“Work/Life Balancing”

Possibly one of the most asked questions by small business owners how do you manage growing a business and still have time for the family.  In this episode we give our take on the see-saw, and how we manage our lives and keep the family intact.  Are you all in, or busy juggling?


Below is the transcription of our podcast for you to read through if you prefer:

John:                     Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening guys, and welcome once again to episode four of the Big Idea Podcast. My name is John and I’m here as always with my friend, long time associate and colleague Mister Jason Brockman.

Jason:                   Good morning everyone.

John:                     Unless you’re [crosstalk 00:00:22].

Jason:                   Unless you’re watching it in the evening and then good evening to you then as well.

John:                     Welcome once again, as I say, to the Big Idea Podcast where it is our job to help small businesses think bigger. As always this is filmed in front of a live Facebook audience. Jason, how can the wonderful people, the wonderful listeners to this podcast partake in the live recording of this very show?

Jason:                   They just pop along to Facebook, have a look up in the search bar “Big Idea Podcast,” join the group, we’ll approve you, and you’re in. That’s it. Every lunchtime on a Monday you’ll be able to catch us streaming live at and recording this podcast.

John:                     For a moment there I thought you were going to say every lunchtime. I was going to say, “We can’t do it every day.”

Jason:                   Not every day, just every Monday.

John:                     There’s a reason we can’t do it every day, and that’s because we like to have a work-life balance.

Jason:                   That’s the topic of today’s …

John:                     It is. That was like a seamless link almost, wasn’t it? When we originally planned these podcasts we kind of said, look, here’s about 40 subjects we’d like to tackle. Work-life balance was on the list, but we found from the Facebook community that literally within one or two episodes we had three different people asking about work-life balance, and so I think it’s a topic we need to tackle quite early on, because I think it’s clearly something that lots of people struggle with, isn’t it?

Jason:                   Absolutely. It’s a difficult thing to do. You have to either work or you have to have a family. Trying to have both at the same time just really is difficult for a lot of people.

John:                     It is. I think most people that do struggle with it and I’ve struggled with it myself in the past, are trying to achieve balance rather than balancing and I think that’s a key differentiator between the two is you’ll never achieve perfect balance, and I liken this to a see-saw. If you imagine an empty see-saw and it’s just yourself. If you stand on the very middle of that see-saw you will achieve balance, but you won’t actually achieve anything else because you will have no momentum in either direction. You’re not actually going to see or saw. You’re just going to stand there and wobble a lot. To me one side is family, one side is work. You’ve got to go one direction then the other.

Again, I talked about this a few episodes ago when I was sat in the MOT centre reading Alan Sugar’s autobiography. At that time I was working 100 hour weeks growing this massive, massive business that I thought I wanted. 100 hour weeks was kind of a badge of honour for me. You’d meet up with other business owners and they’d say, “Oh, I work 70 hours a week.” “Oh, I do 100. I do all-nighters. I work harder than you.” It was, it was a badge of honour. It was friends and family didn’t come into it. Relationships certainly with family suffered as a result. My health suffered as a result, but I thought I was doing a fantastic job of working these 100 hour weeks.

Then next thing you know I’ve got a baby, and obviously you had kids long before me, but the moment that I knew Jack was arriving things changed, and it was like a light bulb went off in my head. It was like, “Right, well this doesn’t make sense anymore. I now need to achieve that work-life balance.” As I say, reading Alan Sugar’s book, for those of you who haven’t heard the story before I was literally sat in this MOT garage reading about someone who I thought I wanted to emulate in terms of Sir Alan Sugar, and this one line leapt out at to me. I found out that Sarah was pregnant, I think, the week before. Going to be a first time dad, and I read this line and it said, “I never really knew my kids when they were growing up,” and just thought, “Oh, shit.”

Literally it was just that light bulb moment of, “Actually I don’t want to be like this guy.” Then I remembered reading Richard Branson’s autobiography and all of a sudden this line leapt out at me that I remembered from there which was, “I never really knew Holly or Sam when they were growing up.” It was like, “Jesus. I’ve been emulating these guys. I’ve been hero worshipping  them and these guys don’t know their children.” They didn’t have that work-life balance. They were all work and no life. You could argue that Richard Branson in particular did go the other way, but certainly I think when his kids were very young he was off creating Virgin, and he created a behemoth of a company there, but in terms of the work-life balance, no, he had no life.

Jason:                   We don’t want an airline.

John:                     No. Exactly. I think given the choice he wouldn’t possibly have the airline again. As I say, it all changed for me with Jack, and so about nine months after he was born Sarah went back to work and I then became part-time daddy daycare, so I went from doing those 100 hour weeks in the business to effectively I’ve got 20 to 25 hours a week, which means that I can’t just dick around doing stuff, refreshing stats, moving stuff around a webpage, whatever for all my time. I’ve got to use the 80/20 principle and say, “Well, actually if I’ve only got these 20 hours a week, I can only do the 20% of stuff that gets 80% of the results, and everything else has just got to be outsourced.” That made a huge difference because all of a sudden, literally within a couple of weeks of starting that I realised I’ve been wasting these hours.

Yes, I was working. For those on audio, you didn’t see the imaginary quotes in the air then, but I was working 100 hour weeks, but in terms of actual purposeful effort that made a difference to the business I was probably doing three hours a week of purposeful work.

Jason:                   Lots of people are in the same boat. Lots of people are busy and making themselves busy and checking emails, refreshing emails, and all of those things which really just take time. They don’t actually give you any movement forward in your business. They’re just time killers. Time suckers or something isn’t it? Isn’t there?

John:                     Time vampires.

Jason:                   Vampires. That’s the one I’m thinking of. Yes. Time vampires, and you want to eliminate them. You need to get rid of those so you can spend a bit more time doing stuff that actually makes a difference.

John:                     It is, it’s the stuff that matters, and I think the key thing for getting the balance is applying strict boundaries, and I say boundaries apply to everything, so it applies to work, it applies to family, it applies to health, it applies to me time. What I tend to do is I plan my days, I plan my weeks, I plan my months, and we’ll talk about this in the next episode when we’re talking about goal setting. I have a weekly planner and it’s literally broken down: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. I will literally block out stuff, so I will say, right, I’m going to the gym tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. That time is blocked out. It’s protected. I’m not doing anything else. I’m not checking emails then.

I mean this week is probably a really good example because we’re actually recording this the week before Christmas, so the kids are off school, and yet you’ll notice we’ll record this in my kitchen. If I just hush down for just a second, yeah, you can hear that the children actually aren’t here. The reason they’re not here is because in order to get that work-life balance I’ve protected this time, and I’ve said to Sarah, “Could you take the kids out for an hour and a half so that Jason and I can record a podcast?” Not a problem, she says. She might turn up in a minute in which case I could be eating my words. This time is protected. This is work, so we are now working. We’re doing the podcast for the next hour and a half.

Then I’ve blocked out I’m taking the kids to the local railway. We’re going on a Santa steam train. There’s going to be mince pies. That’s family time, so those three hours are then protected. As I said, the gym time is protected. I schedule in business meetings, phone calls, nativity plays, assemblies, sports days. I even schedule in time for just checking emails because otherwise the checking emails, the dicking around on Facebook that fills the time that you’ve got. It just expands to fill the time that is available to you, so I don’t want to fill that. I block out the time that’s important so that is doing the family stuff, doing the gym, doing the panto with the kids, doing our mini masterminds with our local members.

Family day. Every Friday we have a family day which is literally I finish work at midday on a Friday. I then spend the afternoon with Sarah, just the two of us, so we get the important time for just the two of us to actually have a relationship with each other which doesn’t revolve around the children or our businesses, or our work. Then we both pick the kids up and we’ll spend three hours with the children every Friday. That is family day. That is protected. Apart from last week when we went to London, and the week before when I went to Manchester, and the week before that when I went to Bristol, but other than my UK tours that time-

Jason:                   It’s protected time.

John:                     It is, but I know that actually occasionally I’ve got to move further down one end of the see-saw and I’ve got to say, actually, family day is cancelled this week because I’ve got to go to Manchester for a meeting. Family day is cancelled this week because I’ve got to go to Bristol for a mastermind meeting. Family day is cancelled this week because I’ve got to go and have a jolly in London. Then the flip side of that is I will say during the summer holidays, for example, work is cancelled this Friday because I’m going to a water park. Work is cancelled Monday morning because I’m going to the zoo with the kids, or I just fancy doing something with the kids. We’re going out for an ice cream so I’m not going to work.

For me you’ve got to be all-in in one mode or the other, so I’m either 100% in work mode, I’m 100% in family mode, or I’m 100% in gym mode, or relaxation mode, or me time mode. I’m all-in. I’m not stood on the middle of that see-saw wobbling one way, wobbling the other way and achieving the square root of bugger all. As I say, when I first made that change just after Jack was born, it was almost like an instant weight was lifted off my head. It was less stress. Relationships improved. Health improved significantly, but also as a business we started making more money, because all of a sudden I’m not dicking around on Facebook. I’m not checking emails 35 times an hour. I’m not just sitting there refreshing my stats. I’m saying, well, actually I’ve only got three hours now before I’ve got to pick Jack up, or literally I’d put him down for a nap at home and think, right, I’ve got 90 minutes to two hours that he will sleep; what do I need to achieve in those two hours?

I’m 100% into this task now, and I’ve got a deadline because deadlines get things done. When he first arrived on the scene I said I was doing 100 hour weeks, so I went from doing about a quarter of the hours that I used to, and then all of a sudden the company is making 10 times what it was. That didn’t happen instantly, but that was the effect. I remember at the time I had a blog, and I remember writing a blog post about the announcement that I was going part-time, and that I was going to apply the 80/20 principle, and as long as I did the 20% of stuff that got the 80% of the results we’d be okay. It’s like, actually, you fast forward, that was eight years ago now, and you fast forward eight years and you think actually it was more than okay. We should have bloody done that 10 years earlier.

It was difficult because at the time the people I was hanging around with were also working 100 hours a week. Very proud of it. Many of them still are and they’re proud of the fact that they’re working themselves into the ground, and they don’t know their family. They’re basically screwing their life over because they are just completely down one end of that see-saw and they’re not actually working effectively. It worked for me. It has done for eight years. What we’ve done now is we’ve kind of rolled that out to the whole company. That’s been quite interesting. Hasn’t it?

Jason:                   It is yeah. People take it different ways. Everyone has got different priorities and we just need to make sure that work becomes a priority, like you’ve done. You’ve protected the work time as well as the family time. For those people it works, that we have with us now, it works really well for. They do juggle their school runs and do juggle. Some people don’t like working during the day and it’s a nighttime thing for them, and they enjoy doing that, and that works for them too.

John:                     It is, and we’ve actually written it into everyone’s contract now. There’s this phrase which I love which says, “We are an ambitious lifestyle business,” or an ambitious lifestyle company, one of the two.

Jason:                   We wrote it in.

John:                     We did write it in there. We don’t look at the contracts that often.

Jason:                   It’s one of our mantras. We say it every day.

John:                     It is because the lifestyle is important to us, and when I say us I mean everyone. It’s not just us as the business owners but lifestyle is important to everyone within the company, so no one works set hours. If you can get your work done in two hours in the morning and you want to go to the beach in the afternoon, crack on. Go for it. You want to sleep all day and build code through the night because we know it’s coders that tend to do that sort of thing. Go for it. You want to work around school runs or you want to play golf with your granddad whilst you still can, sure thing. As long as you remember that we’re an ambitious lifestyle company so it’s not all about the lifestyle. We are also ambitious and we are a business. We are here to make money.

Everyone works from home. We’ve got no set offices. You haven’t got to do a nine to five chained to a desk. They all do flexible hours to suit their lifestyle, but when the shit hits the fan or we’re in the middle of a huge marketing campaign it’s payback time, and it’s kind of, “Right, everybody, you need to come down this end of the see-saw now. We’re now down the business end. It is now all hands to the pump. 100 hour weeks are back on,” but you maybe do a 100 hour week twice a year when we’ve got a massive campaign on. The rest of the time it’s if you can get your work done in 20 hours a week, get it done in 20 hours a week. It hasn’t been for everyone, has it?

Jason:                   No. It’s not for everybody. That’s why people go and work in a supermarket for 40 hours a week. It’s not for everyone. Some people are unable to work from home because there’s just too many distractions and too many other things to do. It’s not for everyone. It does need a bit of discipline and it does need a little bit of drive. A lot of drive.

John:                     It’s that self discipline, I think, isn’t it? I mean we’ve had to sack, what, two people, I think, who have abused. Abused is kind of a strong word, but didn’t fit, say, with this set up. It wouldn’t work for everyone. We’ve got now, I think, a small team of incredibly happy self-motivated members of staff who achieve a hell of a lot. I’ve worked, as I said, with [inaudible 00:17:47] in a team of clock watchers, jobsworths, and I know which I prefer. It’s so much easier to have this set up where everyone’s job description has, again, in the contract there’s no such thing as not my job in this job. I think we don’t ask people to do the ridiculous. We don’t ask the coders to go out there and deliver marketing presentations. We don’t ask the copy writers to go and clean the toilets. We do ask a lot of our members of staff most of the time, but it’s nothing that they’re not capable of and they’re not happy to achieve.

I think if we’d sum up how we deal with this whole work-life balance, I love this idea of the see-saw. You can go down one end of the see-saw and you can achieve lots with work. You can go down the other end and you can achieve lots with your lifestyle, with your friends, with your family, with your health, with your relaxation. What most people do is they get pulled in loads of different directions, so they’re sat at the park with their kids and they’ll whip out their phone and they’re checking emails. They not effectively being there for their kids, and they’re not effectively answering those emails because they’re flitting between the two. Be 100% focused on what you’re doing in that one task.

Block out your time. Block out the time for work. Block out the time for life, and then just protect those boundaries, and I mean protect them with your life. Perfect example, again this morning, friend of mine knocked on the door this morning literally an hour before we’re recording the podcast. Completely unannounced. “Hi, John. Is it good to pop in for a coffee?” No it’s not. He was a little put out, I’ll be honest with you. He turned up to see me and I’ve turned him away, but at the end of the day I’m protecting this time, because it’d be very easy for me to say, “Yeah. Come on in mate. Have a cup of coffee. I can check some emails whilst you’re doing that, and I can kind of do that.” It won’t happen because I’m not focused on him and I’m not focused on my work.

Sorry mate, but out the door you go. I’m focused on my work. Come back tomorrow after four because then I’ve got some spare time and I’ve blocked that out for you, and I’m then going to actually spend some time with you and we’re going to have a really good chat, and it’s going to be a fantastic conversation and we’re going to have a brilliant time, but I’m going to achieve the work I want to achieve first. Don’t check emails on your phone when you’re meant to be with your kids. Be with your kids 100% of the time, and remember that nobody ever lies on their deathbed and wishes they’d spent more time in the office. Get out there. Work to live and don’t live to work. Did I get those the right way around?

Jason:                   Yes.

John:                     Good. We’ve got a new feature on the podcast this week which is Jason Brockman’s tool of the week. Jason, tell us all about what is the tool of the week and what is this week’s tool of the week?

Jason:                   This week’s tool of the week I think is Trello. I’ve gone for Trello this week. It’s basically think of your notice board with lots of Post-it notes. It’s pretty much like that. You can organise it however you like, so we as a business we have a Trello board that’s set up for marketing. We have a Trello board set up for customer service. We have a Trello board set up for development, so that covers each area of our business. In there we’ll have the jobs. The jobs all go on there. We can have the communication between the team. We can discuss what needs to be done on each of those boards. We can then also schedule things in. We can add checklists or that sort of stuff. We set it up in that way.

Having said that, I mean I know we were talking about it in our business growth group the other day. We can apply that to any business really. You can schedule your jobs, so we have a handyman who does his jobs. We said use Trello. You can put your job in there. You can put your checklists of what you need to buy. You can put in when you’ve sent the invoice, when you’ve done all of those things and it can all be in one. You can take your photographs of the job. That can be uploaded there too. It’s nice and simple. Nice and easy. It’s in one place. You can archive it so you can come back to it whenever you need to and it’s there right in front of mind every time you want to go. It’s Trello. Trello.com. Trello.com. Not trellotrello.com. Trello.com

John:                     Trellotrello.

Jason:                   T-R-E-L-L-O. Trello.com. You can grab the app for you pads or your phones or the computer. It’s nice and easy to use.

John:                     Is it a multi-person thing? If we’ve got a team of 10 people, each person could have their own login. Can you allocate tasks to people?

Jason:                   Absolutely do that. Yeah. If you’re a one man band it’s great. It’s all there and nice and easy to do. It’s free. Say that again that it’s free. If you are a multi-team person, then, yeah, absolutely. Each individual will have a login to the system, and they can access the boards you’d like them to see. You can allocate tasks or the little Post-it notes to each one if you need to. You can have conversations on the thread. You can upload your files that you want to do. It’s all in one place.

John:                     Good. You can use the iPhone app. You can use [crosstalk 00:23:31].

Jason:                   You can use your iPhone app. Yeah, all the apps.

John:                     Desktop as well?

Jason:                   All on the desktop. It’s access anywhere and you can take it out and have a look and see where everybody is at. If you’ve got a checklist, it tells you how many things you’ve ticked off so how far along the route you are. If you’ve got your sales funnel in there then you can use it for a sales funnel and that sort of thing. I like it. It’s really good. The team like it as well, so two thumbs.

John:                     Let us know how you get on with that guys. We’re going to be offering you a weekly tool of the week, and we’d be keen to know first of all how you get on with them, you know what you actually think of them. Let us know via the Facebook group. Obviously we will drop the link for Trello and all the tools of the week into the show notes which is bigidea.co.uk/podcast, or, of course, you can leave us your thoughts in the Facebook community. Jase, how do they get into the Facebook community again?

Jason:                   You’ll remember, because I only mentioned it a few moments ago, in the search bar you just put “Big Idea Podcast,” hit search, up will come is the group, click to add yourself to the group, we’ll approve you and you’re in.

John:                     Fantastic. Do comment on this episode. Let us know anything you’d like us to cover in future episodes. You can watch the live recording of each week’s podcast usually on a Monday lunchtime, and that’s about it. Thank you once again for listening guys. Next week we are back with another episode where we are looking at goal setting. We’re actually going to do change your ways in 90 days, a slightly different take on goal setting if you’re used to smart goals or anything like that you may be disappointed. On that bombshell, we’ll see you next week. Bye-bye.

Jason:                   Bye.