on losing work-life balance and sanity

the past 6 months

Due to the pandemic, something that was apparent in my life zoomed into obvious focus. A lot of us have issues with managing how much we work. Wearing multiple hats, as a head coach and as an entrepreneur, I have my share of that as well.

The past few months and the change in working environment i.e. work from home pretty much has clarified a lot of things that was not going too well with the way I got work done. And it has forced me to confront it and come up with a better method to manage my day and my work.

Photo by Jonny Caspari / Unsplash

I realise from my conversations with a lot of the folks who train with me that they are going through similar troubles and the purpose of this post is to share a few things that I've tinkered with and arrived at for myself.

The issues can be essentially boiled down to the a bunch of factors. A non-exhaustive list is below.

  • either there's no work at all or there's too much work. As employers and companies and our co-workers adjust to the new way of doing work, to the increased pressures, trying to stay afloat, trying to keep revenue coming in, there's a cascading effect that just rocks everyone.
  • there's always work. It never ends. It is a bottomless bucket. You finish a bunch but there's always more.
  • other people's lack of boundaries and personal preferences infringes on your style. If a colleague works at midnight because that's when they get enough alone-time, then you are stuck waiting on a response from them until that time.
  • weekdays and weekends are blurring together. Responding to emails on Sunday and taking calls then has become normal.
  • space is blurring together. We sit on our couch and watch TV. We also sit on our couch and answer work emails. Or lie in bed and take calls.
  • We are doing work but not feeling productive. There's no real end to the work-day. This means there's no feeling of success or satisfaction at the end of the day. Only the constant guilt if you could've done more. Or if there's something you forgot and dropped the ball on.
  • Stress. Anxiety. Sacrificing personal time - physical activity is sacrificed, as an example.
  • Sleep takes a hit. Either because we have calls/work at silly hours. Or because of the compounding stress. Or both.

add in the chores and work never ends

When we add in chores and house-work, it gets nuts. Why? Let's say you have a meeting between 9 - 10 am and another one from 10.30 am - 12 pm. In the 30 minutes gap, you put some laundry in the washing machine and you fold a few clothes. And once the second meeting is done, you prepare lunch and eat it while browsing your email. Well, it is non-stop from 9 am onwards. Even though a few tasks in-between had nothing to do with work-work, you didn't have much time to do anything else.

Chores in the morning
Photo by Scott Umstattd / Unsplash

There's a lot of red flags in the above scenario but some are fixable and some are impossible. It depends on you and your situation. For example, you can relegate chores to 5 pm to 7 pm daily. And stick to only office work until then. But if you are not the only variable in the system, it might not work at all.

what I came up with for myself

Here are a few suggestions and solutions. These are things that I've had time to tinker and evolve over the past 6-7 months. My initial days of lockdown did not go too well but as my system improved, I can see better results.

The key is to have a system and to take stock periodically. I do this every week.

time-log. This is a crucial exercise to do. For the next week, maintain a time-log. You can use a notebook or a spreadsheet. For every activity, you just log it in here. For example, my time log so far will read
6 am: wake up
6 - 6.30 am: make coffee, write down to-do list for the day.
6.30 - 6.45 am: drink coffee, waste time browsing football sites.
6.45 - 7.30 am: write this blog post
.....

Now, the crucial thing for me in this time-log is to write down small things as well. When I started off, my log will have a lot more entries between 6.45 and 7.30 am. Because as I am writing my post, I will get stuck and impatient. Before I know it, I will have 3 new tabs open on my browser and will be browsing the same football websites that I just wasted time on a few minutes back. It is one thing to know you have a bad habit, it is another thing to write it down and see the pattern. And then, the hard part is to not indulge in it. A crucial part to getting my writing done has been to never leave the window I am writing on. Or to leave the chair.

The time-log has been a revelation. Just like a food journal - yes, you know what you eat on average but what do you actually eat daily. It is not about the actual food but about the silly habits that creep in, the stuff we don't notice, the stuff we think does not affect us as much.

no WhatsApp and emails after 6 pm. This one is simple and powerful. I don't look at my phone, especially not WhatsApp and emails after 6 pm. I go to bed around 10 pm and barring an emergency, I do not break this rule. My colleagues have come to accept this as well. Yes, it seems impossible to do. Until you do it. Once you realise the world has not ended, it becomes easier to do. What I told myself was if things at work would come crashing down because of this rule, then I am doing a rather silly job of being an entrepreneur and boss. I've added another bit to this rule - repeat this for the first 30 minutes after waking up. Seems to work rather well.

waking up at the same time and blocking my 3 hours. Thanks to our awesome team, Raj and I have been coaching lesser and working on the larger scheme of things. I coach two days of the week. On the other three weekdays, I follow the same schedule though. I wake up at 3.45 am and I get my primary work done between 5 - 8.30 am. Previously, I'd sleep in until whenever and not nap in the afternoon. While that's probably a better structure to the day (waking up and getting going from the afternoon nap is not as easy for me), I find that this works much better for me.

There are a few other tools as well that I use - a daily journal and the daily/weekly list. While they seem straightforward and I've read about them 100s of times, the most important thing was to actually do. Only when I acted, when I stuck at it did things make sense. In the beginning, it felt useless and a waste of time. But that's because I was not skilled in what I was doing. It took me a while for me to understand how to do the time-log better, how to journal better, and what to-do list worked for me and what goes in my list. If my todo list is wrong, then everything comes crashing down. And I know this when I have a poor day - the problem will be in me either breaking a pattern/rule or in being too ambitious with my action items for the day.

Photo by Federico Respini / Unsplash

My biggest excuse was always that I didn't have time to write a daily journal. That's the most idiotic excuse of all. Making the time to do that has saved me hours and hours of wasted effort and has resulted in a lot more successful days. Like Steven Pressfield remarks, I define what a successful day is. Then, I go and get it done.

you've heard it all before

Unfortunately, that's the problem. We've heard it all before. We've read a lot of books and articles that detail not just these methods but amazing advanced methods as well.

If you are still in the same place or thereabouts - unhappy about work-life balance, having unsuccessful days, feeling like you are sinking and all the other stuff - your problem is not more information. You need to stop. You need to figure out a system. And since you made it to the bottom of this post - walk out of here with one action item. A time-log for the next week. I know it works. I know it will work for you. You just have to persist and keep at it. And once that time-log is sorted, you can figure out what rules apply for you.

I'll write about other tools, other rules I've created for myself and systems that I use, stuff that I tried and didn't work for me soon. But for now, get your time-log going.

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