Under the Radar

Under the Radar 17: Work-Life Balance


  welcome to under the radar a show about

  independent iOS development I'm Marco

  Arment and I'm David Smith under the

  radar is never longer than 30 minutes so

  let's get started

  I have little hesitation there you

  almost said 15 almost so this week we're

  gonna be talking about work-life balance

  both of us are independent both of us

  have had jobs before and and and you've

  you did consulting for a while right I

  did yeah I did only very briefly so I'm

  not much of an authority on consulting

  but you are and so we kind of have had

  these these different job types and the

  the work-life balance can can vary a lot

  between them you know I think full-time

  employment when you're working forget

  somebody else you have like a

  nine-to-five kind of job at least you

  know you hope sometimes it's worse than

  that but that's generally going for when

  you're working full-time for somebody

  else you you are kind of not in control

  of your own work-life balance - - most -

  most of the degree but that might be a

  good thing sometimes like you know the

  full-time jobs can span the entire

  spectrum from worst to best work-life

  balance and that it really depends on

  the job and the conditions around it but

  when they're good when you have a nice

  easy you know or not easy but if when

  you have a good job at a well-run place

  working on something that's not totally

  crazy that can usually offer the best

  and most consistent work-life balance

  among all the different employment types

  in our business and that you know it's

  most likely to be a healthy work-life

  balance when you have like a big boring

  company that you're working for working

  on probably something that isn't that

  interesting of work to you necessarily

  and that you know that won't be like the

  trendy cool thing that all the Google

  people are talking about or whatever

  like you know stuff that we wouldn't be

  talking about on our tech podcast in all

  likelihood you know you work for a bank

  or insurance company or something like

  that like the the we think of these jobs

  oftentimes as like being boring but

  boring can be really good in a lot of

  ways and it can really offer an

  incredibly healthy work-life balance if

  most of the time you're not working

  incredibly long hours you're not having

  to work on the weekends or when you're

  home you know or on vacation like you

  know you don't really take work with you

  when you leave work so when you have one

  of these jobs that

  offer an incredible work/life balance

  and usually you know again it might not

  be like the most cutting-edge stuff in

  the consumer space to get working on you

  know you might not be building the next

  photo sharing app or whatever you

  probably also won't strike it rich doing

  this kind of thing because you probably

  are working for a more mature sheilo

  company where you're getting a typical

  salary for the kind of work you do

  you're probably not getting a lot of

  stock or stock options or at least of

  what you're getting will be fairly

  incrementally valuable so that you know

  there are downsides to this but it's it

  can really provide incredible work-life

  out because really once you leave work

  generally you're done for the day you

  don't have to be constantly on call

  constantly doing things answering emails

  you know at midnight when you're trying

  to go to bed and your boss is emailing

  you about crazy stuff I think usually

  doesn't happen in these bigger companies

  and they also can usually help manage

  vacation time a lot better you know like

  it when you when you work for yourself

  you know you you can take vacation

  whenever you want but often times I

  think we'll get to this oftentimes

  that's kind of a bad thing as well when

  you work for a big company

  you usually accrue vacation time on a

  certain fixed rate per year that you're

  working there per month that you're

  working there and usually they will even

  have to pay it out to you if you quit or

  get or I don't know if you get fire but

  it when you leave like these days are

  actually accounted for so like you earn

  vacation days and you are often forced

  to take them or like they or they won't

  they won't accumulate past a certain

  limit so you have to take a vacation you

  know kind of thing and oftentimes that

  is better than like a kind of freeform

  vacation policy if you're working for

  like a little startup or working for

  yourself where it's like you know you

  could they're like well you can take a

  vacation whenever you want but you can

  never stop working like it's often times

  that work-life balance that you get at a

  bigger company or at a more mature

  company is just unbeatable and then you

  also have if you're doing consulting

  work you know if you decide not to work

  for a big company a lot a lot of people

  on our business are doing consulting

  work and with consulting you are much

  more responsible for maintaining your

  own work-life balance then when you're

  working for somebody else and and it's

  kind of a weird middle ground it I think

  consulting if I had to take a guess in a

  broad generalization I

  it's a consulting probably offers the

  the least work-life balance

  health of all the different employment

  types that I've seen from people who do

  it because you you don't have a

  full-time boss but every client is kind

  of a boss so you kind of have like

  multiple bosses all of whom have

  different expectations on your time and

  your income is tied directly to the

  hours that you are working for them and

  you have to build them for the hours and

  they are paying for these hours so it's

  kind of hard to waste any and so if you

  stop working for say a night or a

  weekend like if you stop working the

  money stops coming in so there's a huge

  incentive to overwork and to not have a

  good work-life balance and the NL's

  oftentimes consulting work comes in

  waves so you might have really created

  times and then really dry time it's kind

  of hard to to keep things in balance

  there so I think consulting hard be the

  hardest then you have indie life where

  if you if you work on your own products

  or if you are the owner of a company or

  work is kind of different but you know

  if you work on your own stuff you it

  seems like you'd have the best work life

  balance possible but in reality you have

  many of the same pressures as

  consultants do where you kind of impose

  your own guilt on yourself like if I

  wait I'm not working right now so I'm

  not like I'm wasting time or I should be

  always doing something or this is

  unproductive time and like it makes it

  hard to enjoy like a vacation or even a

  night off like a night to watch TV with

  your spouse or go out or something like

  it makes it hard to enjoy that when you

  work for yourself and you know that like

  like I could be working right now I

  could be doing something right now and

  any time you're not spent working the

  work is just not moving forward there's

  no one else picking up the slack or the

  office isn't just closed for the day

  like just things just stop when you're

  not working and this can often lead to a

  harder than usual work-life balance to

  maintain so I don't know so so both of

  us are the last cut of our image and the

  independent developers who work for

  ourselves so and you don't really do any

  consulting anymore do you

  I don't you haven't for a few years

  right yeah so so both of us are totally

  dependent now we work only on our own


  but I mean well I guess we could let's

  start with kind of like a status update

  like how do you think your work-life

  balance is I think now like having now

  been I think I've been independent for

  about eight years and I've been haven't

  done consulting for probably three years

  or so like I've been fully fully

  independent for three or four years now

  I'd say I'm getting pretty good at it

  it's been the result though of a lot of

  effort in time and thought to get to

  here because by default you're not gonna

  have a good work-life balance like that

  was the thing that I sort of found when

  I weighed sort of quit my day job and

  it's like okay it's like this will be

  great I'll work from home I'll be able

  to like be around okay

  I've started going independent right

  when our first child was born I was like

  this is be great I'll be home I'll be

  around him as he's growing up this will

  be awesome and like the default state

  was terrible because I was I felt like I

  was I felt like concurrently felt like I

  was always working and like I was never

  working like I was in this weird tension

  where like I'm always thinking about

  work but I'm also always at home and so

  I'm always think about home stuff too

  and it was terrible over the course of

  the last few years though it's like it's

  we've found things that work for you

  know for fer me and my family to be able

  to be like okay yeah this works like I

  feel like I have a good sense of getting

  work done like I'm being productive and

  useful and not just like she's sitting

  on the deck Drina drinking martinis but

  I'm also at home when I need to be at

  home and my you know my kids understand

  how that works and my wife understands

  how that works and it seems to be


  that's good yeah I I have a lot to learn

  from you because you know I've been

  independent since late 2010 and I so you

  know about about five years and I have I

  have not found the balance yet I've kind

  of oscillate between what you know the

  former part of what you said of like

  constantly worrying about work and

  family stuff and just not getting enough

  work done and then feeling guilty I'm

  not getting enough work done or feeling

  regret that I can't do more like because

  you know I have a certain amount of time

  of the day I

  decided which I think we talked about

  I'm sure we will I've decided that it is

  not right for me to hire people like for

  what like I don't think I would be

  happier or necessarily even more

  productive if I hired people nothing not

  even to mention the problem of a

  forwarding them and then the other other

  issues with hiring somebody so like I

  I'm limited by what I can do and so I

  feel a burden from that of like I should

  work more or I wish I could work more

  but then when I have periods of working

  a lot I have a lot of trouble turning it

  off to go to sleep at night or to go out

  to dinner or something like I have a lot

  of trouble maintaining that balance and

  so usually I err more on the lazy side

  more recently of well I guess I'll you

  know I'll be with my family I'll help

  out around the house and I'll be present

  for everybody but then I regret not

  getting more work done and I don't know

  I mean I I still have a lot to learn I

  think and I think they think there comes

  to mind is I always remember like the

  insight that I think was most helpful

  when I was trying to work this out

  several years ago this is like it's the

  understanding that my work can hurt my

  family life as well as my family life

  can hurt my work that I remember when I

  was starting out it was easy to kind of

  think about it as sort most like my

  family life was the thing that would be

  hurt from working too much

  sort of like which is makes sense in

  some ways coming from like a more

  corporate environment where kind of like

  workaholism is more the typical problem

  that you would be worried about where

  you work too much and you never see your

  kids and all this kind of thing and I

  remember when I first started that was

  what I was worried about that my work

  was gonna hurt my family and then I also

  then when I found though it's like it

  goes the other way exactly in the same

  way that my family life can also hurt my

  work and its interests and like both of

  these states are such both of so like

  these things are undesirable like I

  don't want one to hurt the one or the

  one to hurt the other like that's why we

  call it work-life balance I guess like

  if you're trying to find something in

  the middle and in the end what I end up

  finding is it's like the old saying good

  fences make good neighbors like the best

  way that I found to be able to improve

  my work-life balance is to build Walt's

  or build fences between my work life and

  my family life both physically in terms

  of where I work

  of my time in terms of when I work in

  terms of the things that I do when I'm

  in one place versus the other and only

  when I've been able to kind of really

  split the two in part in in half if I

  found it to be at all functional because

  otherwise I'm always you always have

  like the guilt on one side or the guilt

  on the other and that's like it's

  neither productive nor helpful yeah I

  think that's probably where I have to

  explore like the fencing off both

  physical and like you know scheduling

  wise because I'm just I'm terrible at

  that you know I I work in a home office

  my wife is here with me much of the time

  my kid is here with me much of the time

  he goes to school but you know that's

  not every day and that's not all day and

  and I work it out and any hour of the

  day you know I will work in the morning

  sometimes I'll work at night sometimes

  like it just goes all over the place and

  and there's really no boundaries

  to when and where and how I get work

  done and as a result it is hard to have

  like long uninterrupted spans or it's

  not be thinking about work when I'm not

  at work you know it's it's hard to

  maintain his balance yeah and I think

  the thing that I found most helpful like

  along those lines is that as an example

  I and work every day at 5:00 p.m. and

  you would have a martini on the deck

  yeah and then I go and have a martini on

  the deck exactly but I found that that

  one little change had the biggest impact

  on my work-life balance like before that

  it was kind of this squishy wishy washy

  like oh but if I'm like in the zone and

  I really want to keep going or that's me

  whatever it's like you have this kind of

  this feeling of like well it's just you

  know I will work until I'm finished type

  of concept and the reality is like I'm

  never finished there's never a perfect

  opportunity to be like yes I have

  exactly finished tied this function up

  in a bow and now I'm gonna go upstairs

  and have dinner and you know be with my


  and so we ended up deciding like and I

  would drive my wife crazy - when it's

  like she has no idea when I'm gonna be

  home when I'm gonna when went what time

  we should do dinner what time the kids

  should we expect you know their daddy to

  be back yeah like a three-hour window

  like I'm gonna be doing something

  between 5:00 and 9:00 whenever my brain

  turn finally turns off yeah and so we

  found this like you know what it's like

  need to have a regular schedule and so

  like I come downstairs which we'll get

  to in a minute about workspace but like

  I come downstairs to start work sometime

  like is much more squishy like sometime

  between maybe 8:30 and 9:30 depending on

  what's going on in the morning but I

  always finished exactly 5:00 and that

  really helps to be able to say like if

  it's past five o'clock I'm not working

  unless obviously the units are like the

  exceptional situation of like you know

  some server explodes and I really need

  to go and do something but if beyond the

  the extraordinary search your

  circumstance that's what I do and for me

  that was really helpful to say like if

  it's past 5:00 I'm off work like I don't

  really need to worry about work I'll

  worry about it the next day and if it's

  before 5:00 I should be working like it

  helps on the other side if well if

  saying if things seem like they're going

  a bit tricky with you know or like I

  just want to be with my family or

  whatever it's like nope it's not five

  o'clock and I can look forward to it in

  that sense and then once I'm past it I

  can say nope that's like that's the

  firewall against it on the other side

  and having that kind of regular schedule

  like when I'm safe are there something

  magical about five o'clock like it could

  be any time but having a schedule that

  when I'm working I'm working and when

  I'm not I'm not has been the only thing

  that was been probably the biggest

  impact in our ability to kind of stay

  stay sane around having complete

  flexibility about our schedule all right

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  slash radar for a lose wonderful

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  under the radar and all of real afm so

  one thing i wanted to extend on a little

  bit is sort of the extension of the

  concept of having a defined work

  schedule that separates your work life

  and your physical life is that works in

  some ways but you also what i found it

  only really works when you're able to

  physically separate yourself as well

  from the place that you go to work and

  the place that you go to not work and

  i've de tried all manner of things to do

  this and I when I first went independent

  it was kind of really are the house

  where we lived in didn't really work for

  this where it was a split foyer house

  and so they're only two levels and so no

  matter what there was always something

  that wasn't my office and next door to

  me no matter where I went and went in

  the house and for a while I actually got

  office space outside of my house so that

  I could do this like even though I could

  work from home I found like a teeny

  little like office down the road from

  where I live and I'd go there

  because in now I've thankfully we've

  changed houses and I have a place that's

  like I'm in this office way off in the

  corner in the basement that there's

  nothing else around the board I found is

  if I don't have a separate place to go

  like if I'm working in working my

  bedroom or at the kitchen table or

  something like that

  I was never it's so hard to keep your

  mind focused on the thing that you're

  supposed to be focused on and it's the

  one of the things that I've think iff is

  like give advice to somebody who is

  starting out working from home going

  independent becoming a consultant any of

  these things like find a place somewhere

  in your house that you only use for work

  miss goes when you're there it's like

  okay I'm here I've got all my it's all

  set up exactly how I like it for working

  and I'm working and when I leave there's

  I don't come back here unless I'm

  working you know it's like I don't sit

  here and go through the family pictures

  and organize them into albums on my work

  computer I do that on another place like

  all in any of the things that I needed

  to do aren't done at my work at my

  workstation my workstation is for

  working and that helps both me to be

  focused and also if you have children or

  other people in your house who are going

  to want your attention it means that you

  can fight they should have has this

  great benefit of being able to say like

  no no it's like he's in is like daddy's

  in the office don't bother him and you

  know obviously there's exception to that

  if something awesome and cool that's

  going on in the house and that I really

  want to know about and I should know

  about it's awesome that I'm available

  and here to see it but in by and large

  it's very easy to have that obvious vis

  visual separation it's like nope he's

  not here he's at work and then I come

  home and my wife and I always joke about

  this too because we'll actually use the

  terms like are you home like if I all go

  up I go upstairs at 4:00 like at 4:00

  o'clock to get a snack or something

  it's like are you home or are you not

  and it's like I actually I'm not home


  even though obviously I'm standing in

  Mike I'm standing in the kitchen in our

  in my home but it's like nope I'm not

  home I just need to needed to grab

  something and then I go back to work and

  it's like it's as though like I've left

  like I've got in the car my commute

  rather you in a car and driving down the

  road now he's walking down the stairs

  but I still have one that there's still

  something separate physically between my

  work and my not work that's really good

  I like that a lot they just gotta find a

  place in your house that you can do that

  yeah well in our unfinished basement

  maybe or our hot attic that should be

  good perfect well we'll figure something

  out I'll just put up a giant scream in

  the middle in the middle the room yeah

  and obviously yeah like everyone's

  houses are different denser like weather

  exactly how much you can do that and how

  practical it is to do it but it's it's

  just one of those things that it's all

  about trying to make it like make a

  clear line between when you're working

  and when you're not working and so the

  more that you can make the place that

  you work a place that he only is a place

  that you work like the better that will

  be and it's like trying to do weird

  sometimes it is feels a bit silly but

  like it's what I try and do like we have

  an upstairs office that we do other like

  other like homework things with rather

  than doing them in the same place that I

  do regular work which you know his works

  that works for us to have a bit you know

  in about two rooms that we can do that

  with but even if you don't have these X

  pace it's just kind of something to be

  aware of yeah definitely the other thing

  that I think is helpful to think about

  with work/life balance like taking a

  step back so like things like making

  good boundaries physically between your

  work in terms of your daily schedule in

  terms of your work space are helpful but

  there are also things that are kind of

  like there the the tactical day-in

  day-out kind of things that you can do

  but if you really want to have a good

  work-life balance I think you kind of

  also have to take the step back and look

  at it and say like what are the things

  that are constraining my ability to have

  a good work-life balance and I think

  about in like making sure I'm making

  conscious choices about those things

  like one thing I always remember is when

  I used to do consulting and this

  probably applies mostly to consulting

  but applies to a lot of things is when

  I'd start out I would respect my you

  like work email all the day like all the

  time so essentially if I'm awake I'll

  probably have checked my email in the

  last 20 minutes and I would respond to

  clients who D mail me something at

  whenever I saw it you know they would

  send me an email hey did you get a

  chance to

  check this thing out or you know fix

  this thing and I'd respond it and I'd do

  it on the weekend late at night early in

  the morning if your first thing I when I

  wake up I pick up my phone and I'd

  respond and what I realized though is

  that I'm competin for for my clients

  because now they're as soon as you do it

  once they'll expect you to always do it

  and if you don't that can become like

  weird strangely problematic where

  they're like oh I emailed you and you

  didn't respond it's like yeah you

  emailed me at 8 o'clock on a Friday I

  didn't respond because I'm not working

  but if you don't actually follow through

  with that you have this terrible

  boundary problem and like these you're

  making these commitments that you may

  not consciously be making to being

  available at times that you really

  shouldn't be available and then that may

  also like that might make certain people

  not able to work with you and I think

  you have to choose that like when you're

  choosing what you're working on the

  people you choose to work for or with

  matter just as much as anything else

  you're deciding because like certain

  like certain employers will want you to

  be a workaholic and we want you to be

  24/7 on-call for email even if they

  don't technically say that that will be

  what they expect and it will seem it'll

  look bad if you don't do that whereas

  other employers or clients are more

  healthy themselves with their work-life

  balance and and they will you know they

  will be okay if you don't answer a

  Friday night email until Monday morning

  you know and and it's important if you

  can find those people and choose to work

  with them and you know it really matters

  a lot who you work for who your clients

  are yeah and and it's and then in

  addition to man mattering who they are

  it's like that you have to decide these

  things like it feels silly at first like

  I remember the first time I summer never

  ate but I realized that I was doing this

  and I would see like I would want to hit

  reply and start composing an email back

  and they're like wait it's nine o'clock

  on a Friday I should not do this and

  sometimes I'd like write it out but just

  leave it in drafts and at 9 a.m. on

  Monday morning I just go into my draft

  and I'd sit there and send them all

  which is if it's like is it really it

  was like a good like a baby

  step towards not actually checking it in

  the first place but giving the illusion

  of health via exactly but it at least

  the very least I was setting their

  expectation that I wasn't available

  right you like I always remember also

  with consulting you'd have these weird

  things where you start having like email

  conversations back and forth with your

  client at strange hours because you send

  them something and then they are sitting

  at their computer to having poor

  work-life balance and they were spawning

  back as you go back and forth and it's

  like you're having this conversation in

  at a time when you like you would never

  schedule a call with your client at that

  time you'd never think like oh this is

  like 10 o'clock on the weekend this is a

  perfect time for us to have a chat but

  it's like this little trap that just

  like sucks you in and then you're kind

  of you have to work really hard to break

  that pattern and get out of that cycle

  and then lastly the other boss sort of

  like taking a step back thing that I

  think you can do to improve your

  work-life balance is to look at your

  business and see if there are places

  that you can reduce the degree to which

  your revenue is directly tied to your

  time which in some ways is maybe an

  obvious thing to say like it's like if

  you can make money without doing

  anything that's better this is the

  promise of like every back page ad in a

  crappy magazine like make money while

  you sleep

  exactly but in a not sketchy way like

  looking at your business and saying like

  the biggest things that are going to get

  in the way of you having a productive

  work-life balance are things where you

  don't have control like you you don't

  have the control over your time in the

  same way like if you have a K perfectly

  and sort of did split between your time

  and your money then you can choose

  exactly how you want your day to go

  because your time isn't the thing that

  you're selling it that isn't the

  important thing you know so like if you

  look at you if you look at a business

  like I think conceptually most

  businesses kind of fall into two

  categories there's kind of like prepaid

  work you know things like consulting or

  even this podcast where we get paid by a

  sponsor for the episode but we have to

  make the episode and then once we've

  made it we get no more benefit from it

  two things that are kind of like post


  so like a product or a subscription or

  if you have a retainer in consulting

  like those types of things where you're

  making money without you having to do

  something directly usually it's because

  you've done something else in the past

  but in the present you know you're kind

  of living off the interest from and the

  last things and this was something that

  was the bit like when I made the shift

  from consulting to products which is now

  what I do almost 100% essentially of my

  of my income is from products is it I

  wanted to do it because I felt like if I

  didn't I wouldn't have control over my

  time because it was always going to be

  beholden to somebody else and so I had

  to look at my business and say you know

  what if I can do this if I can keep

  pulling even if it's just 20% of my

  businesses is you know is coming from

  something other than my time I'm gonna

  be able to make Bank my work-life


  20% better or at least have the

  opportunity to make it 20% better like

  if I don't follow through at that point

  like that's on me

  if I at this point have complete control

  over my time and I have a word bad

  work-life balance like there's no one to

  blame but myself I can't blame my boss I

  can't blame my clients I can only blame

  me but on the flip side I have the

  ability to control that and so looking

  at your business or looking at the way

  that you're structuring how you work

  such that you have you can break those

  ties is like sort of like the little

  catalyst that allows you to make any of

  the changes that we've talked about in

  this episode because if you had if you

  don't have that control then you can't

  change anything in the first you know

  anyway and so you're kind of stuck yeah

  I think that separating your your income

  and your business health from your time

  spent is obviously like that that is the

  Holy Grail but it isn't that

  unachievable like it's actually very

  doable and it might take a while and it

  might not be a hundred percent of of

  your income being separated out that way

  and being independent of your time and

  and you know you do have to still work

  on it occasionally like you can't like

  neglect things forever but anything that

  you can do to like build up you know a

  back catalogue of things that pay you or

  build up recurring revenue streams or

  things that are yeah things that are

  decoupled at all

  you will benefit from significantly

  exactly and it took me four and a half

  five years to be able to stop doing

  consulting like but it was a conscious

  choice that this is where I'm getting

  I'm heading I'm pointing my business in

  this direction and that sort of because

  at the end of it I like the result and

  so that made the work to get there

  worthwhile excellent alright thank you

  for listening everybody and it's all the

  time we have so we will talk to you next

  week bye