My 14-year-old son asked me today about work-life balance. He wanted to know how to achieve it and get better at it. I think he believes I got this figured out, but the truth is that for me, this is an ongoing process. If you don’t balance your job or school priorities and your personal priorities, one of them will be negatively affected, resulting in frustration and possibly burnout.
I told my son that the goal is to learn to prioritize his personal and school tasks. Prioritization and focus are key. Here are a couple of things that have worked for me:
Focus on doing the challenging tasks first, even if you don’t want to or enjoy them. Completing the challenging tasks first will give you a sense of accomplishment and will reduce stress.
Split larger tasks into smaller, digestible tasks.
Focus on one task as much as possible. Avoid multitasking.
Allocate a fixed amount of time to an activity (Timeboxing), and don’t cheat. You can use the Pomodoro technique or similar to help you accomplish this.
Separate your work and personal environment. You can do this by working in a different place in your home, going to a coffee shop for work, etc.
Assess how you spent your day, week, month. This will help you determine how much time you spent doing tasks unrelated to work, school, or personal life. For example, most people spend a lot of time streaming tv shows, movies, social media, etc. And then question why they don’t have enough time to accomplish their goals, large and small.
Work-life balance is not easy. This is why there are so many books and techniques to help you accomplish this. It’s all about time management and self-awareness. It’s easy to spend time on things that are not our priorities, but we do it because it’s easy or entertaining.
Make sure to always leave enough time in your day to talk to friends, family, practice music, read, exercise, or whatever else fulfills you and helps you grow – no matter how busy you think you are.
Remember this: work and school are important, but we do both of those things to have a better life. Prioritize your personal life, always.
Everybody talks about productivity and optimization these days. The get things done (GTD) popularity has been around since I can remember and most of us are still suffering of constant distractions that affect our productivity and concentration to perform our professional or personal tasks effectively. Also, there are many tools these days that claim they can help you by organizing your email, helping with to-do lists, notes, etc… Some of those tools can be helpful but they require commitment and some of them have a learning curve, and so these GTD apps and tools just become part of the daily distractions.
I have been writing code professionally since the early days of .NET although I remember doing lots of classic ASP as well. As a student, I did some C++, BASIC and even some Pascal but not enough to be good at it. I consider myself a great decent developer and very enthusiastic about coming up with ideas to use new frameworks and platforms to design and build new software products. It is my idea of fun and have been doing it for quite some time now. Sometimes with the idea and ambition of building companies around my product ideas.
Excuses are evil, they offer an easy and sometimes pleasant way to avoid doing something new. I hope some of the tips provided below can help you avoid excuses and get you motivated to build a new app or try out some cool new framework.
Believe it or not, coming up with ideas might be challenging sometimes, one thing I find very useful is to just take a moment, walk, and think of the things I do on a daily basis that I could do better. This task will take you probably a few minutes and you’ll be surprised with the number of ideas you will originate. Some examples of things I have built doing this are, a translation app, a spam blocker, a profile finder and a useful contact merge tool, etc… all of these were created based on this procedure.
Another great way is to ask people around you, or better yet, observe them and find out what things they struggle with while doing their work, using the computer, etc… For example, years ago while at a customer’s site I saw how some people were doing data entry on their computers and getting the information from a piece of paper, after that they scanned the piece of paper and then named it manually… one page at a time, yikes! From this came the idea of creating an application that would allow people to scan all documents at once, then display the scanned pages on the screen along with the data entry fields right next to the image so they could then do the data entry and indexing needed, reducing the task to just a few steps, much quicker and the data entry more accurate. This eventually became a product for a company. Just look around you and think… how can I do this better, how can I reduce the number of steps and if you are brave enough go out and ask people these same questions and you’ll get plenty of ideas!
Designing your product
You have an idea, now what? it is really easy as software developers to just start writing code, this is both fun and common but if you start your application from scratch then it will take you more time, especially if you are using a new framework, etc… The assumption is that you are trying to build this in your spare time at 2 AM in the morning, so you need to plan and optimize for it. The advice here is not to write any code just yet, instead search for open source projects that are using the technology or framework you want to try, download it and build on top of it. It is not cheating, it is a great way to get started and building on top of an existing open source application or software sample will get you ahead and save you a lot of time. Remember, the goal is to build something fast and useful.
Forget about adding any features, focus on the one thing you are trying to solve and nothing else… do not worry about the look or adding extra functionality, first, make sure what you build achieves what you are going after and then you can iterate and add features and improve the look and feel of it.
Finding the time to do it
This is by far the main reason people will never do something they say they want to do. The lack of time according to most is the reason a new language is not learned, a book is not read, a class is not taken and an app is not built! Time is a very valuable thing that we all protect because none of us seem to have enough of it. Let me tell you this, that is bull-crap. the idea of not enough time is overrated, we use it as an excuse to not do the things we need to be doing or worse, to avoid learning or doing something new. Also, I am against working super long hours, it is not healthy and not even productive, instead try to prioritize your tasks, and eliminate or avoid your time-wasters. All of us have a bag full of those.
I used to watch TV every evening, but haven’t had cable for about 5 years now and do not miss it. Yes, I do watch some shows but when I do it is usually using Netflix or Hulu and is usually playing in the background as I am writing or coding. The time I used to spend in front of the TV I now use to write blog posts, build software, and organize meetups. I know many of you might say you lack the time to do any of this but I disagree, there are way too many hours in the day, spending just 2 hours every day to write that mobile app you’ve been thinking about for a while is very feasible. Above I mentioned I usually write software late at night, that is when my kids are in bed and the house is quiet – it is the perfect time! I don’t spend more than a few hours but sometimes I will spend more time learning about email marketing, writing blog posts, finding useful things on Twitter, etc… it is my hobby and I don’t see any of that as a task, it is enjoyable for me. At the same time, I help around the house, wash dishes, take the kids to school, to swimming lessons, etc. There is enough time to spend with the family since luckily I don’t have to travel much, having a balanced life is not only possible but very real, it is all about spending time on the things that really matter and avoiding the things that are neither useful nor productive.
There is also plenty of time while at work… and I am not suggesting you work in your personal projects during work hours but at times such as lunch. Yep, I love going to lunch with my co-workers but that does not mean I have to do it every day. At least twice a week I spent my lunch time eating a sandwich or cheap sushi and coding away (my own app), writing a blog post, or doing some marketing for some of my projects using email and social networks.
Are you in a different situation where you still cannot find the time to do this? if the answer is Yes then chances are you are not really motivated to do it… excuses are easy to come up with, and I am sure the next time you are watching a TV show, a movie or a game you’ll remember this and think… I guess I do have time if I really wanted to. Do not get me wrong… I love watching some TV shows and movies… maybe too much, but still find the time to do what I like which is developing software apps, sites and writing blog posts like this.
Finally, if you are lucky and use public transportation for your work commute… then use that time to do this, and perhaps, even more, things such as finish reading that book, learning that new language, etc…
Do you have any tips or ideas to add to the above post? please share them with everyone in the comments.