Balancing Work With the Rest of Life
When I think about shop-life balance, there are two things I have found that really help: having clear boundaries and managing my energy by establishing healthy habits. Of course, these interrelate, but let’s look at them separately.
Have Clear Boundaries
When you’re at work, be fully at work. When you’re at home, be fully at home. We all know what it’s like to bring work home with us, right? We do this literally by carrying files home or making work-related calls from home. But what about the more subtle way we bring work home, by thinking about the shop long after we have left it?
If you’re anything like me, you typically won’t just be thinking about it; you’ll be worrying about it. You might get worked up about a situation that happened earlier in the day, or wonder how that huge part bill is going to be paid, or feel angry that a certain insurance company seems to be dragging their feet on paying a final bill.
The opposite challenge is not to let home invade your shop. At work, be careful to not have an ongoing conversation with your wife, kids, buddies, etc. Save those conversations for lunch, predetermined break times during the day, after work, or weekends.
Here’s some advice for setting boundaries at home and at work:
Be fully present at home
When you are at home and those nagging thoughts about work start to surface simply write them down and forget about them. I keep an active to-do list on my iPhone on an app called Things. There are dozens of other apps and most of them are free. Or just simply pull out a piece of scrap paper and jot down a reminder to look into that insurance payment, talk to that tech, or follow up with that parts vendor tomorrow. There is nothing you can do about it now anyway, so get back to your family or hobby. Rest assured, the challenge will be waiting for you tomorrow. The upside is you will be more ready to tackle it the following day if you give yourself a break from worrying about it at home.
It is also important to mark the transition from work to home with some kind of boundary event. So, before going home, sometimes I will work out first. It’s amazing how much a short, 30-minute workout after work can help clear the mind. Other times, I will have an at-home happy hour with my wife before dinner. We just open a bottle of wine and catch up before the rest of the evening starts.
Be fully present at work
First thing in the morning, as soon as you get to work, write down three things you want to accomplish that day. You will likely accomplish many more than three things, of course, but if you start with three highly important, strategic tasks, you will likely feel better going into all of the interruptions and crises—real and perceived—of the day.
An example of a high leverage and strategic “to do” that regularly hits my short list is to audit some aspect of our overall shop with a manager. Sometimes we review an estimate for accuracy. Sometimes we look over a job with a tech and see if anything was missed on the supplement. On other days, we make sure our offices are clean and organized and appealing to customers, and make a list of improvements we want to make to various spaces around the shop.
Manage Your Energy
We are all used to the idea of managing our time but what about our energy? If we are not bringing energy to the time we have then we will constantly be underperforming and not using our available time well. Here’s a healthy habit example:
Develop a morning ritual
Imagine the dramatic improvements to your energy every day if you started each day with some exercise and a healthy breakfast. Even taking a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood will clear your head, force you to breathe deeper and jump-start your metabolism. Follow that up with a healthy breakfast and your day is off to a great start.
Now if you can maintain that little routine for a few weeks, it will become a habit, and you can move on to establishing another one.