If you watch Lost and are current, you know that the “Variable” is extremely important. As Daniel Faraday says, “we spend way too much time trying to figure out the constants – we need to pay more attention to the variables.”
On Saturday I was at the Nantucket Conference (the 10th one.) I did not have a great time getting there (note to self – you get seasick even on the high speed boat thing) but I had a great time hanging out, participating (I was on the VC panel), seeing a bunch of people I hadn’t seen for a while, and meeting some new ones.
At the lobster dinner, Josh Kopelman (who was on the VC panel with me) grabbed a few minutes to go sit in a corner and catch up on Gnip – one of the companies we are both investors in. A crowd developed and our conversation eventually turned to Work Life Balance. Josh made a comment and provided me with an insight I’d never considered before. Josh lives in Philly but spends a bunch of time in the bay area and other places. He was describing his typical “red eye” flight pattern – early Monday morning flight to the bay area, work like a dog, redeye home on Thursday night – chill with the family on Friday through Sunday. Repeat. His defined his unit of “work life balance periodicity” as “a week”. Basically – four days of incredibly intense work followed by three days dominated by time with his family (although plenty of email during these three days.)
I described my tempo (which I’ve blogged about before in The Rhythms of My Life. I have daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, and decadal periodicities, although the quarterly one dominates. Anyone that knows me knows that I work intensely for long stretches – usually measured in weeks or months – and then crash. I use my quarterly vacation as my main recovery period (totally disconnected from the world for a week – no phone, no email – just me and Amy somewhere on the planet together.) I’ve gotten better about not overrunning my limits and “breaking”, although I’ve had two nasty colds this winter that are a signal to me that I’m overdoing it on the quarterly cycle (e.g. I need more rest on a shorter periodicity.)
As part of this discussion, Josh and I realized the huge generational shift that’s going on. The natural “work cycle” used to be a steady one until you retired. Once you retired, you ended up having the “play / relax” part of life until you died. So work cycle begins around 22 (earlier for some ) and continued until somewhere between 55 and 65. You then retire. The assumption was that your retirement time will balance our your work time. Unless you misjudged a critical variable – the date that you die. If you die at 47, you never got the retirement part. If you die at 102, you got a whole lot of ~work, which might be good, or might be ~good.
The variable matters a lot. Having the “retirement constant” causes your chance of having healthy work life balance to be low. If you move the constant into something like weekly, monthly, or quarterly, you’ve got a lot better shot of maintaining the balance, and adjusting things if you get out of balance.
Don’t forget the variables.