10 Tactics to Better Work-Life Balance
What’s your job? What’s your life? How do they commingle, reflect and refract one another? What’s at stake if you screw this balance up? Your marriage? Your friendships? Your health? Your business success?
We dove deep into these questions here at Fizzle and defined 10 tactics that help us balance work and life better. If you’re a creative, entrepreneur, procrastinator, and/or workaholic, this list is for you.
Below we list out each of these tips (with a few half-tips). If you have anything to add, please let us know in the comments below… we’ll get a little conversation going here.
1. Find your point
Ask yourself: what is the point? And more importantly: find an answer.
What a trite way to start this… let me explain:
The point can’t be productivity. Productivity only wants more productivity and it’ll use you up until you’re a husk of a person. Productivity, if it only begets productivity will only beget productivity which will beget productivity and so on and so forth… like a snake eating its own tail.
Similarly, the point can’t be to work. Begets, begets, begets and you end each day with a longer to-do list than you started with… there’s no life there to balance with the work.
We have to intentionally create a vision for where we’re going because work and productivity are at their best when we leverage them to get somewhere…
… and they are, literally, dangerous when we don’t have the “somewhere” defined. Thus the whole challenge of work-life balance in the first place.
So, where’s your somewhere? What is your something? Who do you want to be there with you?
Getting to clarity about what the point is for you and yours is quite possibly the most important thing you could do for your business. If you want to balance work and life better, you’ve got to know why you want to live and work.
So ask yourself these questions:
- What is the point? What am I working towards?
- How will I know when I’ve arrived there? What will it look like?
- What happens when I get there? What will I/we do? Will there be boats and diamonds involved? Smiles and memories? Epic pictures of mountain peaks, hang gliding and romantic dinners?
Listen, these are some of the biggest, deepest, hardest, most important-est questions we can ask ourselves. I wish I could give you a simple formula for figuring it out, but nobody has the market cornered on this one. We’re all figuring this out for ourselves. And we all have to figure this out for ourselves.
So get in as deep as you can, dig into the questions, then come up for air, live and work for a while, see how it feels, then dig back into the questions a little more and keep asking and living and iterating on what the point could be for you.
You’re your own captain… you have permission to discover what the hell you’re about. That discovery will be a compass to follow towards work-life balance.
1.5 (this is a soft tip): Follow @AlanWattsDaily on Twitter. One of our favorite people on the subject of “the point” is Alan Watts. If you’re as much of a workaholic as I am, getting an occasional text echo from this guy’s life could be all the nudge you need to choose a little better over time. I literally get mobile notifications every time this account tweets. I love them. Checkout @AlanWattsDaily
Here’s a little taste of what Alan Watts is like:
2. Invite your relationships in
Your relationships are a part of your work-life balance. Who is in your life? These people play a role in your journey, in your balance.
Do you know which ones they are? You can make some decisions here. In fact, it’s important to choose wisely — allow the wrong kind of person to speak into your life and you may be more unbalanced than before. Look for those whom you’d like to commit to as well.
Do they know what you’re about? Do they know what your vision for your life and work is? Allow them in, share that vision with them, tell them your values, ask them to keep you accountable to those values.
I had a mentor once who had a group of guys he referred to as his “wingmen,” the guys he counted on to tell him when his shit stank… when he missed too many family events in his pursuit of success, when his ambition was steamrolling those closest to him.
The people you allow into this role will be both a gentle nudge in the right direction and a stiff push to keep you on track BEFORE you make the worst kinds of mistakes. They can guide you when you’re too close to your work or too emotional.
So, who are you going to let in? Who will you allow to speak into your life and work? They don’t have to be partners or business associates or have anything to do with your business… in fact, it’s probably better that they aren’t.
- Take a look around at who’s in your life. These people are a part of your work-life balance.
- Share your vision for your work and life with them. What are your values? How much travel, time off, hangout time, work time, etc. do you want to be held to? Where are the places they’ll be able to tell the wheels are coming off inside you? (e.g., for me, it’s missing my son’s soccer games and not having enough nights out with the guys in a month.)
- Ask them to help you stay in balance with them, with your work and with yourself… Basically, to tell you when your shit stinks.
- Make commitments to them. When they speak, listen. When they need you, be there.
- For more tips on bringing people into the vision and logistics of your business, checkout this conversation.
I know you’re super smart and have this whole work-life balance thing totally licked and you’re just reading this because it’s got pictures. But do me this one favor: choose one person you trust and share your vision for work and life with them. You can use pictures and make a pintrest board, maps, words, whatever… just come out of your shell for one moment and allow someone to know about the journey you’re on. I’m sick of folks like you trying to do this in a vacuum. You’re not alone.
3. Set clear boundaries & expectations
One of the biggest challenges with work-life balance is deciding when it’s OK to stop working. We get to the end of the day, our spouse/roomate/partner/kid comes home, we yell out, “Just another little bit and I’ll be done!” 2 hours later we’re still working with the added bonus of being famished, broody, horrible people to be with.
We’ve got to set clear physical and emotional boundaries for ourselves… and we’ve got to invite our relationships in to those boundaries so they have clear expectations about us and our work. No sense in doing this alone.
For example, I work from home… there’s this cute little home office thingy upstairs in our bedroom. When the door to the room is shut my wife and son know that daddy’s on a call or shouldn’t be interrupted.
However, I’ve told Aiden (my 5 yo son) that the rules change if it’s a school day. If he gets home from school and the door is shut, he can break that door down and wreck whatever the hell I’m working on with his love screams (they are shrill… and effective). No matter what, that’s my commitment to him.
Here we have a healthy respect for both work and life with the added bonus of others playing a role in keeping the balance when I, myself am too emotional or close to my work to keep my own rules.
These are called boundaries. You can think about them as rules if that’s easier. They’re for you AND those relationships we talked about in point #2.
And it should be said, even if you live alone, even if you could work for days on end without any responsibilities pulling you away, you’ll need to find the balance for yourself. There’s a thing called the law of diminishing returns. Familiarize yourself with the concept.
PRO TIP: If you work from home, here’s a huge tip I’ve learned. Set an alarm or a calendar event to give you about 15 minutes before you know you need to stop working. Drop everything and go for a walk around the block. “Holy shit there are other people in the world! Oh my god, trees and stuff!? My goodness it’s clear and large out here.” This, for me, has been a life saver, giving me the space inside myself to actually have a good time with my son… instead of being that broody, horrible person I’m so prone to be when I don’t get what I want.
So, what are the boundaries and expectations you will commit to?
- Think about time specifics. How many hours will you work in a day? How many exceptions to that rule do you get in a month?
- Think about place specifics. “Where” is work for you? What places are sacred spaces? How can you get others on the same page with you about those places?
- What rules can you make for the sake of your work?
- What rules for the sake of your life?
- If there are people those boundaries/rules/expectations will affect, let them know. Tell them your commitment, ask them to keep you accountable.
Making commitments to yourself + your relationships about work-life boundaries will bring enormous clarity to your day.
4. Get clear & realistic with daily/weekly plans
You could dive right into work in the morning.
Just start digging,
…and you could get a whole slew of stuff done.
And yet, regardless of the fact that you did a bunch, you could end the day feeling like crap. You may not know why… you look at the todo list, all the things you’ve crossed off, you should feel great… but you feel dull, moody, adrift.
As you read this, you know why, right? You know the right answer… *”It’s because you don’t have your WHY figured out, ya’ dummy! It’s because you haven’t figured out THE POINT! You’re being PRODUCTIVE but you’re not GOING ANYWHERE!”* you yell at your monitor.
That is correct. But that’s all well and good to think about the yacht you want to have and the free time you’ll have one day and brainstorm and dreamscape and visioncast and solutioneer about the “direction” and your “why,” but what does that actually look like on the ground, in the dirt, in the muck of the day-to-day battle?
In my experience, your direction, your why, your point, touches your daily work in the form of clear expectations for that day.
When we get up in the morning and just start hacking away at things, we must look like a terrible golfer, the kind of golfer that finds a ball (any ball) and simply swings away at it — doesn’t care where it goes, doesn’t care who’s ball it is, she just grabs the nearest club and swings away.
If you’re unfamiliar with the sport, this is not a good way to play golf. It is also not a good way to work… nor to balance work and life.
No, a good golfer sees a 530 yard dogleg right, realizes that, no matter how bad she wants to, she can’t hit the ball that far. So she sets clear expectations of herself, chooses an area she wants to lay up to, and tries to get the ball to that place.
Just like the golfer, we need clear expectations of what we can accomplish… how far we should hit this ball and in what direction we should aim.
But clarity isn’t enough. Those expectations also need to be realistic. What you want to do is unlimited, boundless in imagination. However, the actual time you have in any day is limited. If you want to end your days energized and inspired you’ve got to learn what is and isn’t realistic for you.
For instance, I have 4 podcast episodes to edit right now. I’d love to sit down and crank them all out in the next 4 hours. Each episode is about an hour, I’ll edit it in 2x speed like I show in the Advanced Podcasting Fizzle course… if I stay focused I should be able to do this, right?
I used to think that. But I’ve learned the truth (another word that gets us closer to “realistic”) about what this work is like. It’s not just listening and editing out the cusses, it’s not just summarizing the episode with a description, it’s also writing the post, figuring out the (goddammed!) headline, adding the shownotes, exporting, converting to MP3, uploading, setting libsyn up and then pulling the link to that file into the blog post, scheduling everything to launch at the right time, troubleshooting, sending it off to be edited by Corbett, Caleb + Barrett…
This is The Truth™ about TIME for this TASK.
(Note: the next tip is the best way I’ve found to learn The Truth™ like this.)
And, what’s more, I’ve also learned The Truth™ about how many hours I should allow myself to crank in a row. I’ve committed to my son that I’ll be ready to play and throw him around at 5:15, and if I spend the next 4 hours doing this shit without any break I won’t have a space for lunch, I won’t have gotten out of the house at all, and, subsequently, I’ll be a broody, moody, horrible person…
See how this all works together? Intention, expectation, time, attention, energy, community… they are all connected in this work-life balance thing.
We have got to get to clear and realistic expectations for ourselves. Organizing your unlimited todo list into the limited time in your day through clear and realistic expectations is an essential skill to attain this work-life balance we all want. And the next tip is where the rubber meets the road on this one.
(Also, tip #9 below is a handy tactic for more realistic plans.)
5. Commit to weekly check-ins/outs
I throw up a little in my mouth when people say, “what gets measured gets improved”.
Why? Because I’m a fly-by-night fancy pants creative type who lives and dies by being as far as I can from numbers, charts and graphs.
So when, 5 or so months back, Corbett requested we all “check in” on a Monday (i.e., write all the things we were going to do that week) and “check out” on a Friday (i.e., write what we completed) I got a little hot and bothered… felt like measurements to me. “YOU CAN’T LIMIT ME WITH YOUR LISTS, BRO! I CAN’T EVEN LIMIT ME WITH MY LISTS!”
But I trust this guy, we’re on a team, so I say “f’k it” and start doing it. Every Monday I write: “here are the things on my list this week.” Every Friday: “here’s what I got done from that list.”
And every single week I learned a hard lesson… I never complete all the things I want to. No matter how much I wanted to do them, no matter how doable each individual task or project was, I got a fraction of what I wanted to done.
I started seeing the pattern… how much I wanted to accomplish in a week (my imagination, my boundless to-do list)… how far from that the reality was (my finite, limited amount of time and energy).
Have you heard of Getting Things Done (GTD)? It’s the time-management method of strategic and successful people (i.e., ninjas). If you dig into it enough (I’ve done my time… ask me about it over cocktails sometime; you’ll soon ask me to stop), you’ll hear about the linchpin of this whole system: the weekly review.
What the ninjas of GTD know, and what I learned through our Fizzle check-in/out process, is that this single metric — what you want to do vs. what you actually did — is the best possible sensei/teacher/mentor you could have on the path to work-life balance.
This exercise teaches you. Each week you learn a little bit more, get a little bit closer to The Truth™, to realistic expectations for yourself.
This is the path to clear and realistic expectations of yourself. And clear and realistic expectations let us know when it’s OK to stop working and start living… i.e., work-life balance.
When you write down on Monday what you want to get done, then, on Friday, debrief and come to terms with the reality of what you did you will slowly learn exactly how to set more realistic expectations of yourself.
It takes time to learn what I learned above about how long it takes to edit a podcast. And I literally wouldn’t have learned it without doing this exercise, comparing my desires with my output.
It’s an incredible gift to set realistic expectations. If you’ve learned this, you know the sweetness of giving yourself permission to stop working at 3:30pm because your work for that day was done. Have you EVER rewarded yourself for work well done like that? I never did before I started checking in/out.
Weekly check-ins/outs is a dirt-cheap and simple tactic that can be responsible for you ending your day feeling like a million bucks (instead of a broody, moody, horrible person). So put some events on the calendar for every Monday and Friday (mine are at 10am and 2pm respectively) and start learning.
6. Travel, seriously
Work puts us in a rut. Do you know what a rut is? It’s a path worn down from repeated use… and it can get so deep you forget you’re inside it, eyes down, mindlessly putting one foot in front of the other, too habituated to change anything.
With our work, ruts turn into a shame spiral — you feel like crap because you didn’t get enough done, so you ship something in haste, which makes you feel like crap, which affects your ability to get stuff done, and you’re back to not getting enough done and feeling like crap. We’ve got to get out of these ruts.
There’s a few ways you can get out of a rut (like hiring a 320lb Canadian mobster to smack you around for a bit… if you listened to the podcast you’d be laughing your pause blocks off right now), but few are as effective as travel.
Travel and the new experiences it brings gets you out of the muscle memory and habits of work… it forces you to look up, look around… it gives you clear, fresh eyes.
When you see the stories of other places and people, when you put your physical body in a different physical place and get out of YOUR habit and YOUR routine and YOUR importance, you get reset and refocused about your own journey and what’s important to you (getting back to #1 on this list). This is where breakthroughs happen… breakthroughs in business and breakthroughs in life.
The irony: getting OUT of our routines — routines we setup to do better work in the first place — can actually bring us around to better work. Sometimes taking time OFF work makes us better AT work.
- You could take one day off. Do a staycation and try a hike, restaurant or hotel in your city.
- You could take just a couple days off. Do a weekend away.
- You could schedule 10 days off. Go somewhere you need to fly to.
- You could do 3 weeks (my personal favorite).
- You could do 3 months and really soak yourself in a new place (or in a few new places).
Some of you are thinking: “ugh, you’re right. Let’s plan something.” Others of you are thinking: “that’s fine for Corbett or some blogger or writer or rich person. What about those of us who have day jobs or who can’t afford to get away like that?” I hear you. Corbett’s written a bunch on travel and work stuff, how to make it accessible, how to start leaning that way with your lifestyle.
Travel gets you out of ruts and into a fresh perspective on what really matters, your “why,” your “what’s the point”. This could be a secret weapon for your work-life balance right now.
Soft Tip 6.5 — Watch Cosmos. This amazing show translates for a lay person (read: “a dumbass like me”) some of the incredible things scientists have discovered about life, the universe and everything. 1. It’s entertaining, 2. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is equal parts “amazing” and “muppets,” and 3. you’ll literally look at your place and setting in the universe differently… sensational perspective.
7. Exercise regularly
If the title of this tactic makes you want to check out and think, “ugh, another lame ‘we really need to exercise’ suggestion,” you can quit it. This isn’t a suggestion, this is a fact of life.
You. Are. Your. Body.
That is not your hand, it is you. That is not your back, it is you. And your mind is not some disconnected thing trapped in your body, it is intrinsically connected to the tissues, sinews and biology of your body. Your mind is also you.
I don’t care what you do, what program or routine or philosophy you adhere to. I simply want to say: if you aren’t exercising regularly your work AND life will suffer from it.
The benefits are off the charts, from mental illness to creativity to longer life to confidence and self esteem.
- Get it on the schedule. This is a boundary, a commitment to yourself. I have 10:30-11:30am on the calendar every M,W,F. It’s sacred. Make your own commitment to yourself and follow through on it.
- Find a routine that’s FUN. A hike, a walk barefoot, weights, boxing, yoga farts, 5 min, 50 min, whatever. I found strength training after years of never really enjoying exercise… the joy of it changed my life.
- Keep it simple and realistic. Don’t break a promise to yourself, so make a realistic promise from the start.
- Get a new pair of shoes if you need to. Sometimes the costume for gym or running or underwater pilates can help you stick with it at first. But you don’t need no g’dam $90 undies from Lululemon.
If you want work-life balance, you have to exercise. It’s that simple.
8. Add alternative constraints to your day
This was a great tip from Corbett in episode 060 that I’ve already put to work for me.
“Alternative constraints” are things to do every now and again that you commit to simply because they limit the amount of work you get to do that day. Here’s some examples:
- Exercise. See #7. Forces you to stop work and invest some time in your body.
- Analog sunday: no laptop, no phone, offline for a full day.
- Force a short work day. End at 4 or noon every day this week.
- See a matinee movie.
- Create a rule with your spouse/friend/partner: if it’s sunny and hot at 2pm, quit work at 3 and do happy hour together.
- Weekly morning rule: every tuesday morning do an hour with spouse or friend or family. There’s NO better time to go to Costco!
- Give yourself Fridays off for a month. Who knows what could happen.
- Pick an online course to take and stop work everyday at 2pm to complete an hour of course work. Do it until the course is finished.
- Make up your own!
These alternative constraints force you to be intentional with the time you have left in the day. They focus you simply by limiting the amount of time you have in the day.
They also help you realize how much bullshit lives in your mind about work, about how much work you THINK you have to do… when you’re really just hiding from your life behind your laptop.
- Pick a few of these or make up your own.
- Schedule them on the calendar. Do one next week and another 5 weeks from now.
- Set another calendar event 6 weeks from now to debrief, check how it worked for you and schedule the next set.
9. Make a zero-base calendar
This is a unique technique from Caleb. The gist is this: there is NO time in your day that isn’t accounted for on the calendar.. An example:
- 7-8am: breakfast, coffee and newspaper
- 8-9:15am: fill in calendar for the day
- 9:15-10:15am: write for The Sparkline
- 10:15-11:45am: gym
- 11:45am-12:30pm: lunch with Mike
- 12:30-1:15pm: read
- 1:15-3pm: email
- 3-4pm: watch/do defining audience Fizzle course
- 4-4:40pm: outline Fizzle Naming course
- 4:40-5:10pm: walk around the block barefoot + naked
The zero-base calendar forces you to think about what you’re ACTUALLY going to do within the LIMITED amount of time you have. When the alert goes off for the next event, move on to the next, no questions asked.
What I love about this is it gets you into the two modes I explain in the Fizzle Essentials of Productivity course. You put on the CEO hat when you make the schedule. Then you take off the hat and get into worker bee mode, screwing caps on bottles, doing the actual work. And the goal is to be both a benevolent and Good™ CEO and a diligent and focused worker bee. This calendar method will help you visualize these modes and get better at both over time.
It’s something you’ve got to try, even if only for a week, because you’ll learn so much about where your time goes, what you don’t normally account for, etc. It teaches you just like #5 above.
9.5 The Storyline Productivity Schedule. This is another simple scheduling technique that may be more your speed. It’s really well designed from concept to execution. Could completely change the way you work.
10. Serve hard
The secret to managing energy, emotional buoyancy, motivation, getting out of ruts over the long haul, for me, has been coming back to WHO I make things for.
I cannot overstate the importance of this concept for me. Nothing has had a bigger impact on the perspective I bring to my work, my life, my mission and what I expect from myself. (That last bit may very well be what work-life balance is all about.)
There’s an intrinsic connection between WHO your thing is for and WHY you do it. When we get in tune with the “who we do things for” we see what’s important about our work TO THEM, we see what’s at stake, we understand their quest and care enough to help them on their way. When I see what my business creates for people, the utility/value/aid/comfort my stuff brings, it brings me back to my natural intuition, intelligence, humility and vibrance… instead of trying to live by someone else’s damned “10 tips to better work-life balance” blog post.
- Do you know who you serve? Are they clear and defined in your head? Can you see them and feel their struggle?
- Can you place something on your desk or wall to remind you of these people?
- Can you get in touch with any of these people (like, on the phone or skype) and let them pitch their problem to you? Don’t go to the solution, just hear the problem in their own words. Coming back to this moment, their voice and the words they say, can be a huge motivator and clarifier for you.
- If you need help defining and thinking about this stuff look no further than this guide to defining your audience. I made it. It’s good. You’ll like it.
We’ve stated over and over in previous points how important clear, realistic expectations are for yourself. Being close to the people you do your work for can cast a clarifying light on your todo list, showing you exactly what’s most important today.
Bonus: Go Deeper with 2 conversations
In the podcast we go much deeper into each of these tactics. If you haven’t listened to them both yet, here they are for you:
- 10 Tactics to Better Work-Life Balance Part 1 (FS059)
- 10 Tactics to Better Work-Life Balance Part 2 (FS060)
Which is your favorite?
Holy crap, what an article. Can’t believe you made it through. Which of the above points resonated most with you? I’d love to hear it. Do you have a tactic that’s helped you balance work and life better? Please share it. Thanks!
Photos via USNA
I’ve taken a lot of courses and been involved in several paid communities since I started my business, but I’ve never ever felt like anyone CARED as much about seeing my reach my goals as the Fizzle Team. They show up for me as much as I show up for myself. Thank you SO much, you guys!
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