On the clarity of work-life balance

Like Big Foot, work life balance is frequently discussed but seldom observed.

Is it physical, an x:y ratio of time? Or perhaps a mental model, free from measurement?

What if…

  • Work – ALWAYS about the money / victory / reward
  • Life – NEVER about the money / victory / reward

…were the framework by which we find balance?


When you’re working, shoot to kill. Oust the competition. Manage your minions with words like ASAP. Blood, sweat, and tears are your ammunition.

But when you’re living, just don’t. Don’t worry, compete, think too hard, or tell people what to do. Smile.

Because balance is important. And work is not the meaning of life.

Life is.

What “busy” means

Most people are too busy for your sales pitch, blog post, last minute birthday dinner.

And “you understand, right?” Everyone is vying for their time.

But you know what people are not?

Too organized.

Too good at setting appointments, responding to emails, or keeping phone calls brief.

Most people are bad at these things.

So if you want someone to hear your pitch, meet for coffee, or celebrate a birthday dinner, be sure to clarify how you can help with the things they aren’t.

They’re too busy for anything else.

Micro or Specific?

Earlier this year I began managing a small, outsourced team. I’ve led teams before but they were always in the flesh, with similar credentials, and in the same time zone.

Managing remote workers with none of those commonalities is particularly difficult because their engagement with the company vision isn’t written on their faces in meetings, or implied by how late they stay at the office.

To cope I’ve started to observe the tone of emails, the expediency of deliverables, and the rise/fall of fresh ideas versus “yes sir” compliance to existing tasks.

After awhile I found this measurement of ambiguous data points to be off-putting, so in an attempt at self-awareness I asked myself:

“Am I becoming a micro-manager?”

Before I could assess myself, however, I needed to define what micro-managing is.

Here’s what I came up with:

Micro-managing is the brutal insistence on how to achieve something.

Key word, how.

Put this way, I noticed some alarming similarities between micro-managing and the way I assign work to my team.

And that’s when a self-defense mechanism kicked in…

I thought of One Minute Manager and How to Win Friends and Influence People and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and found myself considering another term, one that is discussed much less frequently: specific manager.

Of course, this needed defining too:

Specific management is the brutal insistence of what needs to be achieved.

Key word, what.

As a manager it’s easy to let a vision of specific results become an obstacle to the creativity and ingenuity of how your colleagues will produce them.

Looking back, I’ve certainly exhibited a mixture of both micro and specific managing, but with any luck I’ll continue learning how to focus my attention on the end, and not the means.

Visions are Temporary

This post originally appeared as a guest article on Startup World.

When you work at a small company, every ripple makes a wave. If one engineer is late, other people show up late. If someone drinks Red Bull, everyone starts drinking Red Bull. Kool-Aid isn’t just a metaphor.

Behavior is contagious and it is the repetition of these behaviors that makes a culture, starting with the founders. But more important, it starts from the beginning.

Incidentally, another exercise which starts from the beginning is the formation of your company’s vision.