National Leave the Office Early Day took on a new significance this year, as 2020 appears to be the beginning of the work-from-home era. Many Americans haven’t stepped foot in an office in months.
In light of the recent collapse of divisions between work and home life, I’ve been reflecting on the idea of work-life balance in this new era. The term means something different to everyone, so I decided to ask eight founders, entrepreneurs, and business leaders how they integrate work into their daily lives and how their approach to finding balance has changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Kerry Goyette, Founder and President of Aperio Consulting Group
Goyette’s research on the human brain has increasingly shaped her perspective on work-life balance. She has found that by approaching work like an athlete would in training for a sport, she can achieve better results without overworking herself.
“I tend to work really, really hard in small bursts and then take time to relax,” Goyette says. “This might mean working intensely one weekend and having time off during the week or the next weekend.”
Goyette believes that to maximize the productivity of shorter sprints, you also need to take recovery seriously and prioritize your time carefully. “Working from home, especially during COVID-19, can generate a lot of activity without results. Make sure you spend your time and energy on things that matter,” she says.
To do that, Goyette maps out her weekly priorities every Sunday night and puts time on her calendar devoted strictly to putting aside her phone and planning, strategizing, and thinking — often about ideas and practices outside her own field of work. “Learning in unexpected places is provocative because it challenges us to think about things from a different angle,” she says. “Prioritize it.”
2. Piyush Jain, CEO and Founder of Simpalm
Jain prefers a different term to work-life balance: work-life harmony. Whereas balance implies sacrifice—giving something up in order to obtain enough of something else—harmony suggests abundance. “When your work is harmonious, it will give you positive energy at home, and when your family life is harmonious, it will give you energy at work,” he says.
Rather than worrying about trading work for family time or vice versa, Jain strives to do the things that bring him the most joy and energy at any given time. “Using this philosophy, I’ve run a business that I like, and I try to do the tasks that I like and can feel positive about,” he says. “In life also, I try to be around the people and things that are harmonious with me and generate positive energy.”
3. Margaret Rogers, Vice President at Pariveda Solutions
Like Jain, Rogers eschews the term “balance” in favor of “harmony” when thinking about the relationship between her work and the rest of her life. “Harmony allows me to embrace the different life paths that are constantly fluid and intertwining to create something beautiful like a musical score,” Rogers says.
In order to determine which paths are best for her, Rogers focuses intensely on prioritization. She suggests that anyone looking for ways to lead a more fulfilling life identify those things they really can’t live without. “What are the one or two things that keep you grounded and clear?” she asks. “If you find that you are spending time on other things, give yourself permission to say ‘no’ or re-prioritize your work-life harmony.”
Rogers makes time each month to revisit her priorities and uses journaling as a way to reflect. “It’s an opportunity to check in with myself and make sure I’m getting what I need while acknowledging my feelings,” she says. “I’ve found that with work and home in such a dynamic state, it’s helpful to make sure that the current situation aligns with what I see.”
4. Josh Weiss, Co-Founder and CEO at Reggie
With his e-commerce startup launching soon, Weiss has little time to ponder whether he’s achieving a sufficiently balanced life. Instead, he relies on ingrained habits to make the most out of each day. Like others on this list, regular exercise is one of those habits that keeps him grounded and motivated.
Weiss advocates creating a concrete workout schedule to hold yourself accountable and remind yourself that wellness is a priority. “Put workout times on the calendar, and make sure to get in three to five workouts per week,” Weiss says. He believes that the specific exercises you choose to do matter less than simply keeping the routine. Whether you’re going for a walk or taking an hour to read a book (a real book), it’s important to take time away from the computer.
5. Alison Gutterman, President and CEO of Jelmar
Like many other Americans, Gutterman has had to navigate working remotely with kids who are also confined to the house. Work-from-home life has been about forgiveness and flexibility amid new rhythms. “I had never worked from home before, and I’m learning how to do it just as they are,” Gutterman says.
She recommends that other parents make the most of the opportunity that social distancing has presented to connect with your children and spouse, such as scheduling meetings during schoolwork to get quality time at the dinner table. “This will be one of the few times we remember having all three meals together each day,” she says. In a chaotic time, Gutterman has found that new family routines balance out some of the stress.
6. Zachary Zelner, Founder of PupSocks
Zelner, like many others on this list, is skeptical of the term “balance.” Rather than treating work and life as opposites or rivals and chasing some sort of equilibrium between the two, he focuses on simply managing stress. “When you don’t let your work exasperate you, it’s much easier to incorporate it into your life,” Zelner says.
Zelner prevents work from consuming all his time by scheduling so-called life activities throughout his day. “I take time during the day to play basketball, run, or take care of my home,” he says. “These welcome interruptions allow me to clear my head and return to work feeling refreshed.”
Another advocate of regular exercise, Zelner believes that maximizing your brain’s capabilities means making time to exert yourself physically—as well as time for recovery. “If you fight your body’s need for natural rhythms, it’ll come back to bite,” he says. He’s certainly not wrong about the need for proactive wellness.
7. Ben Landers, CEO of Blue Corona
Landers believes that it’s a mistake to try to keep things balanced, especially during times like these. “To think you’re going to be able to maintain balance, harmony, or some sort of equilibrium amid a global pandemic is setting yourself on a path to disappointment,” Landers says. Rather than pursue balance, he’s used this time to integrate family and work in a way that helps everyone grow. “I ask my kids what they’re learning in school and look for business stories that relate,” he says.
From inviting his kids to company Zoom meetings to introducing them to business books and other successful professionals, Landers has found tremendous joy in work-life integration, but he does compartmentalize sometimes.
“Nothing helps me relax more than going for a long hike in silence or maybe with the company of only an audiobook,” he says. “The key for me is taking myself off autopilot. Your life is the summation of what you pay attention to—to control your attention is to control your life.” The more he is able to be present, the more balance becomes a reality of his life.
8. John Helgeson, Founder and Advisor for Lumen Network
While sharing a home—and workspace—with a wife and three kids can be tough at times, Helgeson has found that regular communication makes it significantly easier. “We talk almost daily about our schedules,” he says. “Is there an interview, a call with investors, client outreach, a science presentation? Everyone’s priorities need respect.”
By setting schedules as a group and regularly talking about who needs what accommodations at which time, the family is able to make the most of a limited space without driving each other crazy. “We are part of a unit, not just individuals,” Helgeson says. “This is a great lesson to see in real time as we do our best to manage through a tough situation.” For his unit, even during a pandemic, teamwork still makes the dream work.
Regardless of what balance means to you, your life and work have certainly been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. You may find yourself spending more time with family or more time working on projects that are important to your career growth. Either way, if you’re going to sleep at night feeling accomplished or fulfilled, that time is likely well spent.