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You’ll never achieve work-life balance if you don’t know what you’re balancing

Get more out of your week—in and out of work—by creating a detailed picture of how your time is actually spent, says this productivity platform executive.

You’ll never achieve work-life balance if you don’t know what you’re balancing
[Source photo: Aziz Acharki/Unsplash]
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If you think you’re “too busy” for something, it’s probably because you’re not great at investing your time.

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I’ve spent most of my career thinking about resource management. I started off in finance thinking about money management—budgets, forecasts, and spending analyses. And as my career shifted into product management, the focus became time rather than money. But, compared to money management, time management is relatively underserved.

Go ask someone how they spend their week and you’ll get some hand waving, loose guesses, and lots of uncertainty. Now ask them what they spend on rent or a mortgage every month and you’ll get a crisp number along with a rich set of guidelines for how much that should be based on their financial situation (e.g. the 30% rule!). How should a product manager budget their time? How should a sales leader be spending theirs?

I believe the primary reason for this disconnect is because very few people have a detailed picture of how their time is actually spent—and thus there’s a general lack of planning and conversation around it.

As a relatively new parent (my oldest is four), I wanted a system to quantify the discussion around work-life balance. Why rely on a gut feeling to know you’re balanced when you can actually quantify what that target balance should be?

168 hours

Starting with the baseline, every person gets to invest the same 168 hours every week. And even after accounting for eating and sleeping, there are over 100 hours each week that you can meaningfully make use of.

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Two years ago, I set out to manage resources (i.e. my time) the way that the finance professional in me always wanted to. I landed on a system I built myself in Coda—no surprise there—which enabled me to sync my calendar to a document, categorize my time according to what’s meaningful (work categories vs personal life categories), and then set weekly budgets to allocate time and reflect on how I’m tracking.

When I first started this tracking system, overnight the way I managed my week completely changed. My weeks went from being almost entirely reactive in how I spent my time—trying to just burn down my to-do list between meetings—to feeling proactive; where I allocate my time at the beginning of the week toward the initiatives, people, or causes that are most meaningful to me. Subsequently, it let me focus every day on the task at hand without feeling the the guilt or pull of not spending time doing something else. Or in finance terms, I’ve set budgets and outlined my capital allocation—leaving me in control of my cash flow.

As a personal benefit, setting up the week this way has helped me cope with “dad guilt.” In the past, it was easy to feel overrun and get caught working late—leading me to question if I’m spending enough time at home. Or if I was home with the kids, a work project would overtake my thoughts—leading me to be less present. By budgeting my time for the week, I have a very tangible measure for where it’s okay to stay focused and block out those feelings of doubt—diverting my attention to the moment—knowing that I have the time to do it later.

Pivot in a pandemic

Of course, everything changed when shelter-in-place started. In addition to working from home full-time, further blurring the line between work and life for so many of us, my wife and I also had our third child—increasing demands on the week.

At first, working from home seemed like a gain of nearly an hour a day from not commuting. But after a few months, I regularly found myself completely drained—finishing packed work days by opening the home-office-door and heading immediately into childcare for three kids under four.

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I desperately missed the decompression that came from a commute—a silent drive, a good podcast, or calling an old friend. I’ve started experimenting a bit—like going for a quick 15-minute drive to clear my head after a long day—and I’m still exploring schedule tweaks as my life evolves.

Nearly two years in, I’ve learned that it takes a lot of practice to get to a point where you’re really able to use a full week—the entire 100 hours minus sleep and eating. At my best, I’m able to get 90 hours of real quality time each week. Your mileage may vary, and it’s natural for your quality time to ebb and flow.

Regardless of the system you use to manage your time, or how much “down time” you prioritize, the important thing is that you measure it. Even if a multi-hour bender of trash TV is your form of self-care, have the self-awareness to know where it fits into your long-term goals. (Imagine you were trying to save and invest, but didn’t know how much you spent on a big weekend in Las Vegas!)

There’s a durable advantage to deploying more capital (aka time) to the priorities of your life than the next person. Unlike money, time is a meaningfully different resource in that you can’t get more of it, you can’t stop spending it, and long term, you don’t know how much you actually have. Make sure you spend it with intention, regardless of what life throws your way.


Matt Hudson is the head of growth and go-to-market at Coda, a cloud-based productivity doc for teams. Prior to Coda, Matt held various roles at Google and YouTube, serving as chief of staff for YouTube’s product and engineering teams and leading data science & experimentation as a product manager. He started his career as a financial analyst.

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