Achieving Work-Life Blend as An Individual Contributor

Recently, I’ve been evaluating what’s most important to me, namely family, friends, health and work, and how I can do better at each. But I’ve not just been thinking, I’ve been doing too. 

I’ve consciously been trying to form new habits that bring greater consistency, routine and organisation to my life - words that don’t always sit well with a marketing job at a fast growing technology company.

Most people will be familiar with the concept of work-life balance, but increasingly I’ve felt the idea that both your work and personal lives will be in perfect harmony (and balanced) is fanciful. The term “balance” also implies that work and play take up equal amounts of time and are separate, when in reality, the opposite is true. In fact, the lines between both are increasingly blurred, so trying to strike a balance or looking to create clear boundaries between home and work is unrealistic.

The rise of global teams, as well as advances in technology, such as video conferencing and instant messaging mean how and when we work is changing. The good news is you can now work at any hour of the day, and the bad news is you can now work at any hour of the day.

That’s where work-life blend comes in. It’s an ongoing state, rather than end goal, and is a more accurate way to frame the discussion about how we work and live. Both our working and personal lives should be allies of each other, not competitors. There’s lots of information available on the benefits of work-life blend, so I won’t labour the point. Suffice to say it is more reflective of the realities of work today.

Admittedly, I’m fortunate to work at HubSpot, a company that lets me optimise work around my life, so I can achieve work-life blend. It feels like everything is in place to succeed and the “get shit done” AKA, GSD attitude among my colleagues is contagious. But it wasn’t always this way. Earlier on in my career I worked at companies where people regularly burned out. In hindsight it wasn’t a healthy environment. Poor expectation-setting with clients, lack of respect for colleagues’ time and presenteeism were unfortunately, all too common.

Before I share 10 habits that help me achieve work-life blend, I want to preface it with a caveat. If you work in a client facing position, these habits might prove difficult to follow or even have a negative impact, but as someone who is an individual contributor (IC) that partners with sales, rather than manages people, I find they’re helping to keep me happy, healthy and productive:

1. Plan the week ahead in your calendar
Each Friday I plan what I need to accomplish the following week and add the work to my calendar. This helps me to understand if additional resource will be required and when the work will be completed. In my mind, calendars are often woefully underused - they can and should be utilised for more than just meetings. Using a calendar for my whole schedule means I know exactly what I should be doing throughout the day.

2. Get up and into work early
There’s no secret here. The most successful and productive people I know consistently get into work early. This year I’ve been following a new routine so I can get to work for 8am each day and be in a state of flow by 8.30am. This means that come 5pm, I can begin to start thinking about the next day and completing any outstanding work. It also means I can leave work consistently at 6pm.

3. Include commuting time in your calendar
I’ve found the best way to ensure that I leave work at the same time each day is by including travelling time in my calendar. This removes the temptation for colleagues to consider scheduling a 6pm meeting or catch-up (I often work with global teams, so scheduling can be a challenge) and it means I get a reminder when it’s time for me to leave.

4. Add work to your calendar, not just meetings
Disciplined calendar management is absolutely crucial to achieving work-life blend. By filling my calendar with the work I plan to do each day, I can easily see what needs to be done and how long it will take. This is really important. Creating checklists are good, but adding work to your calendar is better, as it gives you a visual representation of your time and how much resource a project will take.

5. Exercise during lunchtime
In recent years exercise has been something that I’ve neglected. I would often start the week with the best of intentions, but more often than not, something would come up at work, causing me to stay a little longer and ultimately skip the post-work gym session. To overcome this challenge I now exercise during my lunch break. I’ve discovered that I can complete a 5km run, shower, change and eat lunch within 60 minutes (HubSpot provides excellent changing facilities, towels and lunch to make all this possible).

6. Make 20 minute meetings the new normal
It feels like there’s no logical reason that meetings default to 30 minutes in our calendars (research suggests 15 minutes is optimal). I’ve started making my meetings 20 minutes long where possible, which forces the participants to be more concise. Occasionally you need more time, but I’ve been trying this approach for over a year now, and I’m pleased to report it’s working - I don’t feel like I’m missing out and nor do my colleagues.

7. Say “no” to projects that aren’t high impact
It can be easy to fall into the trap of always saying “yes” to projects, but as an IC, I’m conscious of where I choose to invest my time (I use the word invest, rather than spend deliberately). I now try and default to saying “no” when it comes to supporting ad-hoc projects. I have a clear strategy, goals and KPIs, and anything that doesn't align with those priorities is a distraction. You have to be discerning about the projects you take on.

8. Use the PIE framework to prioritise the most impactful work
At HubSpot we use the PIE framework to decide what projects to support. Originally, a framework to prioritise conversion rate optimization (CRO) activity that will have the biggest impact, it can be applied to other work. The framework isn’t perfect, but it’s easy to understand, systematic and an effective way to communicate to the business which projects are being selected and why.

9. Have a minimum of one social activity during the week
Remember, life's for living, so make time mid-week to have some fun. Whether it be meeting friends, going out for dinner or paying a visit to the cinema, I always try and organise at least one social activity each week between Tuesday and Thursday. This helps break up the week, gives you something to look forward and is a fun way to relax and unwind.

10. Limit company travel over the weekend
As far as possible I try and limit travelling for business over the weekend. Thankfully, it is rare that am I required to be somewhere on a Monday, so instead I use the start of the week to travel. While you can often take time off in lieu, I find it is better to try and avoid being owed any time off in the first place. This becomes more difficult with longer haul flights, but it’s a helpful mindset to adopt.

To conclude. Avoid spending time optimising your schedule to achieve work-life blend, only to take on more work or distractions. Strive for simplicity and streamline commitments (where possible) by saying “no”. Work-life blend all starts with guarding your time preciously. You can’t get expect people to respect your time, if you don’t protect, cherish and value it first.