Work Life Balance

So many of us have felt the struggle of always on, always connected, always on the clock work cycles.

Feelings of being constantly overwhelmed, overworked and underpaid are accepted as it comes with the territory.

Work for a startup? Be expected to put in 90 hour work weeks, fueled by red bull and ramen. Even more, it’s often worn as a badge of honor … like some kind of startup workload fetishism.

The truth is, most people that are great at what they do are only great at certain times. And those periods of greatness don’t always start at 9am sharp and end at 5pm.

Work Life Balance isn’t just about having more free time – it’s about creating an environment that helps you do great work, be healthy and live a rich and fulfilling life.

Why Work Life Balance Matters

The modern construct of the ‘butt in chair’ office hours is not only antiquated, but in many cases downright harmful to great work output.

If you take a serious look at the way you work and architect your days, weeks, months, life around certain principles: you’ll get more done in the same amount of time and feel less overwhelmed.

Most of us went into business to feel productive and do great work that helps us feel fulfilled.
Don’t get into the business of busyness.

To those new to the science of productivity, a lot of the basic rules can seem a bit counterintuitive to say the least. Spend more time away from work and get more done? Spend less time doing what I’m great at and increase the quality of my work?

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Abraham Lincoln

5 Quick Work-Life Balance Tips

  • Define your areas of responsibility. By listing out everything that you’re responsible for and all of the things you want to do, it’ll be easier to incorporate them into your days.
  • Establish priorities. If everything is a priority then nothing is. Simply put – you can’t do everything. Focus on the important stuff first.
  • Live intentionally. Your life can be what you want it to be – but only if you spend time figuring out what you actually want.
  • Plan your time. Scheduling is key. Make sure to carve out space in your calendar for the things that are important to you. Hint: It’s OK to put a block placeholder for ‘downtime’.
  • Review Progress. Review your journals, calendar, task lists – whatever you have that helps you measure your progress. Through systematic review you’ll uncover new ways to help optimize your time and learn things about yourself!

Before we begin, it probably helps to have a solid definition that we agree to so we don’t run up against any funny business later.

Definition of Work Life Balance

Work life balance is defined as having a healthy relationship between work and life, where one doesn’t overtake the other (which is always done at the expense of the other).

Before we begin, it probably helps to have a solid definition that we agree to so we don’t run up against any funny business later.

Focus too much on work? Expect to struggle in your personal relationships and overall happiness. When you don’t have any goals set for prodictivity or downtime, the default easily becomes more.

Too much home or fun time? Expect to lag behind on your professional development. Missed opportunities, complacency and ‘tire spinning’ are among the hallmarks of those who live a “work focus” deprived life.

One on end of the spectrum, we’re all familiar with the friend who works all day, every day. Every spare second they have (if they admit to having any) is taken up with work tasks or screen time. Popular pass-times include emails, spreadsheets, reviewing reports, catch up calls and calendar review.

I’d argue that in past times, the traditional 9-5 had hard-line constraints embedded that helped with separation of work and home. With so many people working on ‘knowledge work’ in an always connected world, the lines become blurred very easily. The goal of any work-life balance discussion is to help bring the blurred lines into focus.

The Process (overview)

Set Priorities

Plan it Out

Stick to the System

Review Regularly

Set Priorities

If everything is a priority, nothing is.

In reality, everyone has the same amount of time as everyone else. It’s how you spend that time that influences what you get done, how you feel and how you are perceived.

Areas of Focus

To plan effectively, you’ll need to have a good understand of your roles and their requirements. What are your areas of focus?

Below is a quick mindmap that I created detailing mine, at a high level. I’d recommend you go much more granular than this, but it’s a good start.

Begin by listing your major focus areas. If you’re like most people, you’ve got work and home. Then list out each area of focus within those. What are your projects? What are you responsible for within those roles? Be as specific as you can.

This should be a living document. As new things come into your life, go back and make updates to keep the document as accurate as possible.

Plan your days, weeks and months.

Now that you know what you’re responsible for, you’re probably already coming up with ideas on what you’re ignoring and missing out on.

The next step is to prioritize and plan. Not everything has to be done today, but all of the flowers should get a little water every now and then.

  • Plan a weekly schedule for long term goals
  • Plan a daily schedule
  • Make sure to schedule downtime
  • Remember: Date nights and activities are very important to overall health and happiness.
  • Say no more often. Success is as dependent on the things that you say no to, as it is on the things that you say yes to.
  • Review your progress / journal / task lists regularly to look for improvements and gauge progress.
  • Delegate tasks that someone else can do and focus on the things that only YOU can do.

Measure & Track All of the Things

It’s kind of an old trope at this point, but what gets measured, gets managed. And truthfully, how can you possibly know what to fix if you don’t know where the issues are?

I find it tedious to record time and activity on everything that I do all day. It’s time consuming and annoying. I like the hands off approach of programs like RescueTime – one of the best apps out there that automatically tracks what websites you visit, the programs you spend time in and create a neat overview of your computer usage over time. It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to do this all of the time, forever. Just a week or two to establish a baseline view of how you spend your time can be incredibly helpful.

  • Spend a week tracking your time. Eliminate or delegate unnecessary tasks that aren’t worth your time

Time Management Techniques

One of my favorite productivity tips is the OHIO principle. It stands for Only Handle It Once.

The basic idea is that you save the work for a time when you can comfortably sit down and complete it in on session, as opposed to kicking the can forward a few times before you handle it.

The main thing addressed here is context switching, which is extremely costly to productivity.

OHIO technique

  • Only hand it once
  • Respond to your emails when you know you have time
  • End your day with an empty email box
  • Respond to things as they come up
  • No looking back or dealing with things later
  • “I’ll deal with it later” actually adds more time hunting down what you were dealing with, constantly reminding yourself to deal with it, and reviewing what you are actually dealing with before you come up with your required solution. Deal with it then.
  • Streamline your work flow. Over time your extra “dealing with” moments will become available for more productive or FUN time

Pomodoro Technique

Next, we have the ever popular Pomodoro technique. There are a ton of apps and tomato-flavored browser extensions to help you with this one.

The idea is to batch your work into 25 minute intervals with scheduled break periods that get longer with momentum & progress being made.

It’s like a mini work-life balance routine for your work day.

  • Break your time into 25 minute intervals called “pomodoros”
  • The idea is frequent breaks improve mental agility (become a brain ninja)
  • How it works.
    • 1. Determine task
    • 2. Set the pomodoro (typically a 25 min. timer)
    • 3. Work on tasks until timer dings (if distracting thoughts come in, write them down and keep going)
    • 4. After time dings put down a checkmark on a piece of paper
    • 5. If you have less then four checks take a short break (3-5 min) then repeat at step 1
    • 6. After four pomodoros take a longer break (15-30 min) then repeat at step 1
  • These steps integrate planning, tracking, recording, processing, and visualizing (hits varying types of motivators)
  • Tasks are prioritized in a “Today To Do” where you estimate time needed for each task
  • Provides a sense of accomplishments and a tool for tracking and self observation
  • Any time left in pomodoro after task is completed is dedicated to over learning.
  • Over learning is the theory that practicing newly acquired skills beyond mastery leads to automaticity
  • Try to go for the physical approach – paper, pencil, mechanical timer
    • Incorporates physical acts
      • Winding timer confirms dedication to task
      • Ticking externalizes desire to complete task
      • Ringing announces a break
        • Flow and focus become associated with the physical stimuli

Disconnect Regularly

When you have downtime, what do you do? Things like standing in line, waiting for a friend to arrive to dinner, heck, even going to the bathroom… most people fill every waking second of downtime with screentime.

What if I told you the average 18-24 year old checks their phone 74 times per day? How about the fact that a survey of adults in the workplace showed that they spend 6.3 hours per day in email?

Our brains need time to process our thoughts and experiences.

Downtime is essential. And no, it’s not downtime if you brought your phone with you.

Try taking some time in the morning before work to reflect on the previous day and how today can be a wonderfully effective, fun and fulfilling day for yourself. Getting some clarity and breathing room in first thing in the morning feels so good, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start doing this sooner.

Oh, and were you distracted by those icons on the right? Thought so. Imagine them dinging and bouncing around with notifications.

Popular Ways of Cramming Screentime:

Can you pick out the productive icons above?

Interruptions and Input

How often do you check your phone for notifications? How often do you close little popups and hear the perpetual dinging sound of incoming emails during your work day?

Studies suggest that it takes almost 15 minutes for a programmer to get back on task and continue working after a single interruption.

Some of my favorite tips for minimizing inputs:

Bartender (mac) – minimizes your navbar programs into an expandable menu. Out of sight, out of mind.
Hide the dock – I love having my dock autohidden. No more app notification badges.
Prune notifications – first step on any new device is to check individual app notification settings. I turn off almost everything.

No more multitasking

  • Our short term memory can only store 5-9 things at once. If it can’t make it into short term it won’t go into long term
  • Do similar tasks at once as your brain is already in that mindset
  • Studies show that multitasking actually leads to a 40% decline in productivity
  • Constant access to your email and inputs lead to a higher heart rate and stress levels


Meditation is one of those things that some people rave about, while others roll their eyes and shrug it off. I was firmly in the 2nd camp. That is, until I tried it.

At first, it’s weird. Sitting down and doing nothing when I’m feeling overwhelmed or trying to squeeze out some productivity seems a bit… counterproductive. Being able to be still with your thoughts is something that takes practice, so don’t be too discouraged if you’re not able to get it at first.

I began with the Headspace 7 day course, available for free on their site, or for a mobile device of your choice. Around day 3 the novelty began to wear off and I began to really enjoy meditating. I’d attribute that to making a bit of progress in quieting my thoughts. By day 6 I was looking forward to my 10 minute sit every day and quickly purchased a year long subscription.

The benefits of mindfulness and meditation are widely touted, almost immediately visible and strongly supported by science.

I’m not a big fan of using technology to help me disconnect from technology, but with meditation (beginners anyway) apps are key. I love the Headspace app, and highly recommend it to anyone
looking to get started with a daily meditation practice.

  • Meditation reduces the grey-matter density in areas of the brain related with anxiety and stress while increasing grey matter concentration in areas of brain related to learning, memory, regulating emotions, send of self and perspective.
  • During and after meditation you become more skilled at keeping focus on repetitive and otherwise boring tasks. With 20 minutes a day you will be able to improve performance on cognitive skills, up to 10 times better than non meditators.
  • Meditation can possibly prevent the loss of cognitive ability with age
  • Meditators have larger amounts of folding of the cortex which allows brain to process information faster along with quicker decision making
  • Meditators have an easier time staying on tasks, being distracted less, and focusing on one item at a time

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.

Albert Einstein

Journaling & Self Review

Journaling is something most of us did as kids, but few of us do as adults. But why?

I find that journaling first thing in the morning helps me gain clarity on what matters today.

Many famous artists, athletes and business people swear by journaling. It’s a nice, organized way to go through your thoughts and flesh them out into full actions and facilitate deeper understandings of the things on your mind.

It’s also ripe for review, which is an essential part of any work life balance / produtivity workflow.

Below are some of my favorite journal methods, but don’t worry – you can also just pick up a piece of paper and a pen and get to work.

Bullet Journaling

How it works?

    • Uses Rapid Logging
      • Topics
      • Page numbers
      • Short sentences
      • Bullets
    • Modules
      • Organizes notes and holds titles to find pages later
    • Monthly Log
      • Calendar and monthly tasks
    • Migration
      • Transfers most importation information from one date to the next

Problem solved?

    • Having to rewrite tasks by hand forces you to determine which tasks are worth the effort and eliminate unnecessary waste.
    • Provides a basic journal outline, but has plenty of room to customize

5 minute Journal

How it works?

  • Inspiring quotes
  • What would make today great?
  • List 3 amazing things that happened today
  • Weekly Challenges
  • Gratitude
  • Affirmation
  • How could you make today better

Problem Solved?

  • Designed for the commitmentphobes, creates a daily habit that actually sticks
  • Forces you to stay postive
  • Sets up your day with purpose

Additional Benefits?

  • Stronger immune system and lower blood pressure
  • Higher levels of positive emotion
  • More joy, optimism, and happiness
  • Acting with more generosity and compassion
  • Feeling less lonely and isolated

Productivity Planner

How it works?

  • Inspiring quotes
  • Focused time tracking
  • Additional tasks
  • Most important task of the day
  • Secondary tasks of importance
  • Daily productivity learning
  • Notes

Problem Solved?

  • Prioritizing tasks
  • Shows how you use your time
  • Track your patterns
  • Work in shorter bursts known as Pomodoros

Work-Life Balance Resources

Whew, that was a long journey. Any primer on a topic as large as this one would be remiss without a handy dandy list of resources for further study. And I insist that this is just the tip of the iceburg, but here are some that I’d encourage you to check out.