My work life balance is out of whack. It always has been, though. I would never model my lack of balance as something anyone else should follow by any stretch of the imagination. Recently I’ve made a genuine attempt to fix this by introducing habits and “hacks” (ugh!) to bring balance to the force.
5+ years ago I was an awful programmer, developing poor software on a consultant-type basis at a small company. Because I felt like I was bad at my job, I over-compensated by working long hours to solve the endless list of problems I created for myself. The actual solution was for the company to hire someone to work alongside me.
Today, I run a complex team of people across a bundle of timezones. Because of my tenure in the business I’ve become something of a project manager wearing “many hats,” participating in meetings & discussions revolving around new things to roll out or experiment with. It’s time-demanding to juggle a bunch of hard-to-do projects alongside my “normal” day-to-day responsibilities. These new projects involve constant learning of new things, which I love. But my primary objective in the day is to be there for my team, which I need to keep in check. But then I also need headspace because I don’t want to drown in a sea of stress.
I also have a house to clean, belly to feed, friends to entertain and wife to enjoy life with. Balance.
So, here’s a few things I do to try to keep things in check. I’m definitely not doing it perfectly, and I kind-of live day-to-day which is not great, but here’s what I try to do:
5am: Get going asap
When I wake up I get up immediately. No faffing around, lying there staring at Instagram or whatever. I just get up. Yes, I’m drowsy and not well rested, but lying there doing nothing achieves, well, nothing.
When I get up I’ve got my clothes ready to put on & a bag with stuff ready to go. I have nothing to prepare (more on that later).
I’ll have a coffee, some juice, water & a light breakfast (fruit and a bit of cereal usually) and then head to work. Then I catch the first bus of the day (5.45am) into the city. No traffic, and I can read on the bus for the 30-or-so minutes the commute takes.
6.20am: Activity time
Three to four times a week, I go to the gym. My office has a gym which makes things a lot easier. Even more easy is the fact that there’s showers in the basement with a towel service, like a hotel would. It makes life infinitely easier to have that!
I do my usual 5k run which takes a little less than 30mins, do some stretches, shower and I’m then ready to rock.
I never call 1:1’s that; they’re catch-ups. But at 7am, it’s evening or late afternoon in the offices where I have people on my team. Namely Sydney (the worst timezone to deal with given I’m in Dublin), Singapore & Tokyo. The early morning is where I’ve allocated time to chat to my colleagues abroad. It’s a good time to do it because they’re winding their day down, and I’m winding mine up. Everyone has enough energy to be excited and share news, ask questions and make the catch-up meaningful.
Another perk of my job is that the company provides a morning breakfast buffet. Usually it’s some eggs, toast and yogurt. Perfect for the post-gym blues, and given I’ve been active since 5am it acts like a mini-brunch to keep my energy levels up.
I try not to give email dominance over my day, but they have a habit of being the primary source of complete time wasting. My inbox is easily the most distracting place in my day. Moreover, most of it is either updates with data I don’t need or things to do that are priorities for others, not for me.
So, I have a few email “hacks” (ugh!). We use gmail in work, and that lends itself nicely to a lot of aggressive filtering. I easily get over 100 emails a day, and I would say less than 10% of that actually hits my inbox these days. I’d also wager about 40% of them are put into folders that are automatically marked as read. A lot of my inbox is an archive of data that I might dig into one day.
I also have archive folders setup for each of the tabs in gmail; “archive inbox,” “archive forums,” “archive promos,” etc. When I open an email, I tend to scan it quickly to find prominent information; who sent it, who did they send it to, what’s the subject and what are the first few lines of the email? Based on that I’ll either send it to the archive (i.e. no immediate action needed), delete it (i.e. this is utter trash) or leave it. This means my inbox is a future todo list, and I try to keep 10 or less emails in there.
Doing this at 8.30am means my day starts to take shape. Moreover, because I work in an American company, it’s not until post-lunch time that they’re online sending stuff out. So by 9am GMT, yesterday’s stuff is already sorted out!
9am: Dublin kicks in
Realistically people don’t kick into gear until 10 or 11am, which means 9am is a good time to catch up with folks, get a check of what’s going on and begin the day.
But 9am is when people begin filtering in. Which means it’s the time when I allow myself to be distracted, because it’s going to happen. You may as well accept your fate. If something hyper important needs to be done, it’s noise-cancelling headphone & quiet spot in the building time. Otherwise, it’s a good time to be open to chat to people as they setup their day, switch on their laptops and wax lyrical about their prior weekend/night/etc.
Again, I’m lucky enough to work at a place that provides lunch. Lunch is actually more dinner-sized which is actually a blessing and a curse. It’s nice to get a good feed at lunch time, but it means you can get sluggish afterwards. I try to avoid over-eating the starch and carb stuff at lunch, but temptation will often win me over!
Surprisingly, 5 years of the regiment of doing lunch at 12 has shifted my day quite a bit. In almost any company I worked for previously lunch was at 1pm. This, I think, is still the norm in Ireland. I’ve no idea how we started the midday lunch thing, but I’m used to it now.
As if a rule was set, in our office 1pm tends to be where catch-ups happen on home soil. So from 1pm onwards I tend to do my Dublin-based catch ups. Moreover, meetings tend to happen then. Especially with our American colleagues in Boston, where 1pm is morning time for them.
Because I prefer to do catch-ups over coffee, and I don’t want to drink coffee beyond 3pm, afternoon is projects time. Headphones-on, music blasting (the DOOM soundtrack is my current productivity OST!) and my head is in the game.
However, this is actually also a time when I’ll consider going home. At 3pm, the noise, hustle & bustle of the office hits peak. Especially considering I sit on a predominantly sales floor, the noise can be crazy. And because my noisey period of the day ended a while ago, my headspace isn’t there.
And so, once again, a perk of my company & job is that I can feasibly go home or go to a cafe to get work done.
5pm: Wrap it up
At 5pm I try to get things wrapped up. This means being at home and having stuff closed off, sent out and either drafted or completed. It’s also when I dig into my calendar to see what I need to do tomorrow.
Every evening, around 9pm I try to refresh my mind on what my next day looks like. Mainly to give my brain a chance to not panic in the morning in case I forgot something. I also note anything specific I need to bring to the office. Like a suit jacket in case I’ve an in-person meeting with non-colleagues or an interview.
I also get my clothes ready for tomorrow. Most notably for the gym. I wear a football jersey under a shirt on the bus and can look a little disheveled, but so does everyone on a 5am bus. I have a folded t-shirt, fresh underwear & whatever else I might need in my bag. I’ve a locker in the office gym where I leave the rest (toiletries, runners, etc.).
And then I go to bed at about 10pm. I actually sleep really poorly during the week for some reason, despite going to bed early and rising early. But I’ve gotten used to this.
And that’s my ideal routine. No, it doesn’t pan out that well every day. It’s never that perfect. But this is my ideal situation.
Also, I mentioned a lot of flexibility & perks in there. I know this all sounds like some sort of crazy fantasy world bullshit. But I swear to god, everything I mentioned is real & attainable. In fact, my company is hiring in Dublin, Singapore, Tokyo, Sydney & Berlin (our next office). So if you feel like working in a place like this sounds ideal, send me a DM on twitter or drop me an email.