One of the biggest lessons that I needed to learn was how to maintain a life outside of the office. It's a tough one. Finding a work/life balance is an often scoffed at idea, especially within the IT community. When you hear about someone that doesn't work on side projects at home or doesn't have a side hustle in the industry, it seems a bit off.
"You just go home and don't code?"
I talked about this previously in my "What do you do again" article, but I burned out at my previous position after working 70-80 hour weeks for months straight. I didn't engage with my friends, or my partner, and I barely left my keyboard except to sleep. And it was the worst thing I could have done for my career and, more importantly, for myself.
I'm not saying you should flake on work. Quite the opposite, you should give all you can to work within the time constraints that you set. We used to refer to it as "leaving it all on the field" on my high school soccer team. You gave everything that you possibly could to affect the outcome of the game, and whether you won or loss, you accepted it and moved on after the final whistle.
The same should hold true in the office. Come prepared to work, stay off your social media during work hours. Complete your tasks and enrich the environment around you. And then?
You're no use to anyone if you don't take care of yourself. This means physically, mentally, and emotionally. There's a lot that goes into making you a complete person.
Research shows that physical well being leads to better cognitive functionality. What this boils down to is… if your body is working at 100% then your brain will follow suit. Besides, working out has other fringe benefits.
To anchor this point, I'll share what I am up to nowadays. I try to get in two yoga sessions a week, mainly in our spare room with a youtube channel playing on my tablet. I play in a social soccer league every Tuesday night.
And I chase my toddler around whenever I have the chance. Cardio, baby.
That last point leads directly into this one. You need to leave time for a social life.
I play soccer with a bunch of random people who quickly became my go-to friends for calling up on a weekend to grab a beer. It was a huge step to take, as a social introvert, but signing up was easily my best decision of this year.
You also have to keep finding time for the people closest to you. The only people who get hurt more than you when you're stuck in the office for 12 hours days are the ones who love you the most. I don't know how I could maintain my personal relationships with my partner or our son if I kept the same work schedule I once kept.
Great. Now how do we go about doing this? Well, it's not easy, especially if work already has its talons in you. But, we can all start somewhere.
Here's a quick list of things to keep in mind when finding your own work/life balance:
- Set your office hours.
- Do you work a 9-5? 8-6? Something like that? Figure that out and make it known.
- Stick to your office hours.
- Now that everyone knows when you are available, don't accept meetings or answer emails outside that window.
- Take mental health days.
- When was the last time you actually used up all your sick/pto time? Use it.
- Find a fitness pattern.
- I can't tell you what to do here, find what's fun for you. I hear Crossfit is fun.
- Say no more often.
- Not just at work. In home life too. Don't say yes to every night out, take some time for you to relax and have a quiet moment.
- Calculate how much your time is worth.
- I'm going to harp on this one actually…
The last point is a big one. It's why I choose to pay someone to clean my house. Every two weeks, we have a service come out and do a full house cleaning. Sure, we pick up toys and vacuum during the week, but we don't spend time scrubbing showers and toilets and dusting the shelves. Here's why…
The company charges $100 for the bi-monthly cleaning. Using some rather fuzzy math, I make about $60 an hour. Cleaning our house takes more than 2 hours, plus, I don't want to do it. So, I'm saving $20 by paying someone else to do it.
That's it. That's my major decision making logic nowadays.
I'd much rather be playing with my son. I'd much rather be working on this blog. I'd much rather be just hanging out and doing literally anything else, rather than scrubbing my toilet. And I've got fuzzy math to back me up.
Next summer, I'm thinking about hiring someone to cut my lawn. I'm almost there, but I do still take some enjoyment out of that chore.
I still take the occasional 8am meeting. I have to drop my son off at daycare early on those days, and neither of us like it. But, it's called a balance for a reason. There is give and take.
I also leave early on some days to pick him up and go to the pool. Give and take.
Learn what is most important to you. At certain points in your life and career, it may be your work. That's perfectly okay. Put in more effort and time to your career then, I did. Maybe you'll learn the same things I did or maybe you'll learn something different.
But understand that work is only there to allow you to do the rest of the things you want to do in life. Don't let it become the only thing you focus on.
Don't forget to focus on you.
This came up again in a conversation in our CoderDads Slack channel. How do you value your time when it comes to your commute. I always fall back on the fuzzy math to decide on whether the commute is worth my time or not. It's a standard for me.
What are some standards for you when it comes to deciding your work/life balance?