computer at some point other than just the weekends.
Boss is Always Working
My boss is a “live to work” type of person, which is awesome. There’s no way this company would be where it is without him, so I appreciate everything he’s done for me, but at the same time this throws off my work/life balance at times. He’s very respectful of my personal time and tries not to bug me unless it’s something that absolutely has to get done, or if he has a question on something. And if I’m able to help out at that moment, I absolutely do, there’s just one small issue I have with the way we work as a company (and I think we’re all partially to blame based on how we manage our workflows). That issue is that we promise everything to everyone as fast as possible because we don’t want to leave money on the table. And while we always manage to get these projects done, it makes for some super stressful periods of work. When, if we just planned things out a touch better, we could maintain a better quality of work, and be less stressed out all the time, while constantly trying to play catch-up.
It’s these things that make it hard for me to step away from the “office”. I feel guilty about letting some stuff wait until the morning because I know my boss would just stay up until 1am and work on it so that it was done that day, but that’s just not how I work, and I wouldn’t be effective at all if that was how I had to work.
I need to unwind and take a break from the computer each night. I need to spend time with my family, I need to not be on my phone all the time, I just need to live… and unlike some people I don’t live to work. I will make sure that all my work gets done and I am available to answer questions from co-workers/boss whenever they need me, but I still need my time away.
Right now I spend between 9-10 hrs sitting at my desk in front of my computer during the day doing something related to work. I start between 8-9 (depending on if I’ve gotta drive my daughter to my parents for the day), and end the day between 5:30/6 depending on what’s going on. Obviously if there’s more work that has to be done I’ll jump back on after my daughter goes to sleep, but I usually like to spend that time with my wife if I can.
Finding a Balance
In trying to get back to a more defined work/life balance I’ve been doing a few different things over the last couple weeks. I know I’m never going to have the same balance I had with my previous corporate job, which I’m ok with, but in the world of being constantly connected, you have to disconnect sometimes.
No checking my phone after dinner – This isn’t quite what it sounds like. In order to disconnect a bit more, I’ve decided that after dinner (and during of course), I will not pick up my phone to look and social media or anything of that sort. This does not mean that I won’t check the phone if there is a notification, in case something for work comes up. It just means that when I am relaxing with my wife, I am relaxing with my wife. I’m not relaxing next to my wife while I read about what other people did that day… It also forces me to stop looking at a screen that’s inches in front of my face, although I’m still watching the TV, but at least I’m paying attention to what I’m watching now instead of looking at the phone while watching.
No phones out if we leave the house – If we go out to a restaurant or go out to do something, there is absolutely no reason to have your phone sitting on the table, or to be looking at social media while you’re with friends or family. For one, it’s super annoying to the servers at restaurants if they don’t have room to put things down, or have to be careful to avoid possibly spilling something on your phone. And two, it’s rude to the people you are with. My wife and I are both pretty good at this one, and have been for a while. When we get to where we’re going, we check in on Swarm (cause we’re still nerds like that), then our phones go away. If we get a notification we’ll check it (more so now cause if we’re out without the kid, it could be the babysitter), but if it’s nothing insanely important, the phone goes right back away. This is also why I like my Pebble smart watch, the phone doesn’t even need to come out of my pocket to see if it’s important. We made plans to go out for a reason, not to look for something better to do, or to work, so when we’re out, the phones are away. We also want to do this so that our daughter does not feel the need to be constantly on a device when she’s older, but we’ll see how that plays out once we get to that point; I have a feeling we’re going to lose.
Take a lunch away from the computer – Even though I mentioned above that I sometimes eat my lunch at my desk, I’ve been trying to stand up and move away from the desk for my lunch break. Even if that just means going to the other room to sit on the couch and watch TV for a little bit while I eat a sandwich, as long as I’m away from the computers it’s ok. It gives me a nice little break from work and allows me to refocus and clear my mind a little bit. And this isn’t just something that came about since I started working from home, even at the corporate job I would just go pick up lunch and bring it back and eat at my desk. I would never eat it at the place I got the food and I would never eat at the cafeteria in the office building. I would eat at my desk and catch up on the latest tech news and social media. Now though, I feel like I just need that break away from all computers during the day or I’m gonna really burn myself out. At least at the corporate job I was also the product photographer, so I had breaks each week to go to the photo studio and do some photography, but the current job is 99% computer based and 1% photography, so I don’t have that same luxury anymore.
So these are the three things right now that I’m implementing in my life to try and disconnect from technology a bit more, while still making sure that all of the work gets done when it needs to get done. Like I said, thankfully my boss is a good friend of mine, and has kids of his own, so he understands that I need to be able to spend time with them, and while I get all my work done and want to make this company better, I don’t have the same mindset as him where I need to constantly be working harder than ever in order to make more money… I will do my work, and in the case of this new job, I will do extra work that we need to do in order to thrive, but I don’t live an extravagant lifestyle, I don’t need a fancy car, or a fancy house. I don’t need to have the latest technology all the time, I don’t need to go out to dinner at restaurants or order delivery every night. I just need to be able to keep a roof over our heads and food on our plates and I am totally happy with that. Most of my friends make more money than I do, my brothers make more money than I do, and I’m totally ok with that because most of the time I have far less stress than they do, and more ability to spend time with the people I care about. And to me that is far more important than any amount of money.