Balancing Work And Life

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Last year, I worked a lot. A lot. Between working full time (and sometimes overtime), and running a small business, I probably put in a good sixty or seventy hours a week. The money was nice and the projects were intriguing, that’s to be sure, but the workload was a bit too much.

I learned in doing it that you have to balance work and life, and you have to find a way to strike that balance for the benefit of the others in your life, too. Otherwise you end up alone, spending all your time working. I decided to employ five techniques for striking a work-life balance. Here I’ll share them with you.

1. Work only as long as I was productive. Too often we accept projects that are bigger than we are, and this is a problem. I spent many a sleepless night working away, staying up late and getting up early. But programming requires a certain mental acumen that simply goes away when you work too much and sleep too little. So I stopped working when I got tired, because I was less productive.

2. Employ the no-jackass rule. Keith Casey of Blue Parabola taught me this one. Got a client that is just a total pain in the ass and not worth the money they’re paying you? Fire them. Seriously. Why are you stressing about a project if the client is a total douche? You shouldn’t be. If a company that I’m working for treats me badly, I’m outta there, not because I’m flighty but because I deserve to enjoy the work I do and to be treated like the professional that I am. And so do you.

3. Learn to push back when the deadline is untenable. If you accept a deadline that you know will kill you to reach, you’re only hurting yourself. This took me a long time to figure out. I accepted a deadline of two weeks to build an enormous application and, of course, I missed the deadline by four weeks. It took six weeks – the exact amount of time I estimated it would take to build. Why are you doing that to yourself?

This isn’t an excuse for being lazy or turning manageable deadlines into missed ones simply because you don’t want to do the work. But we all know about deadlines we try to make and know that we cannot. Don’t be that guy. Remember the old adage: “under promise, over deliver.”

4. Take the weekend off. At least once a month you should have an entire weekend that’s free. And once a week you should take at least one day off to rest. Believe it or not, your body needs it. Your mind needs it. Lord knows your family and friends need it too. Everyone can (and has) worked for several weeks straight before. But this cannot be your modus operandi. Take time to rest.

5. Have a goal in mind. For me, I worked the extra hours to reduce debt and build a nest-egg. I succeeded at both and earned a good chunk of money. I have a financial security net, and I’m thankful for that. But because I reached my goals I don’t need to work quite as hard anymore. Sure, I can set new goals and I probably will (a home, some land, some investments, etc.) but until I do there’s no reason to kill myself working.

Working for yourself can be rewarding, both personally and financially. It can also be taxing on the things that matter most – relationships, free time, and sleep. Remember that you work to live, not the other way around.

Happy Friday!

Brandon Savage is the author of Mastering Object Oriented PHP and Practical Design Patterns in PHP

Posted on 2/27/2009 at 12:30 am
Categories: Friday Inspirations, Personal Management
Tags: , , ,

Whitney Turland (@wlturland) wrote at 2/27/2009 1:17 am:

Preach it brother!

I do need to pick up that no-jackass rule though. That’s a good one.

PS. Think you can forward this to my husband? By forward, I mean SPAM the hell out of him? kkthxbai!

Bill Karwin (@billkarwin) wrote at 2/27/2009 2:50 am:

Good post! I agree about working too hard. I have learned that you don’t actually get more out of those extra hours, because when you’re tired the work you do is not as good. You may even have to re-do the work, because it’s so poor. So there’s no real purpose to working a self-destructive schedule.

In the current uncertain economic times, you might be tempted to work harder to be “indispensable”, but you simply can’t squeeze blood from a stone. Clients or bosses who place that demand on you don’t deserve your work!

I made a post recently that echoes a couple of your other points:

Spike wrote at 2/27/2009 5:46 am:

Very good points here although I think that you must take more weekends off every month, not just one

Nivaldo Arruda wrote at 2/27/2009 7:10 am:

“Remember that you work to live, not the other way around. ”
That sentence says it all. Be a good professional is not only do all the work, but work to reconcile with personal life.

Great post.

Eli White (@EliW) wrote at 2/27/2009 10:09 am:

A good post … except, you should be taking EVERY weekend off. Not just one a month.

Brandon Savage (@brandonsavage) wrote at 2/27/2009 10:28 am:

Thanks all for your comments.

There seems to be some confusion about #4. I agree, you should be taking every weekend off. Most of the time, I do take every weekend off. What I was referring to is not the run-of-the-mill developer but one who runs his/her own business and sometimes doesn’t have that option.

In cases where working some weekends is unavoidable, it is imperative that you take at LEAST one a month off. But you should fight as hard as you can to take every weekend off. You need the rest. Your body needs the rest. Your brain needs the rest.

I’ve gotten my workload to where I take three or four weekends a month off; that’s the real place I want to be (and where I think everyone should be).

snipe (@snipeyhead) wrote at 2/27/2009 11:15 am:

Excellent reminders, Brandon. One thing I can say about having a commute as fugly as mine is, I don’t have much time to pick up extra work on the side. While that’s frustrating that I don’t get to make as much extra money as I’d like, it prevents me from being the raging stress beast I used to be. I used to work 15+ hours a day plus weekends, never took a vacation, and always felt overwhelmed.

Now, since I work full-time and lose so much time while commuting, I only take on projects I really *want* to work on.

I’m not recommending a 4.5 hour a day commute, by ANY means, but for me, it puts just enough time out of my reach that I don’t overcommit as much.

Philip Olson (@philipolson) wrote at 2/27/2009 2:49 pm:

On a related note, there’s also the balancing act of life and time spent on Open Source projects. Like for example, committing to the PHP Project itself. It’s easy to overextend yourself with OS, too, and end up creating well-intentioned broken promises and/or burn outs.

Brandon Savage (@brandonsavage) wrote at 2/27/2009 2:51 pm:

I completely agree. And it’s worth noting that balance is important in all aspects of our lives.

snipe (@snipeyhead) wrote at 2/28/2009 4:38 am:

Philip – I completely agree – I have to remind myself of that as well. (And I don’t think I knew what you looked like ’til just now.. lol)

Danilo Domínguez (@danilo04) wrote at 2/28/2009 9:15 pm:

I agree with you. It’s a pity that many times you have to live this, to realize where you are wrong.


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