There is No Work/Life Balance

I recently started getting some CEO coaching help from Jerry Colonna, at Brad & Amy‘s recommendation. The first session was introductory. The second one was revelatory.

We talked about the Ireland trip (which Geraldine wrote about here). It was a really tough one, and it shook our marital relationship more than I thought was possible. When Jerry and I talked about it, he brought up his blog post on the work/life balance problem, which I finally read tonight.

It was good timing. Maybe even life-changing timing.

It’s pretty obvious to most of the team at SEOmoz, to my wife, and (at long last) to me, that I’m drowning. I rarely get the sleep I need. I’ve been not quite shaking off a minor cold for 7 weeks. My back is not getting any better – I still have to walk with a cane sometimes. I’m in fairly constant discomfort. Sometimes I’m in semi-constant, serious pain. I’m never caught up on my email. And I haven’t taken a formal “vacation” (the kind without at least 4 hours of work in a day) since my wedding in 2008. The longest I’ve gone without checking email since then was in Ireland and it was ~40 hours. Hell, we’ve never even gone on our honeymoon.

There’s no doubt my efficiency should be higher, my demands on my own time should be lower, and that I can’t be the single point of failure on projects and communication that I’ve been over the last 5 years of Moz’s growth. I think Jerry, Geraldine, and Ireland are the straw that’s finally breaking the camel’s back.

Jerry gave me some homework at the end of our call. I was supposed to talk to Geraldine about the problems seriously and in-depth. We were supposed to talk about how my lack of balance made each of us feel. And we were suppose to talk about ideas for overcoming it. We did that. It felt really good – maybe as good as any conversation we’ve ever had, even if it was hard. And we came up with some rules we’re going to try:

  • Once every week, on Tuesday, I’m going to come home by 7pm and not do any work until the next morning. I’ve literally never done this before. Tomorrow is going to be interesting. I also won’t have a new blog post up here.
  • In the first half of 2013, we’re going to take a 10+ day vacation where I will only work 60 minutes each day maximum. There will be a timer. Suggestions of where to go are welcome. We’re thinking no more than a 6 hour flight from Seattle.
  • After a few months, we’re going to try limiting work to 60 minutes on one day each weekend.

This is going to be hard, and I’m scared I’m going to fall very, very far behind on my emails and my obligations. But it will be a healthy forcing function. We’re working to hire a new fulltime EA (Jess, my current, totally amazing EA, is supporting several folks, and will be moving over to Sarah’s team). We’re working on oustsourcing the creation of the visuals in my slide decks (a big time suck today). We’re trying to hire some very senior talent to help replace the product and marketing review/input functions I currently am failing to deliver on in a timely fashion.

Hardest of all, I’m going to have to say “No.” A lot. To many people that I like and wish I could help. I suspect people will call me a butthole far more often (like when I tried this email scalability experiment). That’s going to suck, but it’s the only way.

I hope in 6 months, I can report back on how it’s gone. I don’t expect to find balance, but I do think the rules can help build a separation that I’ve never had before and that should exist.

p.s. Brad himself did a TED talk on the topic of taking time off that’s worth watching, in particular for the story that led him and Amy to that point.