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 Time Management from James Altucher and Ghandi

One story about Mahatma Ghandi sticks in mind after hearing it from James Altucher.

The story goes like this:

Ghandi, becoming busy with his work and a full meeting schedule, decides he is not spending enough time meditating. He asks his assistant, “Please make time in my schedule each day for one hour of meditation.”

His assistant replies, “Ghandi, your request is impossible, your schedule is too full to dedicate one full hour to meditation each day.”

Ghandi contemplates this answer before quipping, “In that case, please schedule two hours every day for meditation.”

Replace meditation with any activity important to you. Distractions and busy-ness get in the way of spending time doing what we love. When the assistant rejected his request, Ghandi realized it was worse than he thought. He needed even more time dedicated to cultivating himself.

Your activity might be:

  • Hiking
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Calling an old friend
  • Exercise

If one of these activities matters to you, you need to work extra hard to carve out time for it. This might mean waking up an hour earlier every day; sometimes sacrifice is the only way.

The lesson I learned is:

Life is too short to let busy-ness get in the way of living.

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.

What I learned from struggling with procrastionation

There are 15 items on my to do list right now.

Some of the items have been on the list for months (but not years).

  1. There’s always a finite set of things you need to get done. Worrying about how many things and trying to juggle them all in your mind doesn’t work
  2. There’s always a first step or a next step. Writing down the step is helpful. It might not be the right time to take action right now, while you’re in planning mode.
  3. A lot of times, things don’t go according to plan. New steps come up while you’re working towards the goal. It’s ok, and flexibility is necessary. Make a note and change course.
  4. Tell someone what you need to do

What I learned about Curiosity from Speed of Trust by Stephen MR Covey

This is a story told by Marion D. Hanks of an obscure woman in London who insisted that she never had a chance. She muttered these words to Dr. Louis Agassiz, distinguished naturalist, after one of his lectures. In response to her complaint, he replied:

“Do you say, madam, you never had a chance? What do you do?”

“I am single and help my sister run a boardinghouse.”

“What do you do?” he asked.

“I skin potatoes and chop onions.”

He said, “Madam, where do you sit during these interesting but homely duties?”

“On the bottom step of the kitchen stairs.”

“Where do your feet rest?”

“On the glazed brick.”

“What is glazed brick?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

He said, “How long have you been sitting there?”

She said, “Fifteen years.”

“Madam, here is my personal card,” said Dr. Agassiz. “Would you kindly write me a letter concerning the nature of a glazed brick?”

She took him seriously. She went home and explored the dictionary and discovered that a brick was a piece of baked clay. That definition seemed too simple to send to Dr. Agassiz, so after the dishes were washed, she went to the library and in an encyclopedia read that a glazed brick is vitrified kaolin and hydrous aluminum silicate. She didn’t know what that meant, but she was curious and found out. She took the word vitrified and read all she could find about it. Then she visited museums. She moved out of the basement of her life and into a new world on the wings of vitrified.And having started, she took the word hydrous, studied geology, and went back in her studies to the time when God started the world and laid the clay beds. One afternoon she went to a brickyard, where she found the history of more than 120 kinds of bricks and tiles, and why there have to be so many. Then she sat down and wrote thirty-six pages on the subject of glazed brick and tile.

Back came the letter from Dr. Agassiz: “Dear Madam, this is the best article I have ever seen on the subject. If you will kindly change the three words marked with asterisks, I will have it published and pay you for it.”

A short time later there came a letter that brought $250, and penciled on the bottom of this letter was this query: “What was under those bricks?” She had learned the value of time and answered with a single word: “Ants.” He wrote back and said, “Tell me about the ants.”

She began to study ants. She found there were between eighteen hundred and twenty-five hundred different kinds. There are ants so tiny you could put three head-to-head on a pin and have standing room left over for other ants; ants an inch long that march in solid armies half a mile wide, driving everything ahead of them; ants that are blind; ants that get wings on the afternoon of the day they die; ants that build anthills so tiny that you can cover one with a lady’s silver thimble; peasant ants that keep cows to milk, and then deliver the fresh milk to the apartment house of the aristocrat ants of the neighborhood.

After wide reading, much microscopic work, and deep study, the spinster sat down and wrote Dr. Agassiz 360 pages on the subject. He published the book and sent her the money, and she went to visit all the lands of her dreams on the proceeds of her work.

Now as you hear this story, do you feel acutely that all of us are sitting with a our feet on pieces of vitrified kaolin and hydrous aluminum silicate–with ants under them? Lord Chesterton answers:

There are no uninteresting things; there are only uninterested people.

Keep Learning!

Reference: Hanks, Marion D. “Good Teachers Matter.” Ensign, http://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/07/good-teachers-matter?lang=eng.

The Two Types of Laziness

Reddit user /u/CS-NL was called a scumbag. He was employed in data entry, data verification position. His team was responsible for entering and verifying records all day long. /u/CS-NL took it upon himself to use his basic computer programming skills to automate his job.

Between co workers, they have a 90% accuracy rating and 60-100 transactions a day completed. I have 99.6% accuracy and over 1,000 records a day.

There are two types of laziness. Lazy busyness and innovative laziness.

Lazy busyness. Doing things the way they have been done before and not bothering to look for a better way. Working longer hours to finish tasks that could be done away with altogether.

Innovative Laziness. Looking for better ways to do things that free up time to do something else. Eliminating effort.

/u/CS-NL practiced innovative laziness. His coworkers practiced lazy busyness.

How to apply this:

Analyze your daily routine. Find one step to be eliminated, delegated, automated, or optimized. Experiment!

Thanksgiving 2017 Update

This fall has been crazy. I made a few lifestyle changes. Changes like that are never easy.

It helps me to remember my favorite quote from The Daily Stoic, “YOU are the project”.

I wrote myself a poem of reminders.

Building on Healthy Habits

Spend more time reading and writing

Spend more time breathing and thinking

Spend more time hydrating and moving

Spend more time loving and laughing

Reading and writing always surprises me. It leads to discoveries and ideas. But, it takes time to be effective. And to be honest, my primary reason to read is for entertainment. So, reading competes with all other forms of entertainment.

Breathing and thinking needs it’s own time too. Some days, you move from appointment to appointment without space in between. Gotta take breaks in between to catch your breath.

Drink more water, take more walks. Thrive!

Do not underestimate the importance of play. Make time for it. If you don’t, are you alive?

What I learned about excellence from Nick Saban, coach of 5 time national champions, the Crimson Tide

At 11 years old, a boy went to work at his father’s small-town West Virginia service station. “There was a standard of excellence, a perfection.” If any car he washed ended up with water streaks, the boy was demanded to start over from the beginning and wash it again. The standard of excellent taught him how to do things correctly the first time. To value time. To not half-ass. To do his best. To pay attention to detail.

Later in life the boy became an extraordinary college football coach. The discipline his father drilled into him was passed down to his players year after year. His team became one of the most winning teams in college football. His college football teams have won 205 games (with only 61 losses) and 5 national championships. His name is Nick Saban, and his team is Alabama’s Crimson Tide. 

The lesson is:

Excellence comes from doing something over and over until it’s executed to perfection and never accepting less than your best.