Progress towards a work/life balance

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January Update – Its now late-January and I’m only just publishing this post which is perfect evidence of the endless struggle to find time to fit everything in. I wanted to publish it before the new year which obviously didnt happen. I didn’t want to abandon it though. I’m hoping I benefit from taking the extra time to think about the past year and the year ahead but also that others can benefit and offer advice too…

In December 2018, and for the first time, I wrote a blog on how I wanted to balance family, work and community commitments and what I wanted to achieve in 2019.

The aim was to help focus myself and get help from others to reach a better work/life balance but also to help anybody else who struggles to get it right. This shouldnt be about my specific goals and whether I achieved them or not. Its about reaching a formula anyone can use to do the same and learn from my mistakes. You can read the full post here.

A quick recap

I started last year’s post by grouping everything into buckets or categories to help me get a handle on what’s happening and what I want to concentrate on. It’s also a great way to prioritise things. I believe these are still widely relevant so I’m going to stick with them, but add a little imagery:

My categories for getting organised
Grouping tasks into buckets/categories

There’s probably too many to manage well but grouping activites, responsibilities and tasks up like this should help you to focus, prioritise and make it less likely that things will fall through the cracks. Lifehacks has a good article on maximizing efficiency by grouping tasks.

2019 in review

It’s hard to account for energy and motivation when trying to plan aspirations for the year ahead and these had the biggest impact on what I wanted to achieve [read:juggle] in 2019. With two sons under 3 years old, it’s been a tough year and more so for my wife, when I wasn’t there. According to TripIt, (which I use to keep track of flights, hotels and trips,) between conferences and work, I visited 22 cities, in 6 countries across 17 trips. That amounted to 48 days away from home. 48 days that my wife had to manage our two sons on her own.

Mistakes were made

  • I said yes to attending or submitting to conferences and events too often;
  • I got involved in several user groups, soaking up more of my time;
  • I took on too many tasks for organising DATA:Scotland.
  • Plus a whole lot more…

I enjoy meeting people and talking about the tech I love but I need to consider the consequences and the time it all involves, going into 2020.

Overflowing buckets

Work has been a rollercoaster of a year, from slow spells, helping skill up my data engineering team, to really busy spells where I’m in multiple cities and with several customers in a single week. It’s been busier than expected, but in a good way. The casualty of this is my running. It’s just not happened at all, which meant I didn’t run any races this year either.

On a more positive note, I published 9 blog posts this year, more than I first anticipated but not all technical. I decided to cut myself some slack and just get ideas, snippets and code out there instead of doing large, detailed posts over 1000 words. It worked well with the limited time I had to do any blogging.

I was accepted to speak at 6 conferences in 2019, and one more I had to decline (sorry DataRelay). This was two more than I had planned to do and I also spoke at 5 user groups across the UK & Ireland. Add on the MVP summit and that’s a lot of time away with a lot of prep in the weeks and days leading up to them. I need better self control!

My biggest community commitment in terms of time is DATA:Scotland. I tried to manage that better in 2019 by sharing the workload with a great team (Louise, Paul, Robert and now Christine too) but the transition of sharing tasks ended up taking more time than previous years. Especially as we did so much more in 2019, with supporting newcomers and a new speaker scholarship.

Learning took a hit too. I only managed one exam, the AZ-900 at the tail end of the year. I didn’t do anywhere near as much reading and learning as I wanted to. Downtime mainly involved TV which I find great for switching off but I’d often get the guilt of not being more productive.

Lessons learned?

An abundantly clear theme across the full year is that time is the finite resource and burnout is real. I wouldnt describe the year as balanced. I need to better prioritise downtime, I cant expect myself to do a full 8+hour day at work, 2 hours of wrangling kids, an hour of cleanup and then do something productive like blogging or speaking prep. Those few hours before I crash into bed has almost always ended up being TV, work or chillout time laced with guilt for putting something else off for another day. That stops. downtime is a necessity.

Plans for 2020

Like any new years resolution, don’t try to change too much. Set smaller, shorter goals so you feel like you’re actually achieving something as you progress. Thats what makes the bigger picture easier.

I’m largely sticking with the same categories for everything but I want to try and learn from mistakes of 2019 and get a better work/life balance. So to visualise what a typical week would look like, customer visits and sheer exhaustion aside, I’ve laid it all out below:

A view of a typical week
My average week

This will never be exactly what each week of the year looks like but if I give myself the guidance that there’s time for each bucket then I feel I’ll be more committed to making it happen.

There’s a lot I can say about how my 2020 is shaping up with accepted sessions, commitments and plans already but I want to concentrate more on the how, rather than the what so it can apply to other people.


With so many moving parts and things to remember, I needed to get more organised. Here are some of the tools and tricks I’ve had success with this past year.

Microsoft To-Do
  • TripIt – This has been great for easily keeping track of trips and automatically updating my calendar. One less piece of admin.
  • Luise Freese’s post on staying organised with Outlook – I’ve had mixed success with this so far but it IS helping. Its a journey.
  • Microsoft To-Do – A list for each of the areas above or an approximation of them has helped me keep track of what I’ve got on. I just need better habits for planning my day and remembering the list is there too.
    • To-Do also ties in with Outlook and Planner for flagged emails and planner tasks so if you use Luise’s method above, those emails will flow through which is great integration.
  • Google/Outlook calendar – I now live in my calendar. Personal, work, community, it’s how I organise my time and how my family knows what’s going on too, because my memory can’t be trusted.
    • Make sure to block out time during working hours to review your tasks or to read all those blog posts you’ve bookmarked. It’s so easy for this to slip.
  • Pocket – This is a great tool to just quickly file away something I want to read but don’t have time to do so immediately. My biggest failing here is carving out time to do the reading.

Final thoughts

There are some things Ive learned that I want to remind myself of regularly, to keep on track and I think they can apply to most people:

  • Dont punish yourself – Don’t treat it as a failure if a tasks slips. If you don’t get 12 blog posts done in a year or one every week something more interesting or important took its place, or you probably needed the downtime. If you beat yourself up about missing tasks they become chores and it’ll no longer be enjoyable.
  • Switch off However you can, take time to switch off from social media, emails, instant messages, tv, the internet. If it’s an hour per day or a full day at the weekend or even once a month, make it happen and you’ll feel good for it.
  • Family first – Its all too easy to end up down a rabbit hole of work, hobbies, responsibilities and not realise the impact on others.

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