How do you balance family, work, personal growth, exercise, hobbies, etc? Work / Life balance is one of those things that is universal and something that we all deal with every day. We get a lot of people asking us about this and in this episode we share about how to work more intensely, about the need to get your finances in order, our schedules and tips for scheduling, and why you need to have side interests and live a life full of meaningful experiences.
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Our topic today is Work/ Life Balance. We have gotten a lot of people asking us about this and we’ve talked about this before on our old webinar, which was the precursor to this podcast, hopefully we will be able to address it from a few different angles today.
This is something that everyone is concerned with and it affects all of us each day.
The Basics of Establishing a Work/Life Balance
We were thinking about going over what to do with your time once you have established a work/life balance, but we wanted to start with the basics of establishing a work/life balance and share some experiences from different phases of our lives. We thought that starting with the basics would be beneficial.
Is it possible to always have work/life balance?
No. There are some phases that aren’t going to have as great of a work/life balance. When Lee was at Art Center, it was like boot camp, he was doing art from the second he woke up to the second he went to sleep, and he didn’t have good working methods back then which may have helped alleviate some of that.
There were other phases where the balance was skewed, i.e. having a baby.
Balance is not the norm but there are ups and downs and ebbs and flows and rhythms to our work/life balance.
There are times for more work/life balance.
Life is everything besides work: Spending time with family, with your spouse or significant other, exercise, recreation, playing games, etc.
Learn to Do Hard Things
Will has noticed that for a lot of young people, including one of his children, that they struggle to do really hard things. When Will was young he participated in Boy Scouts, and for that he was in an axe competition that took all day chopping down trees till his hands were bleeding. Probably one of the hardest experiences he had was when he hiked a mountain in the winter time starting at 5am and they didn’t set up camp till 5pm. Experiences like that, where you push yourself and your body to the limit, it makes other things pale in comparison and seem less difficult.
Some people don’t have hard experiences like that to build on. Things that might seem easy to some seem impossible to them.
However, compared to others throughout the history of the world, Will has never done a full days work in his life. There are kids today, who have really never worked a day in their lives.
Lee was teaching a painting class and students were commenting on how they had spent 6 or 8 hours on their master copy painting, but when he was in school that was just the start most of his would take around approximately 12 hours long. That was the norm. Nowadays we lean towards that instant gratification mindset and 5 hours can seem like forever. If we change our mindset on how long we think something should take it can change our whole attitude towards the project.
Work/life Balance is not a balance so much as it is more like an ebb and flow. There are times where you need to put everything into work, there are times of life and times of the year, or the project, during those times your life becomes the work. There are other times in life where you need to focus more on family and on friendships and it’s okay to hold back on work some to focus on those most important things, maybe you just had a baby, or got married, or had a death in the family, etc.
There is a way to have that ebb and flow day to day as well.
The main rule is: be present wherever you are at and in whatever you are doing. When you are at work, be 100 percent at work. When you are with your family, don’t be on your phone, be 100 percent present.
Jake’s mom just passed away and that is one of those personal experiences that we will all experience in our lives. Jake went and visited her before she passed and had a really special time taking care of her, talking with her, and holding her hand. He came back to Utah and her condition was worsening. He had some rough days, and had been planning on going to Emerald City Comic Con and he was debating if he should go or stay in case he needed to go back to Arizona for his mom. Jake’s mom wasn’t the type of person who wanted to cause too many waves and wouldn’t want to get in the way of family or work. She was really cool about stepping back. Jake’s sister told Jake to go and that if there was an emergency they would fly him out. He went to the event and did his best despite the undercurrent of sadness and thoughts about his mom. He tries to be present and do his best wherever he is.
1) Work With Intensity and Focus in All Categories of Your Life
It’s a conscious choice, I’m here and I’m working. It’s a very important thing to think about and to apply to every part of your life.
Learning art can be overwhelming. There is this undercurrent to art, that you should be working all the time.
While in his early 20’s Lee’s Dad got Cancer at a young age: 54 years old. Lee was living in California and his dad was in Nashville. Lee had a lot of friends in Nashville and he was trying to schedule a time to go out there to visit his father but also be able to see his friends and get the most bang for his buck from the trip. Sadly, his dad passed away when Lee was en route to see him, and that is Lee’s one regret. Time is so precious. Lee and his wife, Lisa, took his 8 year old son out of school for a few days just to go on a trip with him, and he really just wants to treasure his time with him.
Nikola Tesla, and Steve Jobs they would wear the same outfit everyday so they didn’t have to waste any time thinking of what they were going to wear.
Will has always wanted to get to the point where he realizes that time is short and that time is really so precious. We have that luxury some with being an artist where we are passionate about what we are doing. Some other jobs where you just clock in and out feel like you are just selling 8 hours of your life to that company. When you are creating your own art and you are getting better, and you are inventing yourself as an artist etc. That should become your “video game.”
So many people get so addicted to games that they schedule it to where nothing else in the world will interrupt their game time. There are times as an artist where it needs to interrupt your pleasure time.
The better you get the more fun it becomes, then you are able to start realizing the dreams you have. The work you put down on paper starts to mimic the vision you had. It becomes more fun when you are able to visualize something and then create it. It becomes a lot more fun when you are able to get past worrying so much about your technique. That’s an important part of work life balance, when you don’t struggle with the technique anymore and it becomes just the vision of what you are trying to say. Struggling with technique doubles your time on any individual piece. Once that goes away, then you are off to the races really quick!
Jake’s Phases of Work/Life Balance.
Teens: All about have experiences and drawing.
Twenties: Got married and had kids, worked to master his craft. It was all: Family, work, family, work. Not much time for friends, health, or hobbies. That’s where he got really good at his style, finding tools he liked, exploring a lot of different things, etc. He experimented a lot: messed around with modeling, animation, comics, storyboarding.
Thirties: Refining. He had mastered a lot of these things now it was time to pick one path, and zero in on getting better with his health and family. Also to put into practice those things so you can go on your own path. Children's books, and comics, and freelance. Getting into a position to where you can do your own thing. Started SVS.
Forties: simplifying even more. Had a little more time for health and family. Now it’s Planning his trajectory to where he can do things like Will: stop working in the afternoon, and do something for his health/ a hobby for a couple of hours, and then spend the evenings with family.
There are different phases that you go through.
There will be some ebb and flow. Try and plan for it. Do things that will help give you that life balance. Don’t think you can maintain a constant. Be present and lean into your free time and lean into your work when you need to.
Different things that help give us work/life balance.
2. Lower Your Monthly Expenses
Lowering your expenses is so much easier than making more money.
If you have a full time job and you do that for 8-10 hours a day, and then you want to work on illustration at night and want to also spend quality time with your family. It can be difficult. There are only so many hours in the day.
For example, if you can cut your expenses to where you don’t have to work full time but can work part time, then you can spend those hours you gained back working on your craft.
Getting your financial life in order is a worthy pursuit. Start investigating it.
A couple of things to check out: Dave Ramsey has a great podcast. This really got Lee started on wanting to be debt free.
In the US you can have so much credit. Too much, credit, be wise and get out of debt.
Lee and his wife were really interested in the the idea of being debt free.
Lee’s wife came across a website called, Mr. Money Mustache which is all about penny pinchers to the extreme. For most of us, ultimately, we don’t like to work. Over at Mr. Money Mustache, those guys focus on early retirement, how to get off the treadmill.
This got Lee and his wife thinking, is it possible to do this?
So they started looking at where they spent their money. Some of it was ridiculous and easy to cut out immediately. Fast forward 8 or 9 years later from that point, they’re debt free. Which has made a massive difference. Now Lee can do what he wants to now. He still needs some money but it’s just so much different with how he feels about work. It’s just not as intense.
They now fully owns their house, 100%. They have a renter and now they are making a profit. The difference between now and before is about $3000. Before he was having to spend $2200 now he doesn’t spend anything and he gets a rent income of $1400 a month.
Lee’s our inspiration.
When you are in a financial bind it’s really difficult.
Will and his wife went through a time when they were not the best with their money and had a financial meltdown. He got to the point where he was waiting on some checks and he had to break into a coin jar he had collected to get money for gas and groceries, Will also had a big jar of pennies and they had to break into that jar to get some groceries: a bag of potatoes, bread, and a gallon of milk, etc. You shop differently when you’re in a situation like that; all while waiting for that check.
Lee’s in a really good financial situation. Lee doesn’t come from money. He had no help, loans, gifts, no big inheritance.
Their first home was 1 bedroom, 1 bath. He had a stated income loan. He is a success story from the time of the Great Recession. They were responsible with money. They didn’t buy a home that they couldn’t afford but just barely got in under the wire.
Jake was working at Blue Sky, working full time in the animation industry, making a healthy 6 figure a year income. He liked it but what he really wanted to do was to be independent, to work out of his home office, doing the projects he wanted to do. But he knew that if he did that he would take a drastic pay cut for years until he could build it up and get enough work and things going to match that. His wife said, we can’t live here in Connecticut where you have to have 6-figure income to afford the houses here.
So they decided to move to Provo, UT, which, at the time, all of the housing prices there were just dropping. They found this foreclosed home, the yard was trashed, the inside was trashed and they got it for a great price.Their house has never been a financial burden to them. It has made a huge difference in the amount of work that they had to take on, and it’s been a big blessing to them in the work life balance that Jake’s been able to find, for the past 8 years that they’ve been living in that house.
Be sure to buy a house that you can comfortably afford. Don’t spread yourself and your finances too thin.
Back to Lee: He and his wife started thinking about becoming debt free during a time when the idea seemed extremely outrageous. They had bought that first home (1 bedroom, 1 bath) with no down payment and now they had just taken on a $225,000 loan. Lee had barely any income. They bought this home in an area that was transitioning from being a dangerous place to becoming more gentrified.
Lee didn’t know how to do any home repair, so he went to Home Depot and got that orange book that teaches you how to do all home repairs. He redid all of the electrical, flooring, tiling, plumbing, they even tore out a plaster ceiling, etc. He was illustrating books by day and renovating his home by night. Lee noticed his neighbors were moving and he offered to buy their house, with no money. So they sold their 1 bedroom house and made a profit. Then they bought that other house and had a higher mortgage but still wanted to become debt free. He was a broken record back then about wanting to be debt free and all of his friends told him it was impossible.
Lisa’s grandparents had passed away and left an old beat up home. Lee and Lisa went and lived there for free in exchange for fixing it up. They rented their new home out to pay the mortgage on that home. They lived in their grandparents old home for free while his renters paid for their mortgage.
This gave them a taste for renting your house out. They started to make these huge sacrifices and huge strides to living debt free. They started renting their house out on Airbnb whenever they went on vacation.
The other thing is you need to get debt free is to live somewhere affordable. You will have a hard time if you live in Portland or somewhere extremely expensive as an artist and expect to get debt free. They moved out of Portland to Nashville which isn’t super cheap but much more affordable than Portland.
They spent 5 years getting ready to do that. They ended up buying a third home and spent 5 years fixing that home up getting ready to sell it. Lee spent 12 years, in total, fixing up houses. It took them those last 5 years to prepare to make the move to Nashville.
Lowering your expenses takes effort. You may have to move, you may have to shift things around, you may have to lower your standard of living, you may have to get roommates. But if you lower how much you have to make, your time will expand.
How do you feel today about having to take a job vs. the beginning of your career?
At the beginning of Will’s career he took everything that came in, he took all jobs. There were a lot of jobs he took in that he hated and didn’t want to do.
Now Lee takes jobs now that move him emotionally and creatively. He doesn’t take jobs for the money now. It’s vastly different.
You go through different stages in your career.
In the beginning Lee also would take everything, not just for the money, but for the exposure, “I need to be published.” You’ve got to have some credibility of working as a pro and meeting with art directors etc. You have to go through that grind.
As you get better technically, the jobs become more rewarding. As you go further along in your career and don’t have to take those jobs that don’t match up with what you want to do, as well. So this is a career that just becomes more and more rewarding as you go through it.
If you are in a position to provide for your family or for yourself as well, it doesn’t really matter where you make your money; it doesn’t have to be from art. If you have to side hustle and make money from Airbnb on the side that is just as respectable as taking on 3 extra illustration jobs.
All through his 20’s-30’s Jake’s mindset was: it has to be art, that’s all I’m good at.
But now his mindset has shifted, it could be helping his wife to start a business, or they get a rental property, or Airbnb, or flip a car, etc. There are many respectable sources of income apart from art. At some point, you need to do what you need to do to make ends meet.
Leave some portion of making art for yourself so that you can enjoy it and get something out of it, rather than just paying for the bills.
3. Be a Scheduler
This complements our step 1) Work With Intensity. If you don’t know what you need to do it’s hard to work with intensity.
From 8-12 I’m going to be doing this thing, from 12-4 I’m going to be doing this thing, etc.
Some of our scheduling strategies:
Lee works for around 8 hours a day. He will work for 50 minute chunks and then take 10 minutes off. During those 10 minute breaks he will stand up and walk around and move. As illustrators we can work for hours and hours being stationary and it’s not good for our health.
As illustrators sometimes our posture can get really bad because we are always leaning over to draw and may not have the best chair situation. Jake switched to a stool and has been sitting on a stool for the past 6-7 years and that has helped him sit up straight and has helped him not have back pain. Lee has this climbing harness type thing that helps pull his shoulders back, the natural position for drawing is rolling your shoulders forward. If you do that enough, the chest muscles become contracted and the arm muscles on the back of the arm become elongated and your body can get used to being in that state. It can become hard to get out of that state because your body has adjusted to it.
It’s important to think about your health. All of the stuff we are talking about today are long term strategies because if we are going to be doing this for life we want to figure this stuff out.
You need to take time to look at your calendar and figure out what you are doing.
When Jake got started working for himself, he would look back at his day and realize he had nothing to show for the day despite having been in the studio for 8-9 hours, he didn’t even know what he had done. So he started doing a time audit where every minute of the day was accounted for. I.e. The last half hour, I confess I surfed Twitter, but then the next half hour I buckled down and got that illustration done, and then for these 3 hours I did this, then I spent 2 hours clearing out my inbox, etc. He did this for months, recording how he was spending his time, and making to do lists and checking things off.
Once he had done that time audit and could see where his time was being spent, then he could widdle out stuff that was unproductive. He used to think that he could get so much done at night after the kids went to bed, and that used to be the case because he was younger and had more energy, but now as he’s aged he’s noticed that for 3 hours spent at night could get that same amount of work done in the morning in just 1.5 hours. So he’s 50% less productive at night.
So he decided to take the times where he’s most productive and put the most creative work into those hours, and to take the time where he’s least productive and that’s when he’ll surf Twitter, watch Youtube videos, read a book, watch a movie, etc.That way he’s not doing unproductive stuff during unproductive time. This has made a huge difference with how he sets up his schedule. The other thing with this is that he doesn’t want to stay up late watching Youtube videos so he goes to bed earlier, and wakes up earlier, and gets more work done before his kids get up in the morning. It’s an overall refining of his schedule and how he works.
Will doesn’t write things down but he knows what he needs to get things done and he thinks about it a lot. What Lee has learned about being a scheduler is that once you write it down you don’t have to worry about it and think about it but it’s just done. Will does use a to do list but he doesn’t put a timestamp down trying to figure out how long everything will take.
Jake’s perspective on Will: Will does have a to do list, he comes into work focused on his MIT (Most Important Task) and he is focused on getting that done. If anything else gets accomplished then that’s just gravy. Then he goes home. Sometimes he gets the thing done that he wanted to get done and he can leave. It’s pretty awesome and takes a lot of discipline.
Part of it is that Will doesn’t want to sit at a desk all day. He likes to break up his workday. Because his kids are grown he does a lot of drawing at home later on. He breaks his day into thirds: 1) morning/afternoon: work. 2) afternoon: exercise, shopping for the family, doing things with them. 3) nights) draw and get work done at home, especially the drawing aspect, he can do that anywhere with the iPad. Will has found a schedule that really works for him. Everyone should put a priority on that. Some people work better and are more creative at night. Some people, like Lee work better in the morning, etc.
Jake’s daily schedule:
4:30-5:00AM: Wake up, get an hour of work in.
6:00-9:00AM: Make breakfast, take kids to school, work out/go on a run, shower and head to the studio.
9:30/10AM-12:30/1PM: Straight creative time, do the most cognitively demanding work, same with his early morning work time.
1PM-5:30PM: Afternoon is focused on administrative stuff, recording podcasts, meetings, checking email (Inbox zero method), phone calls, meetings, etc.
6-7:30/8PM: Family Time. Dinner, spending time with kids, helping them with school projects, etc.
8-9PM: Decompressing, reading taking notes, maybe write a little for a comic project, then go to bed. Tries to get 7 hours of sleep a night.
Good schedules are something that are thought about. Not just random.
That was Jake’s weekdays. The weekdays are super focused but the weekends are not. Friday nights he will stay up late watching a movie with one of his kids. Saturdays he sleeps in and will go on a nice long run in the morning, does chores, house stuff, etc. Sundays are completely a day of rest, he goes to church, spends time with his family, plays board games, maybe they make a dessert, watches a Miyazaki film, completely unplugs, tries not to even look at his phone. Then after a weekend like that he is itching to get back to work and it’s no problem waking up at 4:30 in the morning to start another work week.
Lee’s Workday Schedule:
Lee is naturally an early riser, he tried to be like Jake and wake up early and go straight to work but was feeling some resistance there. Feel things out, if you are feeling some internal resistance, then try and change it up. He would wake up and try to work and would feel antsy, he couldn’t just stumble from his bedroom to his office and start working.
He wakes up at 5-5:30 and will do an intense workout, always something athletic, he will go on a run or lift weights, and will spend 1-1.5 hours doing that. Once he got on that schedule it was perfect for him and he would come back home or to the office, wherever he is working that day, feeling balanced, having burned through some of that weird energy and he’s ready to sit down and work because he’s already got some exercise.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday: he has designated those days to be an illustrator, that’s when he does his book work. He has a separate studio away from his home and that’s where he does his illustration work. He will work there for 8-10 hours with his 50 minute blocks. He is focused, just does illustration, doesn’t answer the phone, it’s a very focused time frame for him.
Tuesday, Thursday: are for teaching, for doing SVS, for recording podcasts.
Lee can never do anything halfway, he gets intensely interested in things.
Avoiding a trip up with being a scheduler: Before when Lee would get out his calendar and start scheduling he would schedule out the perfect day and with no space for error, he was going to be the epitome of productivity, and then he’d get a revision or something unexpected would pop up and throw everything out of whack. Finally, after a number of frustrating years trying to deal with that he realized something: it’s so easy, don’t be idealistic, leave open space in between the projects. All of the sudden things started working out a lot more smoothly. Obviously, you have to account for things you don’t expect, but by not trying to schedule a perfect day enabled him to have perfect days, if that makes sense.
Don’t get frustrated if your schedule gets thrown out of whack. It’s still good to know what the the schedule should be so that if things start going off track and it’s your fault, you can get back on track. A good schedule is your armature to hang everything on. Be willing to dodge and weave as needed.
The calendar is a guide/ armature. You will never stick to it, some things take longer, some things are shorter. That’s an important concept, before Lee would derail himself and go from having a crazy scheduled day to no schedule and nothing else would get done. On the weekends Lee has nothing scheduled.
5. Live Life
In order to be a good illustrator, it’s not about your craft, it’s not about your technique, it’s about your experiences that you are trying to share with people. It’s, what are you creating art about? What are you trying to share about? You can’t do that if you are vapid, if you don’t have anything inside of you. So you’ve got to have experiences, you’ve got to have a life outside of the studio, you’ve got to have hobbies or something like that. Once you get through that stage of life where there’s that intensity to master your craft and you get there, once you’re sort of on this track where you set your schedule and you’ve got some room in there for balance, it informs your art. Maybe even before then, you find a way that you can do stuff, you can travel (not traveling to Europe, but maybe just across town, or to that museum you’ve been meaning to go to).
You need to fill your creative bank account, you need to fill it with creative capital and use it to know what to create art about.
Jake’s family will always go on a summer vacation for 2 weeks to a month, depends on the schedule. They’ll do a road trip and go to New York to visit family. It’s a time to have experiences, to spend time with family, and just to have fun. The kids all sleep in a cramped beach house, and they get to play actual games like Cornhole that don’t involve buttons.
Jake also raises chickens, which is sometimes fun.
A lot people listening to this might be in school and not have the finances that we have. Back then Will would find time to exercise, and it was always running and that’s about it. Now he flies model airplanes, plays the bass, goes hiking, goes mountain biking, plays racquetball 3 days a week, sometimes he snowboards.
Really work hard in the beginning, you have more bandwidth and capacity to work hard then. You don’t see many 80 year olds starting at 9 in the morning and going until they drop at night.
You can do that when your are in your 20s, 30s, and even 40s.
What you do is as important as taking time to work on other things. Will can see a lot of his childhood experiences in his newest Bonaparte book. He’s putting things in there from his childhood.
It’s all about those raw experiences, you need to make time to have those meaningful and special experiences.
If Will could do it all over again, he’d have spent money differently in the beginning, and became more financially independent earlier on. He would have cut out half of the work that he did early on, because he did so much horrible work: jobs that were so heavily art directed that he wasn’t happy with the work afterwards, and the client probably didn’t care too much about it either, after the fact.
All 3 of us are later in our careers, where we’ve all been doing this for 20 years or more. Don’t get frustrated, if you’re like: “I’m never going to get there.” Jake never thought he’d get to where he is right now. There was a time in his life where he wondered if this was even possible. Will also questioned if he could do it early on too.
We work smart not hard. We don’t spend as much time spinning our wheels. The execution is quicker. We’ve spent all of that time making those mistakes before.
It’s like the guy who, when Will would help him move a couch, had already prepped the whole house, he had already put things away so they wouldn’t trip, and had tied the hide-a-bed down so it wouldn’t spring out and put a ding in the wall. He had done all that prep work so that when we would go to move, we would move it and it would be done, there weren’t a lot of mistakes made. Art is much the same way. When you’ve figured out your process, you just sit down and crank something out and it works out. It’s all about the mistakes you’re avoiding.
I.e. Jake did 2 character designs the other day in 3 hours, 10 years ago, it would have been a 10 hour job, but now he’s got a system down, he knows how he’s working, and his intuition is finely attuned, he knows whether or not he is on the right track or not pretty quick. So the sad news for a student is that when you’ve worked 10 hours on a project, don’t pat yourself on the back, because you’ve only worked 3 good hours.
Illustration is about experiences.
How do those experiences affect illustration?
Late teens to early twenties, Lee was really into competitive skateboarding. How he sees the world was changed. Even now when he goes down the stairs and sees a handrail, he sees it first as an obstacle, and second as a handrail. The whole world is like that.
He has noticed that others don’t see the world the same way as he does.
Skating was all about finding lines in these urban environments and it’s become a tool he uses now in his compositions. The way that he composes a picture has to do with the lines that he saw as a skateboarder. Each thing that you do complements other things that you do in life. And vice versa, how does illustration affect the way you see the world and other things in your life?
The same goes for intensity, when Lee works out he tries to work out with intensity. Each of these things plays off of each other and make each other better. Try and see links between things.
Work With Intensity and Focus in All Categories of Your Life
Lower Your Monthly Expenses
Be A Scheduler
Quote: “Make a daily appointment to disconnect from the world so that you can connect with yourself.” -Austin Kleon
That’s what this work/life balance is all about: to disconnect from your world so that you can connect with yourself, so that when you are back to connecting with your work, with the world you know what to work on, what to talk about, and what your work is to be about.
Alex Sugg: alexsugg.com
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