Balancing Act

The following is a recent email conversation I had with someone regarding the difficulty of balancing a full-time job and an on-the-side start-up.

Someone: Just curious: how are you keeping the momentum while keeping a day job? I find that it takes me almost the whole evening to get out of my day job mode, so weekdays are out. As for weekends, that’s mostly family time. So I find vacation time is best to really focus. Of course, that’s limited. How do you find the time to focus?

Me: Well it’s definately not easy, I hear you there! Of course if it were, everyone would do it, am I right? Basically it just came down to making a commitment and not leaving a choice to do anything else. It’s tough not being able to spend as much time with the fam, but I keep telling myself that it will all pay off in the end and this is just a means to get there. I set up a schedule with milestones and todos and I stick to it, it’s that simple…and yet extremely difficult. I constantly have to discipline myself. I have my work hours posted on my wall at home to keep me in line. I don’t always stick to them as there are days when I am way too stressed and just need to relax, but for the most part I follow it. I’ll probably take some vacation time here in the next month or so and really goto work on things, but for now I have a limited amount of time and lots to do…so there’s no choice.

Someone: I like your idea of shame the best. That is, since you’ve told everyone what you’re doing (in public on the blog), you’ll be shamed if you fail to give your best attempt.

Me: I agree, shame is definately a good tactic. If I fail I will have no choice but to samuraii myself at once. That is part of the reason I started the blog though, was to motivate me to follow through for a change. Still, I think once I eliminated choice and made this a priority, it has helped me stay the course. It’s basically like a long finals week at school. And during finals week, you generally stay pretty focused on school and know that you can’t do anything but.

So basically my trick is to brainwash myself. How about you? What tactics do you use to stay focused during times when it is incredibly easy and tempting not to?



Mike D

I feel your pain. I’m in the same boat as I’m sure many people are. How do you get your next big thing off the ground in the wee hours of the morning and not lose your day job because you’re coming in mentally exhausted most days? The Getting Real book was pretty inspirational and I agree with the folks at 37S that constraints like these can be good things. I have a family too and they are the #1 thing in my life – bar none, but I feel like I could do so much more on my own and that’s why starting my own thing is so attractive. And ultimately if we’re not happy with our jobs we bring our unhappiness home and it impacts the people we care about the most. Being your own boss, living up to your potential, and deciding your own schedule are all attractive things. Naturally, you have to have a stomach for going it alone – not a small endeavor with the cost of healthcare and a few lives depending on you for food.

I like the idea of treating the start up like a second job (or an evening class for a local college if that works for you) – you set time on your calendar and say “Tues, Thurs, and Sunday I’m dedicating from 9PM to midnight to work on my thing…”. I think it’s important to involve your family in this – they’ve got to believe in the vision and they’ll be some of your best judges for whether or not your idea holds water. If they think the dream is a good one they’ll make space for you, help you when you ask them, and will prod you along by asking you how you’re making out on phase x of your plan. Sharing your plan with your family (or with the whole world like you’ve done here Zach) seems like a great way to keep yourself on track. It forces you to think through things a little more than you might otherwise and you can bet they’ll ask you tough questions along the way (“have you thought about pricing?, how will you handle customer support?”, etc) – all good things – nothing wrong with “I don’t know” when you’re sitting at the dinner table talking it over.

The one, arguably most important, thing that I often overlook in pondering these ventures is: will it be worth it? Will I enjoy doing that more or will stress of it all make me a wreck? You’ve got to be okay with billing, spending too much time with vendors, picking out business cards, negotiating rates & contracts – at least in the beginning. If this stuff gets you down then you have figure out if it’s a deal breaker or not. Bottom line is that you’ve got to take a realistic look at what your life will be like after you do this? Working 80 hours a week, whether I like what I’m doing or not, isn’t going to work for me – family’s just too important to spend that much time away from them. But 40 or 50 with the occassional 60 hour week is probably not that much different than what I’m doing now..

At any rate Zach, thanks for sharing and best of luck to you – I hope it works out for you and it’s everything you want out of it.



Thanks Mike! Very good point regarding taking a realistic look at what you’re getting yourself into. It’s funny, because I’ve been spending much of this week pondering that very thing. Is it worth it? Will this only lead to a life more stressful? Am I kissing my youth goodbye? Will I never have time for family and friends again?

And to be honest, I don’t know the answers to all those. This is all new ground for me. Once I’m on it, I might hate it. Course, I’ll never know if I don’t give it a shot. One thing I do know is I’m not happy with things the way they are! It might require less effort and risk to keep the status quo, but I would pay for that by being miserable and never knowing what could have been. So for me the reward is worth the risk right now. I’m more afraid of not doing it, then I am of doing it. If I find that it’s just too much for me, then so be it. At least I’ll be standing at a higher vantage point over my life and will better understand the right path for me.

I appreciate the thoughtful comment Mike, you sound like an intelligent man with good priorities. Family definately comes first. Good luck to ya!

Mike D

I think you’re absolutely right – the risk of failure at your own thing is minor compared the emotional drain of wasted potential.

I’ve had the good fortune to work for some really great people who’ve started their own companies and, although they were all very smart in their own right, none of them were genius or extraordinarily gifted or wealthy – they had a plan and just set to it – it’s as easy as that and as hard as that (I know you know this part). Most of them seemed almost single mindedly set on a path that no one would sway them from. Your project plan on the side of your site is probably as much or more than most of them had written down – seems like a small thing but public milestones like yours are amazingly powerful. Keep it up.

BTW – That quote you have from Steve Jobs is getting printed and duct taped to the wall at home and work – it’s priceless and possibly the best piece of advice I’ve ever come across. Words to live by. Thanks

Zack Jenks

Sound like smart guys! You definately don’t have to be a genius to make it. You just have to know what you want and have the guts to go after it and determination to stick with it.

Those quotes really inspired me as well! They are taken out of context though, so if you have a few minutes you may want to read his speech in it’s entirety. It’s not very long and well worth it.


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