Brad Feld

Tag: Work-Life Balance

Two colleagues have died suddenly in the past two weeks – one was in his 60’s and one was in his 50’s.  Both shook me up.  A close friend’s mother is very ill.  And a close friend’s father died earlier this year.

I’ve had a physical challenging year.  I ran a marathon in February and was geared up for a lot of running and then hurt my back.  Seven months later I’m better, but I had five months of solid and consistent pain (never getting below a two on a 0 to 10 scale and often reaching eight or nine.)  On top of that, I’ve had a few nasty colds, including a staph infection in my earlobe that scared the shit out of at least one doctor.  Oh, and two weeks ago my extrovert completely burned out.

When I read the title to Fred Wilson’s blog this morning (Pacing Yourself) I thought he was going to talk about “personal pace.”  His post ended up being about investment pace (and is a very important one), but it has deep roots in personal pace, even if they aren’t obvious on the surface.

I’m turning 45 in a few weeks and this is the first year of my life that I’ve felt any amount of sustainable physical fatigue.  Every year I run extremely “hot” until I burn out, but then I recover in a week or so of deep sleep and rest.  Suddenly, however, I’m feeling tired on a more regular basis.  My binge sleeping on the weekend is reaching new levels.  It takes me a few days to recover from a redeye (and, as a result I’ve decided not to take them anymore.)  The periodic intervention from my partners about “pushing too hard” seems to be turning into an annual affair.

Fear of death motivates a lot of human behavior.  I’d like to believe that I’m tranquil about death (when my number is up, it’s up) and when I read posts like Regrets of the Dying (thanks @djilk) I smile and feel good about how I approach my life.  But this year feels like a transformative one for me as I am suddenly acknowledging that I’m probably not in the first half of my life anymore.

I had a couple of dreams that past few days about death and dying and good versus evil.  I’m 99.9% confident these dreams are a result of me watching the Star Wars episodes over the past five days (Return of the Jedi is tonight – then I’ll be done).  As I come out of my latest burnout cycle, I’m starting to ponder how and what to adjust so that year 45 if a healthier one than 44 and doesn’t have a burnout week (or month) in it.

About once a year I completely use up my extrovert capacity.  I drain it completely to zero.  Whenever this happens, I remember that I’m fundamentally an introvert.  If you don’t know how to relate to someone like me when he goes into deep introvert mode, take a look at the great Atlantic Monthly article from 2003 titled “Caring for Your Introvert.”

The last sixty days have been awesome but extremely intense. My ordinarily full days had the Do More Faster book tour layered on top along with a bunch of other public appearances, interviews, speaking engagements, and events.  About two weeks ago I started feeling a fatigue that I couldn’t get in front of and the last two weeks pushed me over the edge.

I’ve got one more big extrovert push this week at Defrag this Wednesday and Thursday and then I’m done for a while.  Oh – I’ll be available – but if you have a physical sighting of me, you might be interacting with my new avatar.

My TEDxBoulder presentation on The Quarterly Week Off The Grid was recently posted on YouTube.  I participated in TEDxBoulder on August 7th and it was an awesome Saturday evening in Boulder.  Most of the talks were dynamite – the worst ones were merely good.  If you are interested in work-life balance, this is one of my favorite algorithms for it.  The video of my presentation follows.

If you’ve heard me talk about this before, you’ll recognize some of my schtick.  You’ll also recognize this from the first chapter of Theme 7 of Do More Faster (Work-Life Balance).  And if you were at Chicago’s Startup Mixology today you’ll recognize pieces of this discussion.  But there are a few new gems in here that I had forgotten I’d used. 

On my next Quarterly Week Off The Grid I’m going to eat less and exercise more.  Man that belly looks unflattering in this video.

While I’m not able to attend because I’ll be out of town, I was intrigued by the invite to the Wisdom 2.0 Boulder conference that I got last week. Alan Kaplan, a local Boulder entrepreneur, introduced me to the organizer (Soren Gordhamer). While I don’t know Soren, I like the idea and agenda for the conference and think a few of the folks he’s invited to speak, including Leah Pearlman (Facebook), Alex Bogusky (co-founder of Crispin Porter + Bogusky), and Gopi Kallayil (Google), look great.


While not a conference goer, if I was in town I’d check this one out, especially since it is in conjunction with Naropa University. Instead, I went and bought Soren’s book Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Teachings for the Creative and Constantly Connected.  If this kind of stuff interests you, go check it out.

While at the amazing Tahoe Tech Talk, I heard Dave Morin mention a new service called  It’s a great example of brilliance through its simplicity.

In my never ending quest to use all the things I find interesting, I’ve started an email newsletter called Feld On Work-Life Balance.  While I periodically post on Work-Life Balance, Amy and I are working on a book called The Startup Marriage.  There is also a chapter on Work-Life Balance in the book David Cohen and I just wrote called Do More Faster.  This is a topic that’s long been important and interesting to me, especially as I travel around explaining to my completely unbalanced friends how they are actually balanced and they just don’t realize it yet.

In the mean time, I’ll do some longer pieces on my Feld On Work-Life Balance email newsletter.  It’ll also help me better understand yet another vector of media (in this case microsubscriptions) that I think is going to be increasing interesting and important in the future.

BTW – if you missed the Tahoe Tech Talk, we are about 66.7% of the way done and it has been unbelievable.  The talks have been from Chris Sacca, Ben Kaufman, Dave Morin, Travis Kalanick, Kevin Rose, Dave McClure, and Alexia Tsotsis.  Gary Vaynerchuk who organized it is up on stage doing his piece now talking about his goal of trying to humanize a conference. He’s also trying to say “Fuck” more times than McClure did.  Great crowd – powerful stuff – well worth the 36 hours.

Amy and I created a tradition about a decade ago we call “four minutes in the morning.”  We try to – fully clothed – spend four minutes together every morning 100% focused on each other.

I’m an early bird – usually getting up around 5am regardless of the time zone I’m in (except on the weekends – then I sleep until I wake up – sometimes 1pm.)  Amy sleeps a little later (usually 6:30am).  So – I often have around 90 minutes alone every morning, which I treasure.  I have a well defined morning routine that includes a cup of coffee and 85 or so minutes in front of my computer.

When Amy gets up, I try to remember to jump up from my computer and start our four minutes.  Sometimes I forget and notice it when she thumps me on my head or clears her throat loudly.  But I eventually remember.  We then leave the office area, go to our living room, or outside on our porch, and spend our “four minutes” together.

Of course, the “four minutes” is metaphorical.  Sometimes it’s 15 minutes.  A few times a year it turns into an hour when we end up in a discussion about something.  But it’s always 100% bi-directional attention, except for our dogs who often want in on the discussion.

I travel a lot so this often translates into a phone call in the morning.  We recently started using Skype instead and it makes an amazing difference.  This morning, as Amy was in Keystone and I was in Boulder, we caught up with each other in our un-showered goodness.  Now, if we only had smell-o-vision, the experience would have been complete.

I miss Amy a lot whenever we aren’t together.  We’re lucky that we get to travel together a lot and that each of our work experiences have lots of location flexibility.  Skype has helped in a surprisingly nice way with one of our routines.

My recommendation to all my guy friends out there – try the “four minutes in the morning” routine with your significant other.  It’ll pay many dividends.

Amy and I have been up at our house in Homer, Alaska for the last two weeks.  We try to spent every July up here – something we’ve tried to do every year for the past decade (we missed in 2007 and 2009.)  I’ve had a lot of people say things similar to “I hope you are having a great vacation” which I corrected for the first few days (we aren’t on vacation – just living in Homer for the month) but I got tired of this so I stopped correcting folks after a few days.

Our lives are generally insane.  Anyone that knows us knows that we both travel a ton, work like maniacs, and generally cover a lot of ground. We don’t have kids, so we get a lot of time together in between things, but there are rarely any uninterrupted stretches of just “living together.”  We address this four times a year by going off the grid for a week of vacation (no phone, no email) but these are special events rather than just the normal tempo of life.

Our month in Homer gives us a chance to spend a real month together each year.  As I type this, we are both sitting at our dining room table (our “office”) typing on our laptops listening to the Augustana channel on Pandora.  It’s a beautiful sunny day – I’m going to head out for a run after I post this and then I expect we’ll both settle into an afternoon of writing.  The days are long so we don’t worry too much about pacing as the sun doesn’t go down until 11pm or so and we usually just sleep until we wake up.  We spend most of the 24 hours a day physically near each other – often less than two feet away – for an entire month.  This is just priceless for me.

The past two weeks have been a little too busy for my taste.  I don’t have any of the normal friction of work (travel, meetings, getting from point A to point B) so I expected things to calm down a little and give me some room to finish the final draft of the TechStars book now that David Cohen and I are in the “march to publish with a real publisher” process with a goal of having the book in the stores and on Amazon by October.  I’ve had little bits of time between things but no real space to just concentrate because of all the other stuff going on in my work world.

When I look forward, the next two weeks are a lot less scheduled so I’m optimistic I can finally get in a rhythm.  Amy says it takes two weeks to knock off all the stuff from life when she tries to settle down to write.  She’s correct.

The one thing I get to do when I’m up here that I wish I could incorporate into my non-Homer time is to sleep more.  I wear a Zeo when I sleep and during the week I usually score in the 50’s and 60’s each night.  I’m always a little tired and sleep whenever I’m on a plane and often do long stretches of catch up sleep on the weekends where I score 120+ and sleep 12 to 14 hours.  I know this isn’t healthy long term, but I haven’t figured out a solution.  The last two weeks I’ve been averaging 10 hours of sleep a night and scoring between 90 and 110.  I’m not using an alarm – I just wake up when I want.  After two weeks of this, I feel well rested and physically much better.

We have two more weeks up here and I feel myself shifting into a mellow gear where I can concentrate on longer arc things rather than just reacting to all the day to day stuff in my work world.  We don’t have any visitors so I get to spend another 336 hours in a row (minus a few) with my best friend.  Life is good.

One of the side benefits of blogging is the various inspiring emails I get from readers about different topics.  I got a great one yesterday that I thought addressed the question of “Why am I having so much fun with challenges in my personal life and at the same time am so bored with work.  And – more importantly – what can I do about it?”  This morning, the New York Times had a great article which compliments this titled An Entrepreneur Who Took A Chance on Herself. If you are going to take a chance on something, why not take it on yourself?  The email I received follows with minor edits to anonymize the writer.  I hope it’s as inspiring to you as it was to me.

Fair warning: I have considered emailing you before, but since you are in Homer with some extra time I decided to send you the ‘unabridged’ version of an introductory email.

I have been following your blog for about  month now and I find it to be both informative and entertaining.  I was checking it every couple of days or so until I read your post about swimming.  In the last 11 months I have gone from occasional jogger to triathlete.  Swimming was the part I dreaded the most.  After hyperventilating on my first triathlon swim last fall (1/4 mile) and nearly drowning on my second one (1/2 mile).  I did manage to complete both events without assistance, although during the latter event a canoe was following me out of concern that I wasn’t going to make it.  I really had to question if I should pursue triathlons in the following year.  Fortunately after practicing at my gym over the winter I became comfortable in the water (bilateral breathing, endurance, etc…).  I also worked on running over the winter and completed my first half and full marathon in early spring of this year.  A few months ago I upped the ante and completed a half ironman.

It was shortly before this event that I began to question why I was having so much fun with challenges in my personal life, but opting for the safe and narrow while at work.  I work for a large corporation and managed to go from having no degree to an MBA by completing 7 years of night classes.  After finishing, I considered pursuing my doctorate, but it didn’t work out.  I had been bored at work for the last few years, but really wasn’t sure why.  I assumed that when I got promoted things would work themselves out.  About this time a friend and past co-worker approached me asking if I would be willing to work and eventually lead with him on a software development venture.  Initially I didn’t see myself as a good fit, but decided to help out in any way I could (process development, statistical analysis, survey design, business plan, etc…).  After reading a few books on the topic of entrepreneurship, I began to get excited.  I went back to the partner and we discussed where I would fit into the business and since then I have mostly done strategic planning in my spare time over the last 3 – 4 months.  We are planning to show our first product in mid July to a small company.  If the product is successful I may actually be able to make a job transition over the next 6 – 8 months.

While not my primary motivation, the thought of working without the rules and restrictions of corporate oversight seems like an interesting job perk.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand why the rules and policies are there, and they serve their purpose of guiding the many at the cost of few.  I suppose that from a utilitarian or Spock-like perspective, they are in the best interest of the company.  In many ways, I have allowed the rules and expectations of my company to limit my creativity and performance.  The blame for this falls solely upon myself as do so many other self imposed excuses for avoiding the idea of following my passions.

I would like to thank you for helping me get some of the basic concepts of starting up and for serving as an example of living with balance (family, work, health).  While I don’t know what changes I can expect to experience in the coming year I have already determined that I am happiest and most productive when I seek to live with balance.  I don’t expect to be wealthy, in fact I am quite certain that my compensation will reduce dramatically even if the transition is successful, but I’ve already determined that I would rather fail at this than succeed at what I’m doing.

I love summertime. 

Amy and I spent Memorial Day weekend in Manhattan.  We stayed in Soho, hung out with some friends, ate a lot, and just wandered around.  Oh – and I slept 17 hours yesterday once again demonstrating that I have amazing sleeping powers.  I needed it after two full days at the Glue Conference, a day at Tech Wildcatters in Dallas, and a full week of “normal work.”

I’m on the east coast (New York and Boston) the next two weeks.  One of my favorite things to do when in New York is eat – we’ve already had four great meals at Kittichai, Spring Street Natural, Market Table, and Excellent Dumpling House.  Whenever I’m here it blows my mind how many amazing places to eat are within walking distance of whatever hotel I’m staying at.  As Amy and I were walking down Broadway on the way back to the hotel, we both had a moment of being completely overwhelmed by the Soho and Chinatown crowd, looked at each other, and agreed it was time to get back into the isolated comfort of our hotel room.

I nourished my inner 14 year old with my friend Warren on Sunday by going to a matinee of Rock of Ages.   Journey, Styx, Whitesnake, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Quiet Riot, Asia, Night Ranger, Twisted Sister, and Pat Benatar.  Seth would have been in heaven – maybe I’ll take him the next time we are in town together.

I love the hot, sweatiness of summer.  Bye bye cold and snow – see you later.  Time for a run outside in Soho.