About two years ago, we (Coat of Arms’ Jonathan Lacocque and Clara Lehmann) found out we were expecting. Roughly one month into the pregnancy, we got to experience our first ultrasound and were shocked to discover two very rapid and very strong heart beats. Over lunch that afternoon, we slowly began to realize the magnitude of our fortune, “We are going to have two babies.” Later it hit us again, “We are going to have two babies, and we still need to run our business.”
Coat of Arms was founded in 2010 by Lacocque and Lehmann when we realized we no longer wished to work “for the man” and would rather create art and film for ourselves. Leaving the security of the nine to five behind, we both launched into the world of owning and operating a post production business. At that time, the economy had just been put through the wringer, the film and commercial industries were still cautiously recovering, and layoffs continued among the larger agencies and networks. Belts were tightened and a more conservative approach to advertising and to film swept across the industry.
With these times in mind, we developed a business plan and hit the ground running with a handful of clients. Over the past five years, our client roster has developed, our portfolio has improved, and we have continued to honor our mission to keep overhead at a minimum and to reserve funds for the art and for the artists, as much as possible.
In keeping that overhead minimal, Lacocque and Lehmann are the only two full-time Coat of “Armers.” And with the addition of two little minions who require a lot of attention and diaper changes, we find ourselves negotiating nearly every hour of every day, defining and redefining our schedules, and looking for a balance to the work/life scenario.
After a year, we have some things figured out while other aspects of this balancing act need a lot of work. Regardless, we thought we would share a few insights with you. Here are our top ten tips for balancing work life with personal life in no particular order.
Tip #1 – Routine
Kids like it, clients love it, and you will thrive in it! We typically think of a routine as monotonous and boring, but its importance is manyfold. Even if you don’t have kids, a routine forces you to be more efficient. Instead of making daily, menial decisions about your schedule, a routine provides a framework for getting the things done that matter most and gives your mind a break from making too many everyday decisions. Ultimately, a routine gives you time to focus on the creative brief you need to prepare by Friday or the tricky animation required for that leaping lizard scene. Regardless, the predictability of a routine allows you to identify the things you must get done daily.
Tip #2 – Break your routine
Yep, tip #2 throws tip #1 out the window. Well, not entirely of course. This doesn’t mean you should break the routine all the time; rather, you should “routinely” mix up your schedule to encourage greater creativity and to find the best routine for you and your family. Creating a rigorous schedule or a routine that doesn’t mesh with your lifestyle will only make you feel like a failure when you neglect to adhere to it. Giving yourself permission to break that routine, will give you perspective on where your schedule is working and what needs to change.
Tip #3 – Build downtime into your routine
Our long-time friend and colleague, John Severson (director of the documentary A Perfect Soldier) builds down time into his routine and swears it keeps him productive and happy. “If you find yourself too stressed [or unbalanced], I’d recommend more family, non-work time first…Make sure to take time for just yourself too. Stay up and watch that movie after kids go to bed or go grab a coffee and read a book for fun.” He continues, “By taking [time to relax and have fun], I’m able to be more efficient in my work world and be more present in my personal world.” The reason Severson’s advice works is because it gives you something to look forward to while refreshing your perspective. How often have you tried to work on a project while frustrated or uninspired only to take a break, return, and finish the task easily? Routine downtime is essential. In fact, here’s a video for some “downtime.”
Tip #4 – Review your habits for time-wasting vices
Alright, we apologize. We tempted you with that video of babies laughing in slow motion and now we’re slapping you on the wrist. But don’t worry, we’re all guilty of this one too. For example, while writing this blog, I checked my email five times, looked at Facebook twice, searched for a chapstick that had rolled under my desk for a full minute, and switched my calendar over to the next month. Added up over time, these vices distract you from your goal and reduce your productivity. In turn, this wasted time takes away from and delays your free time.
Tip #5 – Make goals (daily, monthly and yearly)
To avoid the pitfalls of a disorganized schedule, keep a constantly updated and prioritized to-do list and focus exclusively on each task until it is complete. Severson uses Google Calendar to track his priorities. We use a combination of Google Calendar and an online project management tool called Project Bubble. Lisa Sperling of Sparrow Design Haus designed and shared a daily planner via Twitter that you may consider using. Here it is.
Whatever the medium, a prioritized to-do list will force you to identify what you need and want to get done. Don’t limit this list to daily tasks, include monthly and yearly goals too. And it’s ok if everything on your list doesn’t get crossed off. Quite often a few items will roll over to the next day. However, as Severson mentions, “If something remains too long on the to-do list, it’s time to delegate that task or other tasks to someone else!”
Tip #6 – Get help
Which brings us to getting help. This is a tip I will admittedly say I don’t easily abide. I want to take care of the girls, write the script for Marriott, clean the house, edit the contract for our freelancers, make dinner, balance the budget, and produce that short. But I know I can’t and shouldn’t do everything. This is where I must prioritize where help is required, possible, and accepted. Do I hire a sitter or a writer? Do I ask for help cleaning the house or ask for help producing the short? The choice may come down to balancing emotional wishes with sheer economics. It costs less to hire someone to help clean the house than to hire someone to produce a short. But your emotions may come into play too. Especially when the choice is between something like caring for your children and writing. Regardless, the time away from parenting or away from your craft will make you better at both. To ease this transition on the work side of things, consider like-minded colleagues…folks who inspire you and push your work forward. And on a positive note, if you have to ask for help it likely means you’re growing. Congratulations!
Tip #7 – Exercise
Whether it’s a run, an impromptu dance party with your kids, or a basketball scrimmage, research proves exercise makes you more alert and more productive. Our colleague, Victoria Quero asserts that an exercise regimen not only rewards her with much-needed balance, it also gleans physical and mental strength. She says this strength prepares her for the daily stressors that go along with her role as COO of Creative Railcar Stenciling Services. A healthy body and mind translates to improved productivity and balance.
Tip #8 – Live within (or below) your means
Nothing will throw you off balance like a financial crisis. Regardless of what routines you design, how much you exercise, or whether you ask for help, your financial plans must be conservative, realistic, and within or below your means. My mom always told me, “Dream big but choose small.” To implement this very advice, we run Coat of Arms out of our home office.
While it isn’t always ideal, this choice has allowed us to invest more of our money into our work and our savings. And it’s not forever. We are currently building a studio. This philosophy has permitted us financial security and in turn greater balance.
Tip #9 – Don’t fall prey to the syndrome of “being busy”
Americans are notoriously susceptible to the disease of “being busy.” Omid Safi writes a weekly column, “On Being” in which he explores this topic. He writes, “We need a different relationship to work, to technology. We know what we want: a meaningful life, a sense of community, a balanced existence. It’s not just about … faster iPhones. We want to be truly human.” How often is your response, “I’ve been so busy” to someone who asks how you’re doing? We do it too! As Safi notes, “I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment.” In this world where we’re “plugged in” nearly every second of every day, it’s important to step back and choose to unplug. You don’t have to go on vacation to do this either. One year, I chose to “live” without a cell phone and Facebook. I didn’t die. I didn’t get lost or stranded. I didn’t fall to pieces when I couldn’t post a picture of my dinner to Facebook. Instead, I was present. Give yourself permission to get bored and be present. Creativity will improve, relationships will take center stage, and it will feel damn good.
Tip #10 – Imperfection is perfect
This one is simple. We are flawed. Every day is flawed. Sadly, you won’t be able to create a routine that removes these flaws. When I asked Victoria Quero how her work/life balance was going, she responded, “Funny that you ask me this. Two weeks ago I would have had all the answers; this week, the work/life balance gods threw me a huge curveball and knocked over my stability.” To get in the game, prepare to make compromises every day but keep a goal for balance at the forefront. There will be bad days, weeks, perhaps even months. But if you’re nimble and can apply tips #1-9, balance can be had. We wish you good luck and godspeed.
Keep the ideas coming in the comment section. We’re always intrigued by what works for others and looking for ways to improve.