A Workaholics Guide to Happiness and Balance

I was a little reluctant to write another piece about personal growth after my previous one on Willpower recently went viral on Medium and eventually got published on the New York Observer.

 

But there were so many encouraging words like this, this, and this, that I convinced myself to saddle up again.

 

I think this piece is really important. Especially if happen to be a workaholic like how I used to be.

Where I was

 

A few months ago, I raised funding for my startup.

Finally… after months of bootstrapping the business and burning through my own savings, I got what I needed to push LawTrades into the stratosphere. My friends/family heard about the news and wanted to celebrate, but I just stayed in bed all day and ignored their calls and messages.

 

Like a kid, I hid under my covers and just laid there.

Why?

For the first time since starting my startup out of my law school apartment, I felt completely and utterly overwhelmed at the work that was cut out for me.

And over the next few months, I began neglecting my relationships,  did not sleep till 3am, gained 10lbs of fat, drank 6 cups of coffee a day, and worked 80 hour weeks.

I thought I was getting a lot done but still felt miserable.

Why I hate the word “success”

 

The media portrays “successful” people (especially unicorn startups) as these god-like individuals who overcame every obstacle thrown at them and are now benefiting from their overnight success.

But they’re not superheros. They’re odd people who figured out how to do big things against all bad habits and adversity.

To me success is defined as taking action on your ideas instead of letting it sit around in your brain.

Your decision + action + repeated action + time = progress

So in the last eight weeks, I grew my company to profitability, launched a successful side project, exercised daily, improved my personal relationships, and significantly cut down my dependence on caffeine.

But remember, you are a human being, not a human doing. Keeping that in mind, here’s the one thing I did differently that will help you get more done in a healthy, effective and balanced way.

The trick

 

I’m really bad at doing stuff quickly so this is a little mechanism for handling my roller coaster life while keeping my efficacy (doing the right things) at it’s peak.

From my analysis, the biggest achievers in the world mapped out their vision and I wanted to replicate their thought process.

At it’s core, you want to ask yourself:

What are the 3 most crucial activities related to my work, side projects, and personal goals?

As an an entrepreneur, artist, creator, or someone who holds a leadership position, it’s super difficult to prioritize your objectives because you basically create your own schedule.

But there is a method to the madness…

Step 1

 

Grab a notebook (I use Moleskine) and on the right hand side write the 3 most important things you want to accomplish within 3 segments of your life — work, side projects, and personal.

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For instance, in the work section you could write “update investor deck” or if you are a student it might be “finish philosophy essay.” In the side projects section, put in things you like doing on the side  such as, “write a post on medium” or “ buy a bicycle to ride to work.” Under personal, you want to put in stuff that you need to do for yourself (paying a credit card, calling your parents or doing laundry).

 

I like to add a square next to each of my items because I’m weird and get enjoyment from checking it off after completing each task.

Step 2

 

On the left page, take notes on stuff relating to your important things. You can include potential issues, self motivators, drawings, additional information — whatever.

 

Think of it as a way to jot down an idea or problem before it leaves your mind.

You can also use the notes as a way to guide you on what you should be focusing for the following day. I often find myself filling up the left side throughout the day before I even create the list on the right.

 

Step 3

 

Practice this every night.

 

I like making this list right before bed. It helps stop my mind from running wild since tomorrow already feels complete. When I wake up, I do my morning routine, head to the office, open my notebook, and start digging in before I check any emails/social media/meetings.

After some time, you’ll drastically improve the efficacy (doing the right things) of your work output. You’ll realize your work days are cycles of limited time and it’ll force you to understand your limitations and focus on the truly important stuff.

 

This format helps me keep my day focused on execution and I think it has the potential to change your life.

The point

 

The purpose above all is to keep your work relationship healthy so that you feel invigorated rather than overwhelmed. You’ll know if your work life encroaches in your personal life. Or if your personal life interferes with your side projects and vice versa. This practice will leave a huge impact in your mood where you’ll feel more happy, focused, and content with your day.

 

The problem with workaholics is they may become addicted to their work and end up neglecting other parts of life that are essential to your wellbeing. Your work should enrich all the other parts of your life, not take over it.

 

Something almost magical happens when you organize yourself and focus your creative energy on a well defined target.

 

Put away the keyboard

 

I think that this is one of those activities where you should keep it old school and write your thoughts down using a pen or pencil. There are studies proving that this method leads to retaining information better.

 

While you can probably write more in less time using a keyboard, research shows that when you write by hand, it forces you to experience a different type of cognitive processing.

Specifically, it forces the brain to do more mental processing such as analyzing, digesting and summarizing (rather than just furiously typing without putting much thought to the content) in order to foster comprehension and retention.

So that’s it. By doing just 3 things in each aspect of your life, you will keep balance and stay happy.

I try my best to follow it every day. But when I don’t I always regret it.

And when you feel like life is getting to the best of you, remember that even the best people in the world feel this way sometimes.

As stated so elegantly by influential writer Kurt Vonnegut about his creative process: “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”

You’re not the only one. Just sit down, pick up a pen, write your thoughts, and carry on.

Got some daily productivity hacks that you want to share? Leave them in the comments below.

2 Comments

  • Great writeup. I use a Baron Fig. I'll have to give this trio concept a try though, as I often overload Todoist with more than I can handle. I'm just curious as to how you go about choosing your tasks when looking at the bigger picture of your roadmap? I'm bootstrapping a project solo right now and since I can wear all the hats of design, development, and marketing, it's been tricky to find a good workflow to get everything done. Any tips for evaluating objectives and switching between roles?
    • raad
      Thanks. Baron Fig's are great. I'm friends with the founders. Being originally a solo founder myself--there's a ton to juggle all the time. That doesn't really change when you have co-founders and take the role of CEO because you're still making those big decisions to steer the ship. A lot of startup success comes down to what you actually choose to focus on. And I think that depends on your 3-6 month objectives at the time. If you're an early startup, almost always it's growth. So I would try to focus on that one big picture goal then create little goals around it. Maybe a better designed landing page will lead to more conversions, or a new feature will lead to more delightful experience that will cause them to tell your friends about it / decreases your marketing spend etc... Then maybe after growth the next big picture is fundraising, then hiring, then culture etc... you get the picture. So basically pick one high level objective, create actionable goals around it, keep yourself accountable and then move on to the next big picture.

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