What I learned about Work/Life Balance from Jeff Bezos

Let’s debunk the myth that working at a large company implies better work life balance. Maybe there is more expectation to work long hours at a startup. Having never joined a startup company, I’m no expert. Employees of large companies face heavy delivery pressure all the same.

As an employee at a large corporation, I have so far failed to find the magical “I’m home” switch for disabling the work brain. Anyone can still decide to keep working into the night. I am still bad at this, despite family matters.

Shortly after my kids popped out a mindset shift occurred for me. At that point I realize my time is more valuable than ever. I choose how time is spent. Saying ‘no’ becomes crucial. The only way to add something new to a full day is to sacrifice something else.

Jeff Bezos says work/life balance is the wrong thing to strive for because it implies a strict trade off between work and life. He instead promotes work/life harmony. This is how he defines harmony:

If I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy,” said Bezos. “And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy. You never want to be that guy — and we all have a coworker who’s that person — who, as soon as they

come into a meeting, they drain all the energy out of the room … You want to come into the office and give everyone a kick in their step.

How To Apply All of This

Seek a lifestyle that gives you the best energy at both work and at home. And, drop activities or people that drain your energy. Then you can be your genuine, best self at all times.

What I learned about Happiness from Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh tells the riveting story of his business life and the story of building Zappos in Delivering Happiness.

The book dives into the philosophical, defining the root of happiness. And from there it explains how these things drive Hsieh to make life and business decisions.

Happiness comes from four things:

  1. Perceived control

  2. Perceived progress

  3. Human connection

  4. Being part of something bigger than yourself

Perceived Control

Work happiness level correlates to how much control you feel you have over your work. For example, Zappos empowers employees to use their own judgment to best serve customers. There is no call center script. The folks answering the phones are happier because they have control over what they say and how they best serve you.

Perceived Progress

Work happiness level correlates to how much progress you feel you are making at work. For example, Zappos has developed a system for training employees. Mastering new skills earns badges. Employees who invest more time in learning earn more badges, their progress is measured and visible. They are happier as a result because they feel they are moving forward. Are you going in circles, backwards, or forward? Having clarity, competence, and confidence feels good.

Human Connection

Happiness correlates to the number of relationships and depth of relationships. One of the more controversial questions from the Gallup Q12 asks “do you have a best friend at work?”. Gallup found that answering ‘yes’ to this question correlates to higher performance, engagement, and work satisfaction. Having a best friend at work is surprisingly important for being happy at work.

Being Part of Something Bigger than Yourself

Happiness correlates to being a part of a movement or a mission. If you do something for the sole reason of collecting a paycheck you will be miserable and eventually you will quit. What is your “why”? You are a tiny spec of dust on one tiny blue planet in the grand, wide universe.

How to Apply All of This

  • Build career capital for later investment. Invest your capital to gain more control of your work and your life. Read more about this in my So Good They Can’t Ignore You post.
  • Set incremental SMART goals to progress on. Write down your goals. On paper! Amazingly, data shows that people who write down their goals are measurably more successful than people who do not write them down.
  • Make time to reconnect with friends and family.
  • Seek to understand why you are here. What is your mission?
  • Remember how large the universe is compared to you.

What I learned from So Good They Can’t Ignore You

I asked a dozen engineering VP’s and Directors for advice on getting a promotion. The best answer by far was “be so good I have to promote you.”

The advice reminds me of a book which often comes up in my 1 on 1 meetings with engineers. It’s called So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. (affiliate link) (non-affiliate link) It’s an excellent book which challenges conventional career advice. If you’d like to borrow my copy, let me know. I thoroughly enjoyed this book along with Newport’s follow up title Deep Work (affiliate link) (non-affiliate link). More on that one in a future post…

Here are 10 of the book’s nuggets that resonated with me:

1. The passion hypothesis is false.

Instead of searching for work you love, start to love your work. Take ownership of your work and change it in subtle ways that make you love it more.

2. The craftsman mindset beats the passion mindset.

Do remarkable work. Take pride in your work. Whistle while you work. This will get you farther than chasing your passions.

3. Build career capital and invest it to gain creativity, impact, control

The path to gain creative freedom, have more impact, and take more control over your agenda requires career capital. You have to build career capital gradually over months and years of delivering great results and building a support network.

4. Record your day in 15 minute increments

Where is your time actually going? Are you spending time on important work that moves you toward your goals? Or low value tasks that have little ROI?

5. Limit email to 90 min/day

Email is not work. (Unless your job is primarily writing emails)

6. Look for career capital already available to you, right in front of you.

You have career resources you may not realize. Your network, alumni groups, community are great examples. Enroll these people in your support network. This is an important part of building career capital.

7. Control is the dream job elixir.

Spend and invest your career capital to gain more control over your work. This is the path to loving your work and producing something remarkable. The path to finding, carving out your dream job.

8. Get paid

Getting paid is a measure of the career capital theory. You are ready to pursue an idea when you find someone to pay you to pursue it. If no one will pay you for the work, you aren’t good enough yet.

9. Do marketable, remarkable work

Do work that stands out. Work that stands out is remarkable and marketable. It gets people’s attention because it stands out and it makes you stand out from the crowd.

10. Working right trumps finding the right work

Stop searching for the perfect project. YOU are the project.

HELL YEAH or NO

Reflecting on Derek Sivers “Either HELL or NO“.

It’s okay if you don’t have something you’re really excited about. Books. Podcasts. Albums. Projects.

It’s okay to take a break.

It’s okay to wait for a HELL YEAH option to present yourself.

It’s not okay to fill every moment with activities you aren’t thrilled about.

Priorities

Managers differ from leaders in that no one wants to be managed and most people want to be led. As a leader I care deeply about enabling my people do their best work.

I know that people cannot do their best work when their health, home and family are not in order. If their own health is not in order they cannot do their best work and cannot do their best to care for loved ones. They are at work, and the family crisis is always in the back of their mind.

The person’s health comes before family comes before work. When those things are in order, when they are at work, they can give their all. They are enabled to do their best work.

Creating a safe environment and enabling this to happen distinguishes a Multiplier Leader from a Diminisher Leader.

  1. Your Own Health
  2. Your Family
  3. Work

Sometimes it’s hard. What if a key team asset has a crisis and needs to take months leave of absence? The team needs to come together and cover the gaps. Each individual person may deal with a future crisis.

How to apply it:

  • Take an honest assessment of your own health of mind and body. Are you taking care of yourself?
  • Take an honest assessment of what baggage you carry to work. Are you thinking about a brewing home crisis instead of being fully present?
  • Practice empathy with your peers. Support them when they need it most.

Nugget from Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

Happiness comes from four things:

  • Perceived control
  • Perceived progress
  • Human connection- depth and number of relationships
  • Being part of something bigger than yourself

How to Apply It:

Set aside time for all of these things. Build career capital for later investment, to gain more control of your life. Set incremental SMART goals to progress on. Take time to reconnect with friends and family. Don’t forget how large the universe is compared to you.