Scott Hanselman

Give yourself permission to have work-life balance

April 13, '16 Comments [33] Posted in Musings
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Stock photos by #WOCTechChat used with Attribution

I was having a chat with a new friend today and we were exchanging stories about being working parents. I struggle with kids' schedules, days off school I failed to plan for, unexpected things (cars break down, kids get sick, life happens) while simultaneously trying to "do my job."

I put do my job there in quotes because sometimes it is in quotes. Sometimes everything is great and we're firing on all cylinders, while other times we're barely keeping our heads above water. My friend indicated that she struggled with all these things and more but she expressed surprise that *I* did. We all do and we shouldn't be afraid to tell people that. My life isn't my job. At least, my goal is that my life isn't my job.

Why are you in the race?

We talked a while and we decided that our lives and our careers are a marathon, not a giant sprint. Burning out early helps no one. WHY are we running? What are we running towards? Are you trying to get promoted, a better title, more money for your family, an early retirement, good healthcare? Ask yourself these questions so you at least know and you're conscious about your motivations. Sometimes we forget WHY we work.

Saying no is so powerful and it isn't something you can easily learn and just stick with - you have to remind yourself it's OK to to say no every day. I know what MY goals are and why I'm in this industry. I have the conscious ability to prioritize and allocate my time. I start every week thinking about priorities, and I look back on my week and ask myself "how did that go?" Then I optimized for the next week and try again.

Sometimes Raw Effort doesn't translate to Huge Effect.

She needed to give herself permission to NOT give work 100%. Maybe 80% it OK. Heck, maybe 40%. The trick was to be conscious about it, rather than trying to give 100% twice.

Yes, there are consequences. Perhaps you won't get promoted. Perhaps your boss will say you're not giving 110%. But you'll avoid burnout and be happier and perhaps accomplish more over the long haul than the short. 

Work Life

Look, I realize that I'm privileged here. There's a whole knapsack of privilege to unpack, but if you're working in tech you likely have some flexibility. I'm proposing that you at least pause a moment and consider it...consider using it. Consider where your work-life balance slider bar is set and see what you can say no to, and try saying yes to yourself.

I love this quote by Christopher Hawkins that I've modified by making a blank space for YOU to fill out:

"If it’s not helping me to _____ _____, if it’s not improving my life in some way, it’s mental clutter and it's out." - Christopher Hawkins

The Red Queen's Race

Are you running because everyone around you is running? You don't always need to compare yourself to other people. This is another place where giving yourself permission is important.

"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" - Red Queen's Race

There's lots of people I admire, but I'm not willing to move to LA to become Ryan Reynolds (he stole my career!) and I'm not willing to work as hard as Mark Russinovich (he stole my hair!) so I'm going to focus on being the best me I can be.

What are you doing to balance and avoid burnout?

* Stock photo by #WOCTechChat used with Attribution


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Thursday, 14 April 2016 00:14:22 UTC
What's life? I've probably forgot when I decide to become a dev. Sorry.
Thursday, 14 April 2016 00:45:10 UTC
I can relate to this post so much especially being a career women, mom, wife, sister, doer of everything. It's always reassuring to know that we are not alone. Thank you for this.
Thursday, 14 April 2016 01:45:24 UTC
Thank you for writing this.

This is a issue that I struggle with every day- the expectation being a good employee and contributing while taking time for myself.

In all honesty, I also struggle with feeling taken advantage of because I don't have children. Should I feel guilty about leaving work on time when my need to clear my head is personal and someone else has another life to take care of? I've never been confronted by any employer with this kind of feedback. But in an industry where perception can often be reality, the perception of leaving to personal reasons carries less weight.

Hopefully our comments let others feel more comfortable with expressing this.
Joel Musheno
Thursday, 14 April 2016 02:49:22 UTC
This is a issue, in this industry you get this flexibility to work at different times during the day to get a some what of a balance and you end up working more hours than you every did because of the off hours you tend to work more because you get on a roll because of the non interruption that you get during the day at the office or being online with others during the day.

Ron
Thursday, 14 April 2016 03:29:26 UTC
This is so true.
You can so easily forget about yourself when you are working hard or being pushed to work hard by life.
And when you are "passionate" about something finding time for yourself just create guilt...
Thursday, 14 April 2016 04:20:52 UTC
It seems that in some companies/ industries you get extreme flexibility and you can work any 80 hours of the week you want. Then there's this perception of the "hero" who's burning the midnight oil. In other cultures it's seen as a failure if you're still in the office after hours, as it means you didn't get your work done during the day. The interesting part is that we're all struggling with it, but hardly anything changes.
Having something outside of work is important to retain perspective for work as well. Thanks for speaking out about it and showing that even the best struggle with the same issues.
Thursday, 14 April 2016 05:02:20 UTC
#1 to improve work/life balance -> stop pushing the big ball of mud (see wikipedia) set of development tools, closed/open source libraries, duct taped together custom build/debug tools, etc.

The cost of working on a 2+ year or older system is greatly affected by the tools/libraries/languages/methodologies used to build the system.

A little developer tool and library portfolio pruning would go a long way to simplifying life for developers and IT staff.

Greg
Thursday, 14 April 2016 05:46:39 UTC
Nice post & very useful information.
Thursday, 14 April 2016 06:08:13 UTC
I for myself try to foster as many "flow" (or "zone" or whatever you want to call it) moments in to my life. This disconnection from time gives me great relief. What works for me is constantly picking up new crafts or skills, because its easier to achieve these states early on in the process of learning. Currently I'm getting in to woodworking and I bought a 3D printer. Sounds funny, but while I'm learning to use 3D software I get completely lost in the process of designing a thing. That feels good. And of course the fact that you build an actual thing (despite the virtuality you live in as a software guy).
Alex
Thursday, 14 April 2016 07:30:01 UTC
Oh yeah, really sounds familiar :)

One trick to learn what can be changed and should change is to radically not do what you tell yourself you MUST do. E.g. if you must check work stuff in the weekend, deliberately not check anything work related in the coming weekend and see what happens. If you tell yourself you must work past 5PM, stop working at 5PM next week every day, even if you think you need to chime in just 5 more minutes. See what happens.

Did the world stop? Likely not. Things proceeded as they did before, with one difference: you had more time to spend on things outside work, e.g. fun things. Yeah, work is often fun too, but don't see work==your fun, as work also means obligations, expectations and dependencies.

It's not easy to make this change. As a co-owner of a company I thought I had to work all the time otherwise competitors would best me. This eventually made me crash down hard of course and I picked up a hobby outside computers (fishing at sea). No way to check email/work stuff or work on code. It made me realize that things don't keel over if you don't work all the time, and as the disconnected nature of the side activity made it (nearly) impossible to 'cheat' it was _the_ way to open my eyes.

I see a lot of people who are over 40 slowly realize that things outside work matter maybe even more than work itself. When you're in your 20-ies or 30-ies, these things matter less it seems.

Take your time. In general, things won't keel over if things are finished tomorrow instead of today: in the grand scheme of things, within a couple of years that day extra is completely irrelevant. But you otoh might still suffer from the exta stress it gave.

Live!
Thursday, 14 April 2016 09:14:05 UTC
I hate the term "work-life balance". Work is itself part of your life, not something to be separated from your real life. Work-life balance is invented by people who hates their job and think that their real life is completely separate from work, even when they spend more time at work than in their home (outside sleeping).

It is a term which also can make people enjoying their work guilty because "they don't have a life".

What you really mean is either that you want to allocate less time in professional activities and more into personal one.
OR that you don't want to shit where you eat. (in the sense of not doing your job at the same location as you relax)

And yes, when you are a developper, the flexibility is unlimited. It is possible to live by working only 4 hours per week for a US customer while still having a great life in a cheap country like Thailand.

NicolasDorier
Thursday, 14 April 2016 10:21:04 UTC
I read loads of productivity blogs to try to figure out how to be more productive. Then I catch up with my work.

;)
Thursday, 14 April 2016 12:39:43 UTC
Serendipitous post in that it falls within on the first anniversary with my current company. The biggest factor in making the move was a schedule flexibility that allows me to do things like take the kids to school myself, and attend mid-day school meetings. Being the parent of the special-needs child, this flexibility is huge.
Michael Henderson
Thursday, 14 April 2016 15:05:59 UTC
I defined clear rules and follow them as much as possible.

Code at the best time of the day for me (which is early morning) and postpone emails, calls and other mandatory activities later.

Always treat emails in batch mode and never look at emails after 20pm.

Spending at least two hours with kids during week day (no matter playing, eating, showering...).

At least 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation per day, this just works.

2x 1h30 of jogging every week (which is definitely the best time for me to plan next coding, I count it as work)

Zero work during the weekend.
Thursday, 14 April 2016 16:09:31 UTC
I love this so much. Work/Life balance is always something I've struggled with. Heck, even balancing the different aspects of my life is hard! It's okay to say no, and it's okay to not do it all. I always have to remind myself of that. It's hard!
Thursday, 14 April 2016 18:21:06 UTC
Cycle to work a few times a week. The ride combines so many good things in one event. Also, I take every single vacation day, every year. So far, I am a happy person in life and a happy worker.
Thursday, 14 April 2016 21:11:28 UTC
Yoga.

It clears your head and makes you realize what's important in your life.
Greg
Friday, 15 April 2016 01:03:04 UTC
Scott, I can't tell you how excited I am that you quoted me. :)

Good to see that my blog stuck with you and that something resonated. It really is so easy to get totally consumed by things that don't matter. Thanks for this article, and thanks for including me in it.
Friday, 15 April 2016 08:23:12 UTC
I really like this quote from Bryan Dyson (Former CEO of Coca Cola):

Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. They are Work, Family, Health, Friends and Spirit and you're keeping all of these in the air.

You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four Balls - Family, Health, Friend and Spirit - are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for it.

Work efficiently during office hours and leave on time. Give the required time to your family, friends & have a proper rest.
Ian Wright
Friday, 15 April 2016 12:36:29 UTC
This is a super post, and I can really relate. I've made a very similar and wholly concious decision to prioritise the really important things in my life: #1 being family, #2 being health, then #3 work (followed by everything else, which includes 'nice stuff to buy' way down the list). I also have to remember that we aren't actually racing to an end goal most of the time, even if we think we are, and things we think are end-goals (shipping a project, a big event) are really just little stops along the way. You have to enjoy the moments in between too, and so do they people who are sharing your journey. The only true end goal is death, and we don't want to race towards that if we can help it.
Adrian
Friday, 15 April 2016 13:38:23 UTC
Loved the 'Mark Russinovich' stole my hair! I can relate..
Monday, 18 April 2016 16:12:31 UTC
Whatever you wrote is true but it depends on where you live! For example in my country you gotta work instead of live ... things (such as house, car and stuff) are extremely expensive.
Ali
Monday, 18 April 2016 16:12:34 UTC
Whatever you wrote is true but it depends on where you live! For example in my country you gotta work instead of live ... things (such as house, car and stuff) are extremely expensive.
Ali
Wednesday, 20 April 2016 15:47:44 UTC
I mostly question myself that can a .Net/software developer be a video gamer?
I really struggle to answer this question as when i am tired and coming back from work I love to spend few hours on any video game and relax but then at the same time I wonder if I practice more of .Net i can become a great dev but our minds cannot take more than a certain amount of pressure. striking a balance between learning + working + hobbies is the most difficult thing in my life. I hope one day i will find the right balance :)

maybe i should become a video game developer :D
Kamran Pervaiz
Thursday, 21 April 2016 20:37:56 UTC
Personally, I'm getting disillusioned with this field in general. I feel that it is just trading time for money and doesn't have much meaning. I'm in my mid forties now and feel that I've wasted a large part of my life on keeping up with the latest technology and keeping my skills up to date. It is a constant churn. I've found that my work really isn't valued. All in all, I think this rat race has just been a waste of time. I'm looking forward to retirement. I hope to retire early and earn enough to live on rental properties. I don't feel that quality of life is something that is valued in the United States like it is in other countries. Basically, you are forced to work because health care is provided by your employer and it is cost prohibitive to buy it on your own. This is why I support Bernie Sanders. Doing this day in and day out, isn't living. Also, I don't think the new way of developing web apps is getting any easier. If anything, it is getting worse. I'm tired of having my time wasted on constantly reinventing the wheel on some new framework or whatever the latest trend is when there isn't really a benefit to it. Also, while this line of work is easier on you than hard manual labor, I don't think sitting in front of a computer all day is good for your health in the long term.
Rodney
Tuesday, 03 May 2016 16:17:42 UTC
Work life balance had has become so important part of people's job. I see many workers struggle with work life balance especially when their company is not fully onboard with it. Without proper work life balance, employee's contribution can decrease. I believe more companies will eventually learn to provide work life balance.
Monday, 09 May 2016 10:45:38 UTC
:|
Navaneeswar
Tuesday, 10 May 2016 15:45:02 UTC
Nice article Scott. This made me feel so much better!
Taha
Sunday, 15 May 2016 13:52:18 UTC
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Monday, 16 May 2016 12:20:45 UTC
I am actually about to push away from work life balance. I like balance but working heavy hours the last couple years have left my skills less marketable than I would want and I don't have enough of a networking presence. I need to change both things.

I am also debating about going back for the Masters I never finished in college. The world is competitive now and if I don't look good enough on paper, I can be passed up when I have to make job changes.

I would love to have a job that would support me and help me grow but I am not sure that is always going to be realistic. It can be hard getting to a point where you can really do what you want in your life. I wish I had worked harder when I was younger.
Shaun Bedingfield
Tuesday, 14 June 2016 03:25:38 UTC
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.