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.