Work/life separation, not work/life balance

Before meeting my wife and becoming a parent I worked long hours. There were times when I worked on multiple big game franchises, where I rarely got a weekend without working for months on end (either in the office or at home). I thought this was normal, as I was balancing things and didn’t realise what I was giving up in my non work life. The problem was, I hadn’t ever paused and worked out how many hours I was devoting to my work. Luckily after a few years I realised I was beginning to burn out and my non work relationships were beginning to suffer.
I decided to change jobs, so I started a new role at a different company where I also began several new practices, one of them being work/life separation over work/life balance.
Tim Ferris says “I like work/life separation, not work/life balance. What I mean by that is, if I’m on, I want to be on and maximally productive. If I’m off, I don’t want to think about work. When people strive for work/life balance, they end up blending them. That’s how you end up checking email all day Saturday”
By the time my son came along, I’d become very comfortable with complete separation of my work and personal life. Blending them together with all the balancing advice available had simply not worked for me.
Steve Biddulph says in his best selling book Raising Boys “If you routinely work a fifty-five or sixty-hour week, including travel times, you just won’t cut it as a dad.”
I want to cut it as a dad, and I had decided that if any company I work for doesn’t care about that then I’d work somewhere else.
In my current role I report to someone based in Seattle, as well as lead and support a team there. If I’d let it, this could have thrown my life into a work/life nightmare. Luckily I have a strong self managing team as well as an understanding manager. What’s key however, is how I manage myself.
To be clear, I don’t have a clock on/clock off job, yet working long hours is not the norm (it does happen). The thing is, when I’m not working, I’m not working. Before I changed jobs and companies, I hadn’t figured this out nor had I discovered how to be effective and put first things first.
One of the practices I put in place with my job change was increasing my effectiveness. This is the most critical component of being able to achieve work/life separation, (see my previous post: 5 ways great managers succeed for ideas on how to become more effective).
Along with increasing effectiveness, there are 3 things that enable my work/life separation:
  • I have two phones, one is personal and one is for work. When I’m not working my work phone is turned off. A few people I work with have my personal phone number in case they need to contact me. Nothing work related is on my personal phone (email, apps etc.)
  • I structure my day to start with my family and end with my family. Working for a company that has it’s headquarters 8 hours behind (I’m in the UK) has it’s advantages. I don’t begin my work day until 9:30am, allowing every morning to be spent with my wife and son, where we play together, eat breakfast and walk our dog. Scheduling and structuring off work time is key, and I stick to it.
  • I have different devices and products for my personal life and work life i.e. a Macbook air for personal, a Macbook Pro for business. These devices are setup differently and used differently. While at Microsoft I had a Windows device for work and my Mac device for personal.
What if you completely separated your work/life? Can you succeed at both? The answer is yes. By focusing 100% on each one separately, you’re ability to succeed is so much more. Since I made this change, my marriage, family time, friendships and career have all exceeded my expectations. I hope if you make the leap, yours do too.

The keys to effective management

The key to great management is knowing that you manage things and lead people. The only person amazing managers manage is themselves, that’s the key to being an amazing manager. Here are 5 ways you can become one too:

Understand who you are. A few years ago in a new role, I became frustrated by office politics and decided to learn from Oliver James’ book Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks. It opened my mind to modern human psychology and enabled me to better deal with my surroundings. While this was going on I became a father for the first time and wanted to do what I could to be a great parent. I looked into another book by Oliver James, They F*** You Up: How to Survive Family Life. This helped me realize I have default reactions to certain situations as well as why I have them. Over the next 6 months, I began to truly understand myself, how I react around others and how to recognize the signals so I can better adapt. I am now the greatest manager I have ever had.

Personal Kanban. This book: Personal Kanban – Mapping Work | Navigating Life changed everything for me (I favor Trello for my Kanban in case you’re interested in a great tool). Once I mastered personal Kanban, I became hugely effective at managing things and getting them done. Personal Kanban is based around just 2 principles: Visualize your work and Limit your work-in-progress. Get the book, learn, take action and get things done, this is step 2 to being a great manager.

Practice the Pomodoro technique. This is about completing 25 minutes of continuous uninterrupted work, followed by a 5 minute break. Science claims that it has cracked the code to our brain and that 20 – 45 minute intervals can maximize our attention and mental activity if followed by a short break. It works for me and millions of others, make sure it’s part of your management toolbox.

Understand and practice the principles of Peter Drucker’s Effective Executive. Drucker’s whole book is based on managing yourself for effectiveness. Don’t be fooled by the outdated title and the fact it was written in 1967. In today’s age, when so many talk of productivity, it’s refreshing to go back to Drucker and see productivity is primarily for machines and process, the real magic for humans is effectiveness. The best summary I’ve used is here: Read this, get the book for reference and make yourself truly effective.

Become an Essentialist. Marcus Aurelius said in his meditations:

“If you seek tranquillity, do less. Or (more accurately) do what’s essential…Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better.”

The art of essentialism has been described in a remarkable and practical way by Greg McKeown in his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. I do less, but better, it’s the way of the essentialist. Doing this enables me to make the highest possible contribution. Try it for yourself, it’s an essential part of effective management.

Lastly, I’d be doing this list a disservice by not highlighting mindfulness. A somewhat over used and at times, misunderstood term that describes the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. I meditate every day; I haven’t included meditation in the above list as it’s not something everyone needs in order to be a great manager. For me however, it’s enhanced my management effectiveness. Thich Nhat Hanh describes in his book How to Relax what true meditation is

‘ …to pay full attention to something. An opportunity to look deeply into ourselves and into the situation we’re in’

This can be a key part of understanding who you are, the first step to becoming a great manager.