The Work/Home Möbius Strip

Today is Sunday and, as is the case with most Sundays, I am working at home. Not a ton of work, mind you. I will probably put in 4-5 hours today: writing this post, updating BI data, checking in with customer service, and answering the emails that demand attention. I also was abe to cook a nice breakfast for my wife and our younger son and already have a dinner prepped and working for later. If all goes well, I may be able to read the New York Times or even crack a book this afternoon. This evening, after dinner with my family, I’ll probably take a little time to check in again on customer service and emails; I hope to cap it all off with an episode of Homeland(!) before bed. Not a bad day, all in all.

The point of boring you with my Sunday agenda is to emphasize the interconnected quality of my work life and my home life. The two are inseparable and the resulting fabric of my life is tightly woven with strands from each. I do not believe that I am unique in this regard; most entrepreneurs and other professionals are required to manage intense workloads and many have Sundays that probably look a great deal like mine. Work, play, family, work, play, family; a möbius strip with two interconnected and continuous sides without end. If Sartre had invented a hamster wheel, it would probably look a bit like this.

In the 6 years since my partner and I started full-time work in our company, I have learned a few tricks, gained a few insights, and found a balance in my own personal and professional lives with which I am pretty, pretty satisfied. Here then, a few thoughts that may prove useful for those who wrestle with this challenge just as I do.

When entangled, go with it. Don’t fight it. You have a business to run, but you also have a life to live and it is not possible to be fully successful at one if you lose sight of the other. The life of an entrepreneur is complicated, and we are often embroiled to varying degree between the two sides of our existence. It is when we start to push one part of our lives to the side, when we start to pay inordinate attention to one, that the other suffers. Pay attention to both, recognize that they are inescapably snarled, and devote the right amount of your time, energy, and focus to each.

Stay flexible. Be ready to work when you are at home, be available for your family when at work, and be ready to drop one when it’s time for the other. Part of the art of managing a heavy workload is in having the ability to gracefully manage your home life. Flexibility is the key to this; a rigid work schedule can often mean missing out on something at home and rigid family rules preventing bringing work home can mean loss of  productivity. Try to maintain a schedule that allows a spur of the moment lunch with a friend or an afternoon of sledding with your kids after a big snowfall. Things come up at work and things come up at home and your ability to change course quickly will mean that you have that many more opportunities fr great work or great fun.

Work from home whenever you can. Working at home, if done well, can not only help you to improve productivity and effectiveness, but can allow you the flexibility to move easily from one side of the möbius strip to the other. crowdSPRING has a very strict policy when it comes to work at home options: as long as you are not negatively impacting the team, do it and do it often. We recognize that people have lives, have families, have errands to run, and understand that we will get their best work, their greatest productivity, and their best ideas if we give them the flexibility to manage their own schedules and make their own choices about where to do their work. Not counting weekends, I tend to work from home at least one day a week, and many weeks will choose to stay home to work more than that. Sometimes I have a worker coming to the house, sometimes I need the quiet and solitude during the day to focus, and sometimes I just don’t feel like hustling to get out the door. Whatever the inspiration, try hard as you can to work from home when your life permits it.

Bring the home into the office. When working from your office, keep yourself surrounded by the artifacts and and prompts of home. Display your family photos, put your kid’s ceramic pen holder to use, even bring the bills from home to pay while you’re at work; all are daily reminders  that there is another side to your life. It is also a good idea to make communication with your family as easy as possible: text them often, keep them on your IM list, or just pick up the phone regularly during the day to check in. These mini-contacts and little reminders go a long way towards maintaining a healthy balance.

Schedule yourself. There are certain times you have to be at work: team meetings, client calls, business trips all necessitate your focus and your participation. The same goes for home: dinnertime should be sacrosanct (or damn close to it), but dates, movies, even favorite TV shows should be on the calendar and should have the same level of importance in your life as the daily scrum or the weekly roadmap.

Take vacations. And mean it. It shocks me sometimes how many entrepreneurs I know who have not taken a real vacation in a stupid amount of time. Seriously? Are they afraid the office will burn down in their absence? If your work life is not set up to accomodate a week here or a week there with someone else covering your critical tasks, then you need to take a hard ook at your company and how you are organized. This is not to say that there will never be times when a vacation is out of the question, but once you are beyond that fist ful year of operations, there is no excuse for not giving yourself some downtime.

Enjoy the work. This is not to say that every single moment in your life as an entrepreneur will be fun. I guarantee that will never be the case. But, if you are not enjoying the work, the people, and the professional environment you are in, then something has gone horribly wrong. Find time to chat with your colleagues, play a practical joke, bake a treat for the team, get an office dog. Do what it takes to keep things fun and interesting in both your work life and your home life., but mostly make sure that the work portion of the mix is engaging, fun, and happy.

Drop it. I wrote a post a couple years back, where I discussed how important my work commute was to my professional life. Having a train schedule to hew to forces me to stop what I am doing or risk missing the train.  The point is, there are very few work tasks that are so time critical that it becomes necessary to miss your train, or be late for dinner, or not help your kid with homework, or not go on that date with your wife. Deadlines are important, and sometimes the reality of your responsibilities to your team, your clients, or your business will mean that you have to work late or have to miss the train, but 95% of the time whatever it is you are working on can be taken home to finish or even left until tomorrow. Use your judgment but try to err on the side of balance.

Drawing: Patent for a Möbius strip puzzle, Inventor: Ewell E. Greeson