How to Start (or Restart) Your Work Life Balance Journey

Intro

You’re looking at your team’s satisfaction survey results and see that work-life balance is low…again. Break out the brainstorms, create team-wide no-meeting times, etc. It helps…for about a month. Then the next fire pops up and it’s back to crazy hours, back-to-back meetings, and endless chat threads. You wonder, is work-life-balance attainable, or is it just some impossible Eden that no one ever achieves? I have found that work-life balance is in fact attainable, but is not easily found or easily held onto.

Tl;dr

The constraint on work-life balance is time and there are tactics that you can implement now and other things that you can develop over time either by shaping the culture of our team/org or by changing roles (though the grass isn’t always greener and you should take control over what you can first).

  1. Attending fewer meetings (and moving more work to async channels)
  2. Getting stronger signal (/less noise) from your communication channels and alerts

Improving work-life balance by Getting More Time

Earlier in my career, I was often (always?) booked in back-to-back meetings all day, leaving my nights and weekends as the only time to do deep-thinking, write strategy docs, and follow up on all of the things that happened in my meetings for the day. As you can guess, this was not a recipe for success and led me to burnout quickly. I learned over time that I could get rid of many of these meetings and then set intention for what I really needed to accomplish in a week and organize my schedule around that.

1. First, set intention for the week

If you want more time, you need to know what is important to accomplish and what isn’t. As Parkinson’s Law states: “work complicates to fill the available time;” in other words work is like a gas that will fill up however much space you give it.

  1. synthesize experiments from last week and get team to shared understanding on validated/invalidated hypotheses, and
  2. interview 5 candidates for open role.

2. Next, get fewer meetings

I thought I was already being really efficient with my meeting schedule…and then COVID hit. Two kids under 4 years old, no childcare, and me and my wife with our full-time jobs. I immediately took a scalpel battle axe to my calendar to cut 50% of my meetings and, while many of the cuts were painful and could only be temporary, many others were permanent by either eliminating completely, decreasing the cadence, or moving to async catch ups with shared notes.

  1. 1:1s, continued — Set aside an hour a week for one-off, 15 minute 1:1s. At the beginning of the week see who you need to spend some extra time with and slot them in. You can move the slots around, the point of the 1 hour block is to help you remember to do this and to keep your calendar from too many recurring 1:1s.
  2. XFN and team syncs — These start off well-intentioned: some people or multiple teams are kicking off a project together and need a regular get-together to sync up, ensure people are moving in the right direction, and unblock issues. Then, 2 months later, they are still there and an hour before someone will ping “who has an agenda?” When you set these meetings up, set them to expire after 4–6 weeks. If the friction to recreate the meeting isn’t worth it, then you’ve just got some time back :)

3. Lastly, manage your communication channels and alerts

Email, chat, and other alerts can be a really powerful driver/reminder…or they can be a total timesuck to being productive and doing your job well if you don’t manage them correctly.

Closing

Achieving better work-life balance is like getting in better shape or losing weight: you can pick up tips and tricks along the way to make it better and achieve some initial success, but unless you commit to the practice, new things will pop up and you’ll find out you’re back where you started. Work-life balance is a practice you commit to; it’s not some magical state of being that you reach where you never have to think about it anymore and you’re never stressed. And even when you have all the right strategies, work-life balance can fall apart, which leads to some longer-term strategies to change your mental-state and/or change your team’s culture.

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Chris Hatfield

Chris Hatfield

I'm a Product Manager who loves to solve problems at the intersection of how to help people get value out of complex ecosystems and how people make decisions.