Developing Perspective

#101: The 3 C’s of a balanced life.


00:00:00   Hello and welcome to Developing Perspective.

00:00:03   Developing Perspective is a podcast discussing news of note in iOS development, Apple, and

00:00:07   the like.

00:00:08   I'm your host, David Smith.

00:00:09   I'm an independent iOS developer based in Herndon, Virginia.

00:00:11   This is show number 101, and today is January 1st, 2013.

00:00:16   Happy New Year's.

00:00:17   All right, I figured I'd kick off the year with a, I guess you could call it a topical

00:00:21   topic for today, given that it's New Year's Day.

00:00:24   A lot of people start thinking about their new year, what they're going to do, and I'm

00:00:27   tempted to do a couple of shows like this.

00:00:29   who knows, I always say that at the beginning of these shows, then I hardly ever do. But

00:00:32   I'm going to talk today about what a lot of people would call work-life balance. That

00:00:37   term always kind of turns me off just because it's a strange thing. It puts your work and

00:00:43   your, I guess, your personal life in tension, I feel like, that you're kind of fighting

00:00:48   between those two. And I think there's putting them in tension and having them be almost

00:00:52   antagonistic isn't necessarily the right kind of viewpoint. And a lot of what I'm talking

00:00:57   about will apply mostly for people who have some amount of control over their work life,

00:01:03   I suppose, in terms of if you're an independent or if you're at least semi-independent, those

00:01:08   types of things.

00:01:09   If you have a very regimented job with a very regimented schedule where you have to be in

00:01:14   specific place at a specific time, maybe this isn't going to be as helpful.

00:01:17   But if you have any amount of control over your schedule, which according to this in

00:01:23   news I've been actually reading recently that is increasingly more and more and more employers

00:01:27   have you know, options for flex time working from home, those types of things. So it seems

00:01:31   like this is likely going to be broadly relevant. And I was coming up with kind of what I my

00:01:36   thoughts on this and kind of what I've done and how I have approached that. And it was

00:01:40   kind of an interesting thing because I ended up with three words all beginning with the

00:01:44   letter C. And so I have what I guess makes the perfect thing for a presentation or a

00:01:49   If I had a PowerPoint, this would be great.

00:01:51   So a little bit cheesy to have three words with the same letter, but that's where we

00:01:55   are, and so I'll get started.

00:01:57   So the first one I have is consciousness.

00:02:00   By that I mean, this is based on my own experience and from talking to a lot of people, a lot

00:02:05   of friends who are in similar situations.

00:02:08   It is impossible to end up with an ideal or a place where you're probably going to be

00:02:15   happy about the amount of time, the effort, and where your emotional energy is being spent

00:02:21   in a day without being conscious about where that effort is going and where that time is

00:02:27   going and being proactive and conscious and intentional about it.

00:02:31   It's just one of those things that, in my experience, more likely than not, unless you

00:02:36   have something dramatic going on on the home front, if left to its own devices, work will

00:02:41   slowly sort of devour all available time, and you'll be left with pouring yourself out

00:02:50   on a regular basis into your work, which may not necessarily be what you want.

00:02:55   If you have a family at home, you have a wife or kids, those types of things, or even just

00:02:59   other interests, hobbies, things that you in many ways would like to do, those constraints

00:03:05   are rarely going to be things that will proactively pull at you, in a way that work will almost

00:03:12   always do that. There's always the next thing to do. There's always something else that's

00:03:16   pressing for your time, opportunities that you need to work on, a boss that's nagging

00:03:20   at you. Whatever it is that's going to be pulling on you. If you're not conscious and

00:03:25   proactive about how you're going to spend your time, where you're going to be, where

00:03:30   you're going to pour yourself into on a daily basis, it's unlikely that you're going to

00:03:34   to end up where you want to be.

00:03:37   And the next concept, the next C, is constraint.

00:03:41   And this is really the reality for most

00:03:43   of what you have to think about is,

00:03:46   where can you draw lines around your time, around your energy,

00:03:51   around your effort?

00:03:52   And it's kind of coming at it from the obvious thing,

00:03:54   hopefully, but it's worth mentioning.

00:03:57   You're starting from a place of limited resources.

00:04:00   Your entire life is essentially a question

00:04:03   managing and compromising amongst limited resources, whether that's your time, your

00:04:09   energy, your, I guess you could, you differentiate your energy and your focus in terms of you

00:04:14   being able to be intellectually engaged, your money, all those kinds of things that you,

00:04:20   you have to build constraints between these things.

00:04:23   And this is, I think one of the things, especially for people who I know who start working from

00:04:28   home struggle with the most is drawing very strong constraints and lines around their

00:04:35   work.

00:04:36   It's very easy when you're working at home to find yourself working too much or working,

00:04:42   if not necessarily too much in terms of hours, but to be working too often.

00:04:47   By that I mean you kind of find yourself dabbling and dabbling all throughout the day.

00:04:53   You're constantly checking things, you're constantly kind of getting involved and thinking

00:04:57   about work and getting into it in a way that doesn't allow you to ever really turn off

00:05:03   and it doesn't allow you to really invest and put your time and energy into the things

00:05:07   that you may want to at home.

00:05:09   And so that's a really dangerous thing to kind of find your place.

00:05:12   And like I said, without being conscious, without putting constraints on your work,

00:05:17   it'll just keep growing, I find.

00:05:19   I mean, and obviously, I guess if maybe if you're a lazy—sort of like a lazy bones

00:05:22   who doesn't want to get any work done, then maybe that's not the case.

00:05:27   My guess is if you're the kind of person who's listening to a podcast about independent

00:05:32   software development, you're probably not that kind of person.

00:05:34   You're probably someone who is, who likes what they're doing and is trying hard to do

00:05:39   more and more of it.

00:05:40   And so it's important to be proactive about putting constraints in your time.

00:05:44   One of the most important things I ever did, I've been independent for years and years

00:05:48   now, one of the most important things I ever did was I put very strong hour caps on my

00:05:54   work basically.

00:05:55   And for the most part, I work 9 to 5.

00:05:59   There's a few exceptions to that and things, but for the vast majority of my days, probably

00:06:03   about 95% of days, I work between 9 and 5.

00:06:06   And there's nothing magical about 9 and 5.

00:06:09   It just kind of works out well for my family in terms of it works out well for my children's

00:06:13   schedules, for my wife's schedules, for when we have childcare, for them to come and help

00:06:17   my wife.

00:06:18   Like all those kinds of things line up well for kind of working 9 to 5.

00:06:23   And before I did that, my work life would kind of be this fluid thing that no one in

00:06:28   my family could kind of plan on or depend on.

00:06:31   And this was especially difficult when we had small children for my wife, where it's

00:06:34   undefined when I'm coming home, it's undefined when I'm going to work, and having that ambiguity

00:06:39   was just kind of putting stress and difficulty on my home life.

00:06:44   And so when we decided, "Okay, well, I'm going to work nine to five," and that's what I did.

00:06:49   It was rather remarkable in terms of it gave me permission, I think, during work to be

00:06:55   100% focused on work in a way that, you know, if you're working an undefined schedule, it's

00:07:01   very easy for, especially when you're working at home, but even just in general, it's very

00:07:07   easy to be distracted by things, things that are often very worthwhile, things that are

00:07:10   very worthy, but things that are nevertheless going to be distracting you from your work.

00:07:16   And so if you have a certain amount of time

00:07:18   that you're allotting and saying, this is where I'm at work,

00:07:20   it's easier to say, no, I'm at work.

00:07:22   And you can kind of shut those out

00:07:24   because you know there's a definite time we

00:07:26   will be able to address them.

00:07:27   5 o'clock, I'm all available.

00:07:30   And then on the flip side of that,

00:07:31   it allows you to really focus on the things outside of work

00:07:34   when you're not working.

00:07:35   It allows you to--

00:07:38   basically, other than when my servers or similar things

00:07:43   have problems, and I get an alert,

00:07:44   you know, an alert comes in that says, "Hey, your server's down," and I need to go and

00:07:47   address that. I pretty much turn off work from five to nine every day, you know, sort

00:07:53   of on those outside times. And I'm able to rest and to spend time with my kids and family

00:07:56   and wife and friends and so on in a way that is much better, I find, than if I didn't have

00:08:01   those constraints around myself. And then the last thing I want to talk about, the third

00:08:07   C, which is very related to constraint, is context. And this is something that is difficult

00:08:15   to make strong recommendations on. But moreover, what I can do is I can speak to my own experience.

00:08:20   And by context, what I'm talking about here is I think it's very important that you can

00:08:24   create a context, which is really just another word for place or work environment, however

00:08:29   you want to call it, the place that you are most productive, and to take that context

00:08:34   and move it or separate it as much as you can from the other contexts of your life.

00:08:42   So if you're familiar with kind of—there's a term in sort of computer engineering about

00:08:47   context switching, where you're in one context and you're switching to the next and switching

00:08:51   to the next and switching to the next, which is often a term applied to microprocessors.

00:08:56   But I find it very applicable to my life that you're kind of—you're in one place, you're

00:09:00   one zone, you're in one sort of line of thinking. And often the place that you're that where

00:09:05   you are, for me anyway, strongly, strongly informs that that when I met when I'm at my

00:09:10   office, in my fancy chair, looking at my nice setup with my the my exact right keyboard,

00:09:16   and I got my Microsoft 400 split format ergonomic, I got my black razor mouse, you know, that's

00:09:23   me in my in my productive context. When I'm at home, that context isn't there. And so

00:09:28   So I'm not worried about working.

00:09:31   And so what I find is it was very important for me as much as early as I could to separate

00:09:37   my work context from my not work context.

00:09:40   And so for me, actually, I go all the way to the extent that I rent office space just

00:09:44   down the road from my house, just a tiny little 90 square feet.

00:09:48   Essentially, it's a glorified closet, but I rent it as a separate space that I can come

00:09:52   into and I can do my work that's physically separated.

00:09:56   And before that, I used to, you know, I had essentially a place in my particular desk

00:10:02   in my office downstairs.

00:10:03   That was the work desk.

00:10:04   And we actually had a separate space, a separate orientation in that office that was for non-work

00:10:11   things.

00:10:12   That was for, you know, just doing regular household business in that office.

00:10:16   We found that very helpful.

00:10:17   There's something nice about having that physical place that I find when I'm sitting, when I

00:10:24   down, I'm able to focus more than I would if I just kind of grabbed my laptop, sat down

00:10:30   at the dining room table, and started working.

00:10:33   And similarly, you know, if I was doing my work at the dining room table, it would be

00:10:36   easy to get sucked back into that or pull out of it during the day.

00:10:41   And so it's important, I think, to have that strong sense of context, to draw those lines

00:10:46   between things and to try and not, as much as you can, blur the lines between that.

00:10:51   You know, it's like, if you're going to watch a movie, you should probably watch that in

00:10:54   your living room, your den, whatever it is in your house.

00:10:57   You're not going to want to be watching that on your computer, sitting down at your desk,

00:11:01   where you're going to be doing work.

00:11:02   These are just some of these things that I found that, in my experience, are really helpful

00:11:06   for kind of drawing those lines.

00:11:07   And at the end of the day, it's just a question of trying to decide what you want to accomplish

00:11:13   and how, you know, what are the things that are important to you.

00:11:18   You could talk about it as priorities, you could talk about it in a lot of ways, but

00:11:22   it's trying to make sure that you're being very thoughtful and introspective about how

00:11:29   far would you want to allow your work to bleed into your overall life in terms of the energy

00:11:35   that you have.

00:11:36   You wake up every morning with a certain amount of energy.

00:11:39   How much of it are you willing to spend on the acquisition of money and respect from

00:11:46   your peers, basically, which is largely what work is for most people. And you have to decide

00:11:51   that and you have to be conscious about that. I remember my wife and I had a conversation

00:11:56   early on when I was independent about the tricky part of it's easy. It's like, what

00:12:01   are we trying to do here? Because if I want to, it's like, if the goal is to make as much

00:12:05   money as possible, then you make a lot of very different choices and you can spend a

00:12:10   tremendous amount of time. If I wanted to make as much money as possible, there's a

00:12:15   a good chance I would just do hourly consulting

00:12:17   and I would work 80 hours, 100 hours a week,

00:12:21   and at a solid hourly rate, you could make a ton of money

00:12:26   that way, but that was a decision we decided.

00:12:29   No, the goal is not to make as much money as possible.

00:12:31   The goal is to feel like you're applying yourself

00:12:35   and using your gifts and talents

00:12:37   in a reasonable and responsible way,

00:12:40   but at the end of the day, it's almost like

00:12:43   to work the smallest amount possible

00:12:45   to provide for the lifestyle that we would like.

00:12:50   And then beyond that, to enjoy, to seek to limit

00:12:54   the amount of energy that is put into work

00:12:57   that could be put into other things,

00:12:58   other things that I personally would value a bit more

00:13:01   in terms of the time spent with my wife

00:13:04   and with my kids, with my family, those types of things,

00:13:08   or just making myself a better person

00:13:10   in terms of personal development.

00:13:12   So anyway, it's a bit of a hand-ravey thing, but it's technically a holiday so I can take

00:13:19   a vacation from the more technical topics.

00:13:21   And hopefully it's interesting.

00:13:23   I brought this up on the first because I thought it would be interesting to have something

00:13:28   to think about, something for you to think about as you're going through this next year.

00:13:33   Look back on 2012 and say, "Am I happy with the way that's gone and the way I've separated

00:13:39   my time and my focus and my energy?

00:13:41   Am I happy with that?"

00:13:42   If you are, fantastic.

00:13:44   If you're not, well, this is as good a time

00:13:47   as any to do something about.

00:13:48   You even get a--

00:13:50   there's a new digit at the end of the year, which apparently

00:13:53   is motivating and helpful to some people.

00:13:56   All right, that's it for today's show.

00:13:58   As always, if you have questions, comments, complaints,

00:14:01   concerns, I'm on Twitter @_davidsmith.

00:14:04   I'm on app.net @davidsmith.

00:14:06   There's an email address for the show on the website for it,

00:14:10   developingperspective.com.

00:14:12   And otherwise, I hope you guys have a good new year.

00:14:15   Have a good and blessed 2013.

00:14:17   And I'll probably just mention it again.

00:14:20   I really appreciate it whenever anybody asks questions.

00:14:23   That is a great place for me to go

00:14:25   to collect topics for the show, to give me

00:14:28   thoughts and insights.

00:14:29   So if you have anything that you're thinking about related

00:14:31   to development, related to being independent,

00:14:33   related to anything like that, just let me know.

00:14:35   In any one of those means, I just mentioned,

00:14:38   just because it really helps me kind of guide the show

00:14:42   to where it's most helpful.

00:14:44   All right, have a great day.

00:14:45   Happy coding.

00:14:46   And I'll talk to you later this week.