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Is Work/Life Balance Really a Myth?

Nathan Gilmore
June 13, 2016

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. Tim was asking me my thoughts on the podcast. I told him that I could see David’s point but that my experience has been quite different.

Check out our work/life balance playlist on YouTube!

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 8:30am and end it at 5:00pm, then go on to things outside of the office. He feels that it’s more complicated and makes some interesting points.

Since day 1 (2009) at TeamGantt, we always set boundaries to when we would work, and we are still this way. We absolutely love it. I start my day at 8:15 am and end my day at 5:00 pm. Others in our company have similar schedules. We always encourage everyone at TeamGantt to do the same thing. It’s important to us to be able to turn off at the end of the day. It’s also important 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.

But this sounds impossible

It isn’t. You may hear the 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.

A part of our culture since the beginning

We’ve been doing this for almost 7 years here at TeamGantt. When we first started, it was just John and I working about 4 hours/week when we had day jobs back in 2009. 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.

We aren’t the only ones

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

work-life balance

How to make it happen

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.

Talk it over with your family — It takes everyone in the household to be on board with this. 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 will know you are done for the day.

But people keep emailing/chatting me — They can wait till tomorrow. I know not all companies have the same culture that we do. Noone 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?

How can I get all of my work done in just 40 hours? Working 8 hours 5 days a week is actually a ton of time. There is a lot that can be accomplished in that amount 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 things 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. It’s also something David mentions in his podcast and I couldn’t agree more with him. I took the Frankly 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.

Top benefits of a structured work time

Less 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 to 5:00, I should be working. I do allow myself a lunch break though. It’s a great time to get way from work and run a quick errand or take a drive to grab some lunch somewhere.

Feel accomplished — It’s a great feeling at 5:00 to know you’ve done your work for the day and that you 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 my work day. However, since I put in my 8 hours, I know I did my best during my alotted time. There is 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 will be avialable 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 that you will be available when you are done. You can agree to not be working late, emailing, etc.. at the dinner table.

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

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