Team Productivity

Is Work-Life Balance Really a Myth?

Nathan Gilmore
June 13, 2016
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Tim, our head of growth and marketing, recently introduced me to a great new podcast called Seeking Wisdom from experienced entrepreneur and investor, David Cancel. David is a highly successful marketer and entrepreneur, so I’m always interested to hear his perspective on things. Episode 12 of the podcast talks about how work-life balance is a myth. This episode sparked a little internal discussion here.

David feels that striving for work-life balance in the classical sense will only lead to stress and a feeling of failure by not being able to achieve it. He doesn’t think people can simply start their day at 8:30 am and end it at 5:00 pm, then go on to things outside of the office. He feels that it’s more complicated.

While David makes some interesting points, my experience has been quite different.

But work-life balance sounds impossible...

Since day 1 at TeamGantt, we’ve always set boundaries around when we work, and we’re still this way. We absolutely love it and always encourage everyone at TeamGantt to do the same thing.

I start my day at 8:15 am and end my day at 5:00 pm, and others in our company have similar schedules. It’s important to us to not only be able to turn off at the end of the day, but also to have a specific start time. There are a lot of benefits to this.

I think being a remote company makes this structure more important since you don't have a commute to physically separate the work. We know what we do is rare these days, and many people try it, fail, then think it’s impossible. But the thing is, it’s not.

You may hear arguments about how this isn’t the way the real world works. I would argue that we have more control over our schedules than we think. Having kids can make it difficult, but it’s actually still very doable.

Work-life balance has been part of our culture since the beginning.

We’ve been doing this since 2009 at TeamGantt. When we first started, it was just John and I working about 4 hours/week when we had day jobs. Yes, that’s right, just 4 hours. That isn’t a typo. TeamGantt was a side project that we started together, working just Saturday mornings.

Later in 2011 when we went full-time, we scaled the 4 hours up to 40 hours. It felt like we had an infinite amount of time. I believe we learned a lot about focus and productivity when we were working just 4 hours a week.

Now that we can work 40, we don’t feel the need to work any more than that. In fact, we even scaled our team’s workweek back to just 36 hours and still find ways to be super-productive!

We aren’t the only ones.

While what we’re doing may seem rare, we aren’t the only ones. Treehouse, one of our customers, is exploding, and they only work 4 days a week!

And Ascent Architecture and Interiors has found a way to serve clients well without pushing their team to burnout. Their secret? Flexible schedules.

How to make it happen

Working remotely plays a huge role in our ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance. That’s because it enables us to stay laser-focused on the work that needs to get done. Here’s how to make it work for you.

How can I get all my work done in just 40 hours?

Working 8 hours, 5 days a week is actually a ton of time.. Too often, that time gets sucked up with meetings, interruptions from instant messaging, and discussions that don’t need to happen. If you can reduce these distractions and get real work done for 40 hours, you can accomplish a ton.

It’s also a matter of focusing on the Big Rocks, like Franklin Covey teaches. David mentions this in his podcast, and I couldn’t agree more with him. I took the Franklin Covey course at my previous job, and the Big Rocks idea has stuck with me since. It’s a simple strategy of identifying your most important tasks and dedicating time to work on them. Block out your calendar, and don’t allow interruptions during that time. Turn off Slack, email, your phone, etc., and work for 1.5–2 hours at a time. A lot can happen with that much focused time.

But people keep emailing/chatting me  . . .

They can wait till tomorrow. I know not all companies have the same culture that we do. No one here expects a response from anyone else outside of work hours. However, it’s worth trying for a week to see what happens if you wait until the next day to respond to emails and chats. Does anyone freak out, or does it go better than expected?

Talk it over with your family .

When you work from home, everyone in the household has to be on board with your schedule and work-life boundaries. Discuss how a structure will benefit the entire family. While you may not be available 24/7 like you were before, you can let them know your time outside of work hours will be higher quality because you won’t have work on your mind. You’ll know you’re done for the day.

How do I do the little things like mail, house chores, and errands?

This can be tricky, but I try to do as much as I can on my lunch break or after work. I almost never do personal email, mail, chores around the house, or errands during work time.

Top benefits of working remotely with a structured work time

Make fewer decisions 

What do I do now? Should I work or play with the kids? Should I work or mow the grass? Should I work or run an errand? Should I work or. . . ? It’s simple! What time is it? If it’s between 8:15 and 5:00, I should be working.

I do allow myself a lunch break though. It’s a great time to get away from work and run a quick errand or take a drive to grab some lunch somewhere.

Feel more accomplished 

It’s a great feeling to know, at 5:00, you’ve done your work for the day and can stop. I don’t feel that way if I split my day doing some work, stopping to run an errand, chores around the house. I wouldn’t feel like I was done with my work day. However, since I put in my 8 hours, I know I did my best during my allotted time. There’s no need to do anything else work-related in the evening.

Family knows what to expect from you 

They know not to interrupt you during your work time, but that you’ll be available later. This is a huge benefit. It’s a win-win for both you and your family. It may seem harsh at first to shut your door for 8 hours of the day, but then they know you will be available when you are done. You can agree to not work late, email at the dinner table, etc.

It’s not perfect—there are times to break the rules. But I find it’s pretty rare.

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