Do you want a better work/life balance this 2014?

Fig 1: “I want more time for myself”

Do you often work late nights or weekends, and feel burnt out as a result? Or do you feel stressed at work because you simply have too much on? If that sounds familiar, then this post is for you.

Three weeks ago, I offered to share what I knew about Goal Mapping with a handful of peers (one of which is a development manager) and, to my surprise, 2 out of 5 drew their goal map with a big clock bang the middle of it to illustrate that their main goal is to have more time. More time to spend with their families, and doing the things they enjoy outside of work.

Then last month I came across a survey on CodeProject showing that the TOP thing developers wanted for Christmas is a better work/life balance, which reminded me of this LinkedIn thread about how to avoid working late nights which I had come across about a year ago! A pattern emerges.

Now, you get paid for X number of hours, and if you work outside that then that’s up to you. This is where a bit of time management can help, but what does that mean in practical term?

Here are my 7 top tips which I gleaned from my own training and experience, and tips which I’ve picked up from the developers I’ve worked with too.

  1. Live your life by the principles of the Urgent VS. Important matrix (see below). Pro tip: Print out a large version of this matrix and, before you start on a new task, write down where it belongs on the matrix. If you discover that it’s NOT important and NOT urgent, then just don’t do it. Cross if off your list and move onto the next thing.
    Fig 2: The urgent vs important matrix
  2. Set expectations right in the first place: give realistic estimates and don’t promise too much. This one is tough, and lots of thought and discussion have been devoted to the subject (particularly the topic of software development estimates) – there’s a great thread on Quora which summarises a lot of it – but it’s an incredibly valuable skill. Work on it.
  3. Make sure your management knows that you have more tasks than one person can realistically be expected to manage in a reasonable period of time. If you keep on working long hours and getting things done and projects are on time as a result, then how is the management supposed to know that there is a problem? Managers can’t solve a problem if they don’t know it exists, so be sure to communicate.
  4. Share your knowledge around so that you’re not the only one who can do certain tasks, and then delegate when you can.
  5. If poor project management is the cause of the problem, then raise a flag and point this out (But be constructive, and even offer a solution if you can! This isn’t about blame, it’s about doing great work). A well-managed project does not require overtime. Since it’s going to affect you, you might as well make sure that the schedule is reasonable.
  6. To make sure that you have a personal life, have a proper schedule for activities outside of work. For example, on Monday evenings, you have an appointment with the gym; Tuesday evening is dedicated to your spouse or kids; on Wednesday evening at 7pm, it’s guitar practice time and nothing else; on Thursday evening at 6:30pm, you have an appointment at the pub with your friends and nothing will get in the way, etc. You get the idea. You have a fully booked schedule outside of work which is taken just as seriously as your schedule at work.
  7. And if you’re now working smart (see point 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5) during normal hours and are still being asked to do more on a regular basis, and your management doesn’t care if you’ve had to work all night, then it’s time to start looking for a new job somewhere else.

If you start by following these 7 principles, you’ll be off to a very good start indeed. Of course, if you’re already trying some of these, or have other approaches that work for you, I’d love to hear them! Given that I have at least a few colleagues who are trying to work at this, I want to give them plenty of approaches to try.

May 2014 be the year you achieve your aim for a better work/life balance!