Balance and the Steady Up-and-Right

Work-Life balance only seems to work when you zoom out. Any one day is unlikely to effectively balance all your priorities. But in a given week, month, or year, it’s easier to think that many different priorities and focuses can all improve in balance.

My team lead at Automattic, Simon, has described this to me as a ‘steady up-and-right.’ When we’re looking at my work, any one day doesn’t particularly matter. Some days, one issue takes many hours to resolve. Some days, you may crank out more work than five other people combined. Some days, you may have a doctor appointment that messes up your flow. Some days, you may you need to run a marathon. Those single days don’t matter so long as when you zoom out you see the overall growth.

It’s possible to watch that growth balance out in your work, your life, your health, or anything else you consider a priority.

Behavior over time means far more than achievement one day. Don’t seek balance today or tomorrow, look for balance this week, this month, or this year.


Really enjoying Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Book review coming next week (probably.)

One thing I learned was the importance of monitoring and tweaking the amount of stimulation around me when I’m working. Little things like turning my music a little bit lower than usual and sitting in different ways that let me rest a little more solidly have made great impacts on how well I can focus while working from home.

Most of my home office strategies have revolved around eliminating distractions. This idea of measuring things in terms of stimuli and response has helped more than my general efforts like “no video content before 3pm” or “email only twice a day.”

Life Can Make You Tired

Last week I spent some time away from keyboard (AFK), which for me includes being away from work. Thursday was the longest day of his and about 2/3 through it I found myself lying on a bench at my mother in law’s house telling her and my wife,

“I never feel this tired after a full day of work.”

A lot of that has to do with just how much I love my job. In past jobs that I didn’t enjoy, a full day’s work would leave me not only that tired, but also filled with stress and angst. Mostly at myself for not finding work that actually suited me.

Now I’m at the point where work is a part of my cycle of feeling energized and refreshed. A full work day leaves me feeling accomplished and knowing I impacted the world in a small way, and several individuals in a big way. A full work day might in fact leave me tired, but it’s a strong finish to an important effort, the muscles begging to be stretched after a run.

That fatigue I felt on Thursday wasn’t from the pain of labor, or the frustration that comes with making art. It’s an existential drain. It’s the part of your lizard brain that says, “you don’t really want to bother with this so I’ll just make you lay down and sleep through it.” Things like driving in commuter traffic in the rain are problems I’ve so successfully avoided the past year that on these rare days I face them, I’m not very tenacious anymore. Instead I lay down and hate myself.

One of my smaller chores was hanging this bit of art in our living room.
One of my smaller chores was hanging this bit of art in our living room.

But those days still have their purpose. Work/Life balance isn’t always about taking vacation or sleeping in, it can also mean gettings those errands done that are best not put-off. Taking responsibility for things you don’t care about but would hate to have taken away. Making the little efforts around the house that your next-week’s self will thank you for. These are not bad things.

And when they make you tired, it’s okay. Make great art as soon as you can after it, and you’ll feel much better.

I Like Who I Am When I …

David Cain made a post today on that really struck with me:

She said that for years, a colleague of hers (Peter Gzowski?) insisted on making frequent trips to a remote cabin up North, where he spent the time chopping wood, reading books and walking with his dogs. When she asked him why this ritual was so important to him, he said, “Well… I guess I really like who I am when I’m up there.”

Rodgers explained her departure by saying that the morning show had made the reverse true for her: the job required her to wake up at 3:30am, shuttle herself to the studio, and force herself into professional-mode hours before the sun came up, and she didn’t like who she was when she was doing that.

When I heard her say that, I was sitting in my office at work, and realized I that definitely didn’t like who I was when I was in there. I didn’t like who I was when I was on the phone with clients, or out talking to contractors, or sitting at pre-construction meetings. (read it all, here)

Like Shelagh and David, there was a time when I too could sit a desk and not just be displeased with a situation, but be displeased with who I was. I didn’t like who I was when I cold called for hours on end. I didn’t like who I was when I had to make excuses or explain my job-poorly done.

But now I really like who I am most of my minutes every day, and I just wanted to share a little list. I like who I am when I…

  • … offer nerdy after-thoughts when announcing the answer at trivia.
  • … help a WordPress user learn something new.
  • … make breakfast for my wife.
  • … roll a natural 20.
  • … roll a natural 1.
  • … finish a book I’ve been reading so very slowly for a long time.
  • … walk my dog until she’s so tired she sleeps for hours.
  • … ride my bike with no route in mind.
  • … ride my bike with 50 pounds of groceries in tow.
  • … ride my bike at all.
  • … know that I’m on working on the best possible thing I can be working on right then and there.
  • … talk things out with my wife.
  • … solve a problem that could never have been solved in another time of my life.
  • … think about my future.
  • … when I (edit) typos in my headlines. 😀