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Balancing work with the rest of life

This Friday around one of our Developers in Austin and I talked about bringing our work home. Not in an actually typing out code way but in a way that still takes up mental headspace. He was bringing home some of the challenges and working through them in his head after work. For me, I’ve seen this become more and more of an issue as I became a manager. I’d bring home the hard conversation that I had to have with an employee and how I could have done it better. I’d bring home the sales call that I’d have tomorrow. I’d bring home the pain that comes with someone moving on from thoughtbot. And, ugh, what was I thinking when I said that one thing. These things bleed into our lives outside of work even if we’re not at the computer working on them.

While I’ve tried to solve this for me, I can’t say that I’ve figured out what works best for me. I haven’t found a system that I can stay consistent with. The first thing I’ve done is saying “Work Complete” as soon as I reach my car. This tick is a suggestion from Cal Newport, in his popular book ‘Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.’ He calls it a work shutdown. While this is a nice verbal and mental queue for me to clear out headspace from work things. They inevitably weave their way back into my head on my drive home. It’s not a magic bullet.

The second thing that I’ve tried that I’ve had success with is doing a short 3-5 minute meditation. This helped me clear my headspace up before my drive home. Changed my focus to driving and allowed me to better decompress from work. Meditation in general helps me focus on now and stay out of my head. This helps me, but it doesn’t prevent me from thinking about work either.

What doesn’t always get recognized as much is how much other life things affect work. My three kids, a dog, a wife all depending on me for different things, I’ve seen my life start to get in the way of my work too. My work schedule has shifted for appointments, for school drop-offs, for dinner time and for traffic. During working hours, I need to schedule appointments and follow up with things for the house. This weekend my car of 10 years started smoking and smelling like burnt rubber. It’s not that we didn’t know that it was on it’s way out but I was hoping that it would last me at least a few more months. I know the issues and stress that I have with the car will find their way into my work week. I need to work from home so that I can take in the car to the mechanic, so it’s already having an impact on my week.

A long time ago I realized that there is no real separation that work is part of life. It’s part of what makes us feel like we’re contributing. My work self is going to seep into my family self, but my family self is going to flow into my work. This is more important to me to understand not just for myself but also for the people that I’m managing. They each have their own lives, work is a piece of it, but it fits into a much bigger puzzle. How we feel at home affects how we feel at work and how we feel at work affects how we feel at home.