I've always strived to have a good balance between my work life and my personal life. At times I've got it completely wrong, but I think I'm starting to get it now.
I left college in 2004 with a computing degree and began my IT career in 2005 (I spent a year as a Sales Assistant in GAME before landing my first IT job) I've been working my way towards becoming a good (great?) engineer. I've made some wrong turns on the way but also made some right turns and in 2018 I started working for Microsoft, a company I've dreamed about working for since I first got a computer (a Gateway 2000) all those years ago and discovered Windows 95 and all the fun that entailed.
Over the past 14 years I've had to put in a lot of hard work, both during work hours and in my own personal time. In those last 14 years I've earned twelve Microsoft exams, ranging from Windows 7, SQL Server, Exchange Server and Windows Server, I've worked for nine companies and had ten different job titles. I've not reach the end of my career goals and am still working hard, but am now in a happy place and feel like all the hard work I've put in is starting to pay off.
My time these days my time is dividing between, work, organising community events, social media presence, public speaking, me time and my family (not necessarily in that order!). And that's only the headings as there are lots of sub headings below that that consume my time as well. At different times during 2018 the headings and sub headings were priorities differently, it was a juggling act to strike that balance right. Overall I think I did it as I don't feel like at any point I felt burnt out. Yes there were times when I was stressed and anxious, but those were "moments" not an overarching feeling.
How I split my time
So my work, as you'd imagine takes up alot of my time. My job is very much fits into the Monday-Friday description and often fits in the 9-5 bracket. I work at home, so the commute isn't to bad.
But there are times when I have to travel, I think I took about 25 work trips over the course of the year. Not as many as some but a significant investment in time away from home. Which has meant I've had to juggle my social calendar, house hold chores/errands, early morning rises, late nights, etc.
At the start of the year when I first started doing commutes to London, I was getting up at 4am to be at the airport for the first flight to Heathrow and getting home at 11pm after getting the last flight out of Heathrow and then being back at my desk (at home) for 8am again, and I'll be honest, it was hard, I was struggling with tiredness and wasn't being as productive as I wanted to. But then in May I had a "skip ahead" meeting with my boss's boss and mentioned this as something I was having trouble adapting to and much my amazement and delight he said he didn't expect that of me, if I started later the next day after a long day of travelling he was okay with that! And that was a massive turning point for me. Knowing I had some flexibility there for the benefit of my physical and mental health reinforced my decision to join Microsoft. Obviously there are days after travelling that I need to get out of bed and start early because of client meetings or deadlines, but it's all about give and take.
My tip here would be, if you have an employer who is making unreasonable demands on your time, to the point that your physical and mental health are suffering. Have a chat with them to discuss your concerns and if they aren't willing to address them, maybe it's time to look for a new employer.
Being able to shut off from my work is very important, and I think more so because my home/work boundaries are slightly blurred now I work at home. One way of being able to differentiate work and home time for me is having two mobile phones. I have a personal one (Samsung Galaxy S9) and a work phone (iPhone SE).
I pay for my personal one entirely on my own, it's mine and work emails/Teams/Skype/Slack chats etc don't get accessed from it. I use Twitter, LinkedIn, and a few hotel/train apps from it but I'm pretty sure that's the only "work related" things that are on my personal phone.
When I first started at Microsoft I was using my old (much loved) Windows 950 handset, but as time passed the handset was physically starting to die and so was the ecosystem. So I bought the iPhone SE second hand from eBay, apart from a small dent in the outer casing (which isn't noticeable with a case on) the phone is in perfect health and reports a good battery health overall. Microsoft pay for the monthly contract for the phone. On it is all my work related bits and pieces, Outlook, Teams, Office, travel apps, etc. The device is fully enrolled with the company's Intune setup and secured via that. No it's not the most sophisticated phone on the market (or the newest) but it supports all the apps I want to work on it for work, I can work from it and keep up to date on the move etc. And most importantly for me, I can turn it off and not be bothered with work emails/chats/etc when I clock off for the night, weekend or holiday. Which is great for my mental health.
My tip here would be, make sure you have a separation between work emails/chats/etc and personal emails/chats/etc. Not everyone wants to carry two phones around with them, so if you want one phone look for one that allows data containerisation. I know my Samsung's Knox technology has the ability to have an area where things are separate. Or look into turning on a do not disturb feature at certain hours.
Another big ticket item in my diary that keeps me busy is being the founder and main organiser of the Glasgow Azure User Group. In 2018 I organised a bootcamp 1 day event, 5 meetups, and 1 super meetup. Which again isn't as many as some organisers due in a year but there is still a significant investment of my personal time (it's completely voluntary and not paid in anyway) and I have to ensure I schedule in time to organise speakers, communicate with attendees, send newsletters, order stickers, order food/drink, etc..... I do love doing it and get a lot of energy from it but I do have to make time for it and sometimes that means after work spending a few hours a night (or several nights) ticking off items on the to do list. And I do schedule it, I do put a note in my diary to do it. Sometimes I know looking at my work and personal calendar I won't have time in the lead up to meetups etc to do much so I find a chunk of time and pre-schedule Tweets/Facebook messages/LinkedIn/emails and make use of technology to release them when appropriate.
The messages are all personal but alot of them are scheduled, sometimes it's what I have to do in order to meet the commitments I have to for the group. I do try and delegate tasks to my second in command Gregor Suttie (b|t) and I'm grateful for his help.
This year I'm taking a back step from organising the Global Azure Bootcamp event in April, it clashes with the weekend of my wedding anniversary (6 years) so instead of giving back to my community I'll be making memories with the family.
I have a separate email address for the user group and when I am travelling for work or on holiday I turn my out of office on, that way there is no pressure on me to reply instantly/immediately. The person trying to contact me knows I'm out and when I'm back, the out of office feature isn't just for your work email.
Every event/community organiser will be different but for me, I make sure I schedule the time in to do what I need to as an organiser, that way I'm not rushing about at the last minute or beating myself up because I've missed something.
Social Media Presence
Nowadays, we all seem to have a social media presence, accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, Github, YouTube, WhatsApp.... etc etc. I've got a host of accounts:
We feel compelled in some way to communicate what we are doing throughout the day and see what others are up to. It can be a great way to connect with family, friends, learn, meet new people, etc, but it can also become a burden around our neck. Where we feel we need to check in, be present for fear of missing out. How many of us sit with our mobile phones at our work desks and check it regularly to see what's new? How many of us turn to it the minute we're in a queue in a shop or even take it to the bathroom with us for fear of missing out? I'm guilty of some of them, (maybe all... lol), but last year I made a conscious effort to try and separate what I used each Social Media account for and when/how I interacted with them.
For me Facebook is 99% where I communicate with friends and family, I have very few work related colleagues on there. That's not because I don't like them or don't want to keep in touch but it's about separation and striking the right balance between work and personal. I'll occasionally share blog posts and updates on my "professional" Facebook page but I don't do it maybe as much as I should.
Twitter is somewhere I use for probably 90% of work related content, that's where I talk about Azure, I share my blog posts, I interact with tech people, I talk about my community work etc. I sometimes post personal pictures, hobbies or funny things. I've met some lovely people on Twitter and I want to keep doing that so yes it's work mostly but my personality will be there to. Who I am will be in amongst all those Azure tweets. But because I use it for work related things, I turn off my Twitter phone notifications when I'm on holiday with the family. And I very very rarely check in on it when I am on holiday. It's about the down time, I want to present during that down time, whether it be having a day off work or going on holiday with family/friends, I don't want (need) to be up to the minute about the latest Azure announcement or when a new blog post from someone. Not that these things aren't important but not at that time, I'll catch up.
LinkedIn is very much work and community related, I started off 2018 being very active and building up my Social Selling Index (SSI), but as the year progressed I found I was using Twitter more and more than LinkedIn.
I had great ambitions at the start of 2018 to start a podcast and be more active on YouTube, I did bits and pieces with both platforms but I never took either where I wanted them to go. This year will see me moving house and I have the opportunity to dedicate one of the rooms into a home office, so hopefully I can set it up with the necessary recording/video equipment to try and do more on those mediums.
For me the tip is to separate what you use and how you use Social Media. I've really found turning the notifications off when I am on holiday and enjoying downtime a great help to refreshing and recharging me. Living in the constant connected world that we do these days gets tiring so taking a break every now and then really helps to avoid burnout.
I stared my public speaking "career" in 2017 by speaking at one user group event and then kind of lost my nerve to do anything after that. But in 2018 I found the confidence once again and I spoke at 3 user group/meetup events, 2 conferences, 1 webinar and 1 STEM event. Each of those events took time and preparation. But again it's something I wanted to do and although nervous about it each and every time I got a lot of energy from it and enjoyed it.
When I did my 2018 review blog post a few weeks ago I was pleasantly surprised to see these stats around my speaking:
I am hopefully to committing more time to events/conferences/STEM events this year, I want to give back to the community that has helped me so much over the years. I would love to add an international event to my calendar in 2019 if I can. However, I am going to be careful about the events that I commit to. I have submitted sessions to quite a few conferences so far and I have reached out to a number of user groups in the UK about speaking at their events, I am waiting to hear back from most/some of them and there are events I'd like to speak at later this year so need to leave space in my diary for those when they open their call for papers. I do need to get better at planning my speaking diary out in advance, so I can manage work, holiday, etc commitments around it.
It was interesting and insightful reading Alexander Arvidsson's (b|t) 2018 review https://www.arcticdba.se/leaving-2018-next-stop-2019/ about how he spoke at 22 events and he really enjoyed it but it meant alot of sacrifice and missing time at home with his wife, cats and droid. A lesson we should all take note of.
I'm a big advocate of the IT community and encourage people all the time to attend their local events or speak at them but my tip here would be to balance that out, schedule in what I want to speak at and make sure you aren't over committing yourself. Speaking can give you a big boost of confidence and energy but it can also take a lot of energy out of you. Be mindful of that.
Me time and Family time
I might be mentioning this last in my list but it's by no means the least important for me. There are times when it takes a back seat because of the above but there are also times when it takes front and centre in my life before all the other things. I've also listed me time and family time under one heading here but it's key to remember they are different and should be treated separately.
We all need some time alone every now and again, whether that be to enjoy a leisurely coffee and big slice of cake, or enjoying some Netflix binging or bursting a gut at the gym. We all need that time to recharge and invest in ourselves.
We also need time with the people we love, I've called this family time but that could incorporate time with friends as well. Your job may help you pay the bills, and that's important but your friends/family are the ones that pay your soul.
For me my downtime involves, binging with Netflix (sorry, not sorry), going to the gym, enjoying a good book or heading out to take some pictures with my DSLR. I make sure I schedule in my gym time, it's in the work diary and personal diary, it has to be otherwise it will get forgot and missed. The rest of my downtime hobbies aren't schedule and sometimes fall by the side.
Family/friend time is fluid and scheduled. My Mum and I already have dates in the diary to do things in 2019, some are 9 months away but those events are in the diary and planned and nothing will get in the way of us doing those things together. We'll add more to the diary and we'll be fluid as well, texting each other at times to meet up for coffees after work or nip round for dinner with little notice. With the husband I tend to just tell him when he's doing stuff with me. lol But I am conscious as well to down tools (almost always) when he comes home from work during the week so we can make/eat dinner together, sometimes that means I need to go back and finish off some work after dinner but sometimes that's how you have to prioritise things, right?
My friends and I are a bit of a nightmare for catching up with each other, but again throughout the year we all do eventually make the time and do stuff together. We all know we're there if things happen and we'll drop and run if needed for each other. And that's important.
As I've mentioned before when I am on holiday or taking time off from work, it's dedicated to me or my family. I finished work on the 24th December 2018 and started back on the 2nd January 2019 and during that time, yes I was on Twitter occasionally, but I didn't look at my work phone/emails, I didn't study, I didn't play with Azure, I didn't even blog, I did do some bits for my user group and submitted a couple of sessions to a conference but that was it. I was present, I recharged, I focussed on what was there in front of me. And that time recharging and refocussing will set me up for the weeks and months ahead until my next holiday or day off.
Troy Hunt (b|t) mentions how he makes time for his family in a post he made at the end of 2018 - https://www.troyhunt.com/10-personal-finance-lessons-for-technology-professionals/ in Lession 8.
My advice here would be make time to recharge, there is nothing wrong with sacrificing evenings and weekends to your work, personal development, etc but try not to do it all the time. Make time for yourself, your friends, your family, schedule it in the diary if you have to, when when you do take that time be present. Life is short and fleeting, make the memories with your loved ones while you can, your work/social media/etc will be there later...
Hopefully my ramblings on striking the right balance and how I do it has been useful. However you strike the right balance in your life, make sure you are happy. As always if you’d like to reach out and speak to me about any of the above please get in touch via Twitter @TechieLass