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12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance
9

12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

(OP)
I'd like some advice, mainly from engineers who have been doing this for a long time. I'm having trouble finding a work/life balance. This is going to be a long post so I can explain my situation accurately, but feel free to give generic advice and not read the post. I totally get it.

Background:
(A) I run a small engineering company (me plus 5 employees). This drains kips of time because success depends mostly on me. My decisions, including marketing, which employees to hire, and how to train them, are keeping this ship sailing. I feel responsible for myself, every employee, and their families. The employees and clients have placed their trust in me, which I cherish. Therefore, I have to sacrifice my own time whenever needed. This results in working extra hours and weekends sometimes, because the work ebbs and flows.
(B) I have a family. After work, a large part of my evening is doing housework (dishes, cooking, cleaning, laundry, bills, etc.) and helping the kid with homework. My wife also works and shares these household responsibilities equally. On weekends, I teach the kid math and piano (there are tutors for both, so it's mostly helping with the homework/practice), and sometimes we have family trips or shopping, so even the weekends are booked.
(C) I spend an average of 45 minutes per day bodybuilding, doing yoga, and meditating. This is the one non-negotiable item I can't compromise on. But it eats into the daily schedule.

My goals:
(i) I want more time for hobbies like video games and art. I have a miniscule amount of free time for myself.
(ii) I want to expand my company to make more money so I can retire early and have infinite free time for aforementioned hobbies. Let's say retirement in 10-15 years. This conflicts with (i).
(iii) I want to expand my engineering knowledge. I used to study engineering for 1 hour every day for 7 years, but when I started my company/family, there was no time for that. Therefore, I have major gaps in useful knowledge (things like strut-tie model and finite element analysis). My ego is wrapped up in this; it stings when I see questions on this forum that I can't respond to. I can only spend 2-3 hours a week on study now, if any time at all.
(iv) I want to do difficult, long term things to grow the company, such as learning programming so I can better hire programmers to automate some tasks. And 3D printing so I can send a beautiful model of the project to clients when it's done, so they keep us in mind. And making a course for architects to get more exposure. And getting ICC certification for steel inspections. And expanding my IT knowledge to get more self-hosted Linux apps working to streamline the company. I understand that it's nearly impossible to do all of this without major sacrifices.

Potential solutions:
(1) Two engineers have told me that my days of studying are over. I'm inclined to believe them. Therefore, I'm thinking of completely removing the goals of expanding engineering knowledge (iii) and not doing any of the difficult long term growth goals on my own (iv). I have enough knowledge to be a competent engineer, and it's the time for me to use those skills to make money instead of endlessly expanding those skills. I have to rely on learning a little bit every day incidentally from the work itself instead of focused studying.
(2) Regarding difficult long term goals (iv), once the company expands and there's more money to play with, I will hire people to do them. This may be 3-5 years down the line.
(3) I've always heavily invested time in making work and household chores more streamlined. Things are fairly optimized, but I need to think deeply about finding more such solutions.

Problems:
(a) Almost every solution is conflicting with something else. For example, letting go of difficult long term expansion and engineering knowledge (1) directly conflicts with expanding the company (ii). I'm having a hard time figuring out what compromises to make, because I'm well aware that I can't do it all.
(b) It's hard to just give up on improving my knowledge, because I was always a stickler for self improvement and lifelong study.
(c) Any time that could be spent on long term business improvement (iv) or studying (iii) is much better spent on improving the business today. It's more productive to optimize workflow (3) and do daily work to get projects out on time and done with quality, therefore retaining clients and increasing reputation. Again, maybe it's just my ego, but it's hard to dismiss the notion of self improvement in the first place (b).

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

Quote:

(A) I run a small engineering company (me plus 5 employees). This drains kips of time because success depends mostly on me. My decisions, including marketing, which employees to hire, and how to train them, are keeping this ship sailing. I feel responsible for myself, every employee, and their families. The employees and clients have placed their trust in me, which I cherish. Therefore, I have to sacrifice my own time whenever needed. This results in working extra hours and weekends sometimes, because the work ebbs and flows.

While the post was long, I did read it all, but this says it all. I think that you've not created a business that runs itself, but instead, it's a business that requires your constant attention. Instead of a 5 Mini-mes that get business and run their own operations, you've gotten minions that require YOU to make decisions and "keep this ship sailing"

The question, at this time, is whether your employees can be more autonomous and bring in business on their own, or they're gotten so used to you doing that stuff and can't. It may be 50/50, or less, but that might be enough. You say you want to retire early, so what's your succession plan? Do you have an heir apparent, or were you just going to let the company go by the wayside when you retired? It seems to me that this is the time to see if anyone can step up, get/buy a percentage of the business and start to transition the business to a successor.

Quote:

Let's say retirement in 10-15 years. This conflicts with (i).

Possibly, only because that's the way you've set up the situation. Again, a succession plan, and implementation thereof, could relieve you of many of these burdens.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

In no particular order:

1) The kid can tackle house chores, too. In fact, must.
2) Learning should not be set aside; keep it in your routine or pay the penalty.
3) Prioritize the Business Needs/Wants List. Use ROI to help decide the if/what/when.
4) Cross train your staff to replicate you, unless it is required to hire another with your creds. In that case, add it to the BN/WL. Inquire of their career desires and perhaps discover a protege.
5) Map out your expected business evolution and prove out your milestones. Where the proof fails, now you have an identifiable problem that better lends to solution.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

(OP)
@IRstuff Thanks for taking the time to read it and respond. I wanted to make sure I didn't miss anything vital. Yes, you're right. I need to train the staff to take some of the load off. I've been working on that for a while, figuring out the training and hiring methods for that. It's a tough nut to crack; most people will generally be good at one thing only, and not self sufficient in that thing. I need to double down on it and think hard about how to improve them. In general, I found it hard to hire even outside professionals for things, even for IT and accounting. I went through a few IT companies and accountants, lost quite a bit of money, and found that only I could make it work. I'll have to find a way to make it work.

About the succession plan and finding a partner, I think it's too early. I'm only 5 years in, and don't want to share the profits of a small company at this stage. I think I'll rely on salaried employees for taking some of the burden now. I'll have to hire someone for business development at some point; I've seen others do that.

@AZPete Thanks for the suggestions. It's a lot to think about; I'll set some time aside to meditate on it. I particularly like your solution 4, which IRstuff also brought up.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

Quote:

I went through a few IT companies and accountants, lost quite a bit of money, and found that only I could make it work. I'll have to find a way to make it work.

There may be something else here; how sure are you that you didn't set up these entities to fail? Some people are unable to let go (control freaks), and they might actually subconsciously sabotage the people that can help. I highlighted the above phrase specifically because it's something to delve into; I mean, this isn't Special Relativity, and I presume you're not Einstein-ish, so how is it that no one else in the universe can do what you do, or want done?

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

First, congratulations on all the successes you presently have. Your dedication to your family speaks immensely about your priorities. Starting and running a business is a challenge and yours being an engineering firm amps the complexity and liabilities. Possibly, as has been mentioned you should consider loosening the detailed control on some items and trust your hired engineers to handle more responsibilities. Definitely try to get your IT handled by a contract service. There are amazing people and companies that handle the whole ball of wax. Try not to take the advice from those that say there is a time to stop learning. I kick myself all the time for not realizing this truth when I was 30+ years younger. Good luck!

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

Sounds like you're stuck in the mindset of an engineer rather than a manager and thus taking on both roles. I would push the team to develop process (collaboratively, not dictated by you) so there's a clear delineation of responsibilities, then stick to your specific managerial tasks. Start with a simple process for each task then refine over time. As a manager you can launch this by proposing the process-change control process - 1. employee drafts a new high-level process or change, 2. presents to the monthly process-change meeting, 3. team discussion, 4. vote to approve/deny.

As a manager I would expect you to have little contact with either engineering or the team, only a few hours weekly. You need to focus on running the business, getting customers in the door, and approving others' work. Others should be performing initial customer reviews to see if proposed projects make sense (read: profit), creating project plans and budget estimates, and after you review/approve they should be doing the actual work for your ultimate approval...all without significant involvement from you. Many tasks shouldn't even be on your radar, training for example isn't even a senior engineer's task nevermind a manager's bc most of that mentoring is easily handled by upper-level juniors and lower-level engineer titles with 5-15 years' experience.

Not to be critical or negative in the least but given your goals and difficulty hiring outside help, I would just caution what I suspect is already known at some level - you need to become comfortable hiring experts rather than trying to be the expert in everything. Having a healthy ego and outside interests are great, but self-study doesn't make an expert in anything. Many of your needed accounting, programming, other tasks are likely well "beneath" a professional's time and easily completed by an engineer, but at some point you're going to hire these out not only to relieve a burden but also bc they're far more efficient and knowledgable. The same goes for engineers, your current employees might be fairly inexperienced but you need to be comfortable hiring and deferring to others more knowledgeable in other niches. That said, I dont think there's anything unrealistic about your goals nor continued growth as an engineer.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

Quote (MSL)

The employees and clients have placed their trust in me, which I cherish. Therefore, I have to sacrifice my own time whenever needed. This results in working extra hours and weekends sometimes, because the work ebbs and flows
No. This is incorrect. What this really means is that at the company level the ratio of work:workers is not right. Change this to "Therefore I need to either trim some clients or add direct staff or service providers to carry the load."

Quote (MSL)

This is the one non-negotiable item I can't compromise on. But it eats into the daily schedule.
See what you are doing here? You are making a can't compromise items into a source of stress.

Quote (MSL)

My ego is wrapped up in this
Yes, and you seem to have a big ego. I'm not saying that in a negative way, it's simply my observation.

Quote (MSL)

such as learning programming so I can better hire programmers to automate some tasks.
No. You need to get out of the mind set of "I must be able to do everything myself, as well as or better than my employees."

Quote (MSL)

I understand that it's nearly impossible to do all of this without major sacrifices.
Wrong. It's impossible to do all of this by yourself. Hire, or pay for the service.

Quote (MSL)

Almost every solution is conflicting with something else
No. It only seem that way to you because all the solutions you examine start with "I need to do this by myself....."

Quote (MSL)

I'm well aware that I can't do it all.
Good!. Now, you need to use this awareness.

Quote (MSL)

found that only I could make it work
No. You found that some service provides are not capable. Find the ones that are.

You meditate, any you have the self-awareness to write this post. That's a good start.

You seem to have trust issues, and your ego is certainly getting in your way.

Meditate on those points.

Good luck.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

No different than raising children. Hire committed individuals and teach responsibility often and early. Set expectations and hold them accountable.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

I haven’t been doing this as long as some, and my time is split fairly equally amongst contracting / engineering / teaching. So perhaps not the best person to answer, but as long as you have the salt truck ready, I figured it might be worth it to respond anyhow.

From my experience the feeling of having to do it all is not simply a result of ego. Sure, some of it is since ultimately the conduct / product of your employees & vendors reflects upon you. However, I have started three businesses and in all 3 it’s been difficult to find both employees and reliable vendors. A few posters above have either explicitly stated or strongly hinted that in order to strike a better balance you need to let go, and be comfortable with others doing their thing. Well, that’s probably true in some abstract sense but I find people’s “thing” tends to be pretty underwhelming; so practically that’s a pretty difficult go, and I have yet to solve the equation.

As a result, I have taken a different tact, which has left me successful enough (for my modest Canadian tastes anyhow) but allows for me to have a half-way decent balance. That tact being something to the effect of “fewer is better”. Fewer employees to manage. Fewer vendors to chase. Fewer clients to deal with.

In order to make oodles of money (at least in our lines of work) it’s easier to be big. No doubt about it. But if you are looking for a comfortable living that allows you to do other things in life (including honing your craft) then IMHO smaller is better and the in between is a tough spot to be (which is where you seem to be). As a contractor the tradeoff was similar. I got big enough to have 20+ employees where I was constantly searching for work to feed the army, but I was still so small that the money (though it was alright) was not significantly more than I would get working for someone. Also, it was my money on the line so if a project went south, it meant my house not just my job.

I have downsized the workforce, shifted industries, and now only have 3 employees at a fabrication company not considering my brother (engineer / welder) and myself. We make similar money but with far less stress. I play hockey once a week, am a full-time professor, have a puppy, and am enrolled in a statistics master’s program (in addition to family + engineering / fabrication). I am so much happier than I was before covid when my contracting business was in full swing, and thinking back makes me shudder.

If I was you, I would look long and hard at what you want out of your business. Do you want it to succeed as a business in the sense of becoming its own entity (sans you), or do you want it to feed a lifestyle? If it’s the latter, then downsizing to 1-2 employees may be the better option. You likely have enough of a reputation and client base after 12 years that if you kept the best client base you could probably work 50% of the hours but make 70%+ of the money. If it’s the former that’s okay too but you then need to find the joy in building it, which comes with all the warts you’ve identified.

I know that was kinda more about me then specific advice to you, but hopefully it helps somewhat.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

On point B) if you make enough money, have you though about the cost-benefit of injecting money into having some of this stuff done for you? Hire a cleaner that comes multiple times a week, invest in babysitting, pay for some form of meal service

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

(OP)
To everyone, thanks for all the thoughtful replies. I'm going through each one carefully. I generally respond to everything, but this is a lot more to process than an engineering problem, and I have to let it cook for a while. Again, thanks for taking some time out of your day and giving constructive advice. I feel privileged. I'll come back to this after I'm done sitting on my invisible mountain and contemplating.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

2
This book might encapsulate some of the things you want to work on:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/81948.The_E_My...

FYI, reading that book helped me realize how difficult it would be to take on the entrepreneur role when I was seriously considering it about 10 years ago. I had confidence that I could succeed, but doubted that I would have a family or any personal life left over. Even taking all of the lessons in a book like that to heart, it would take a long time to become established and find the people who could think independently enough to steer parts of the business on their own. And then to make it self-perpetuating is even harder. Plus time to recover from errors, change directions, and grab opportunities, which are also part of the heady life of an entrepreneur.

Good luck to you!

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

milkshakelake,

Interesting connundrum. I can't offer actual personal advice, but I do know from talking to others who took the plunge, they do say that the 5-15 employees bit is the hardest of the lot as there isn't enough there to allow for the admin layers you see at bigger companies. Also you do need to look hard at yourself and your ego. Too many cling onto having to be the focal point for everything and believing no one else can do what you do. It's a difficult thing but the graveyard is full of people who were indispensable....

My take on this is that you first need some numbers which you probably have, but may not want to share.

This creates two main "Budgets" split business and personal. Only when you get the data can you do something about it.

So these are Finance budget
Business - your annual turnover, profit margin, profit etc
Personal - Your joint incomes, outgoings savings etc

Your Time budget
Business - How much time do you spend on different things. If you haven't done this maybe start a simple spread sheet and every day note down how long you spend on
A - Admin (invoices, salaries, paying suppliers, ordering things, updating spread sheets etc)
B- Business non engineering, so BD, bids, proposals, other things directly related to getting work
E- engineering - time spent actually doing work which could be classified as "billable"
O - Other (just not more than 10% of the total time)

Do this for at least 2 months so that you can even out the monthly variations for end of month issues

Personal
How much time do you spend doing things, especially those which could be done by someone else (not your wife)

Then you can decide if and how things might change.
So on your business side - add up the admin time etc and see how many hours you would need to allocate to someone else to do this. There are many people who would be capable of general business admin who might be happy to work part time or sometimes remotely around child care / schools. In your business do you have enough money to fund this for a min period of 6 -12 months before the time it frees up for you results in more business.

Also here - in any of your current 5 people do you see as potential partners. So could you offer one of them say 20% of new shares to fund or part fund this expansion of admin and also take some of the B hours away from you? No idea how you value what is basically worthless, but maybe $30,000 for 20% more shares (so the money goes into the business, not your pocket?). Valuing companies like this is very difficult and often they have no real value if the main person isn't there anymore, but maybe 5 or 10 x "real profit" (i.e. once you've paid yourself from salary or profits).

Personal budget
Can you afford / find the money for some basic assistance - cleaner say 4-6 hours /week or twice a week. A gardener half a day a week?
The time you get back, even if it's 1 hour a day could dramatically improve life.

Just some thoughts so do with them what you wish. All IMHO.

Just come back and tell us what you decided please.

Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

(OP)
@Sparweb Ordered the book, will read it before coming back here! This book called Essentialism inspired this post; it didn't solve my situation, but got me asking questions. It's about minimalism and cutting out negative/unproductive things from life.

@LittleInch Thanks for your perspective! I'm going to take some time and process all of this and come back with what I did. It's all fairly life changing stuff, so I'm not going to rush it. geotechguy1 mentioned getting a cleaning service and that's a no-brainer, so that's the only actionable thing I did so far.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

Quote (sparweb)

This book might encapsulate some of the things you want to work on:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/81948.The_E_My...

FYI, reading that book helped me realize how difficult it would be to take on the entrepreneur role when I was seriously considering it about 10 years ago.

My accountant gave me a copy of "The E-Myth Revisited" a few years ago. It was a tremendous help to see the difference between Entrepreneur, Manager, and Technician (the doer).

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

Kirkegaard said that life must be lived forward but will be understood backwards (its a condensation of a longer quote in fact)...

My take on this is that you must assess and prioritise the situation based on the here and now but that things may develop differently down the line. One example could be that you might think that you will have more time for your kids in 5 years if you prioritise work - but you dont know - or maybe your kids wont have time for you in 5 years time?

Best regards, Morten

--- Best regards, Morten Andersen

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

Quote:

but you dont know - or maybe your kids wont have time for you in 5 years time?

Harry Chapin wrote about that https://genius.com/Harry-chapin-cats-in-the-cradle...

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

Quote (MortenA)

One example could be that you might think that you will have more time for your kids in 5 years if you prioritise work - but you dont know - or maybe your kids wont have time for you in 5 years time?
A more critical truth has never been typed on here. If you're really going after it at work and spending little time at home, then in 5 years, they won't; I can almost promise you that, based on my own regrettable experience.

You can't get atypical outcomes -- growing a firm, having superior technical abilities, making a lot more money than normal, etc. -- without dedicating an atypically large chunk of YOU to your career. The supply of you is limited.

milkshakelake, you remind me a lot of me. You have about two lives worth of activities you want to do.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

271828 talks sense.

As a parent you will always want to give your kids at least everything you had from your parents and hopefully more, but time is one of those things.

My phrase is that kid(s) have this nasty habit of growing up on you and once they get to about 12/13, they start to seriously separate from you and gravitate to their friends of their own age.

So sure, you can still do lots of things with them ( mainly a lot of driving them around), but quality time gets reduced to set events or times.

Life is a constant struggle to balance all its competing elements on most of us and you'll never get it wholly right - just not too far off balance is the aim. Basically like most engineering. Learning to realise when something is good enough is a key factor.

Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

(OP)
Hello all,

I've thought about this quite a bit, read every comment several times, talked to friends/family, and made some changes to my life/mindset:
1.) I will hire and supervise others to accomplish tasks. It's a middle ground between doing everything myself, and fully trusting others. Enable mentioned that the work of others is underwhelming, but then again, everyone running a business is doing it. So I'll give up some of the control but keep an eye on people, and recognize that there's a cost to it beyond the salary or fee. I think the problem was that I had unrealistic ideas of what I'm capable of doing; 271828 mentioned that it would take two lifetimes to accomplish everything on my list, and others have pointed out a similar thing.
2.) I hired a housekeeper. Will do other time saving things like this.
3.) I will incorporate my hobbies with the family. For example, we can collaborate on art. Several have mentioned spending more time with the kid.
4.) I'm not ready to partner with anyone yet. But when I hire more people, I'll promote someone to project manager, boost their $$, and have them take on some training and admin work.
5.) Employees will make standards and guidelines, and I'll check them.
6.) I'm going to be less of an engineer and more of a businessperson. This will be done by relying on others more.
7.) Going through the E-Myth book.
8.) I realized that I've been improving my knowledge all along. I've been reading books about business instead of engineering. This is fine for now.
9.) I've let go of any notion that I could be good at tangential tasks like programming. I'll hire others to do it.
10.) I'll start thinking of business moves in terms of ROI. I don't have to do everything on the list; I'll focus on things that have the most impact.

Some advice that I considered, but won't do:
1.) Track the hours spent on everything. It's a bit too much hassle.
2.) Downsize - maybe I'll revisit it in the future, but I won't be able to achieve my goal of early retirement this way. However, I haven't even considered this option before, and now it's something to keep in my back pocket.

Some psychological stuff:
I think my need to do everything and be good at it stems from my competitive childhood, going to specialized schools and all that. At this point, it's hurting more than it's helping, so I'm letting go of that part of me.

Again, thanks to everyone who lent an ear! I'm still a work in progress, so I'm sure I have a lot more to learn.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

Bravo MSL. If every person was as self-reflective and open as you are, the world would be a better place.

Many thanks to sparweb for the E-Myth book recommendation. I downloaded it and a couple of days ago and am only a small ways in, and I already have a much better handle on my own struggles. I only had a vague sense of what has been going on. I'm the classic "technician who starts a business," and am ending up exactly where he would've predicted.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

Quote:

achieve my goal of early retirement
A critical part of retirement, early or not, is your savings and consequences of drawing from them.

Most people who've worked for large companies have 401K accounts which are taxed as ordinary income when retirement withdrawals are made; there are steps that you can potentially take to get more of your savings into tax-free accounts such as Roth IRAs; consulting with a financial planner might be worth the effort.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

(OP)
@271828 Thanks! Just trying to survive in this complex world, like everyone else.

@IRstuff I invest in real estate, which has synergy with engineering. Slightly riskier, but higher returns. If the stars align, my goal is to build a 4 story building and collect rent for the rest of my life, or pay off the stuff I already have.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

Quote:

and collect rent for the rest of my life

If real estate is your primary/only retirement plan then make sure you understand the financial implications of owning it as a senior citizen. We've invested in it for 20+ but prioritize maxing 401/403/TSP/etc and our IRAs, and plan to join the majority of investors in selling off pre-retirement. IMO its a great investment for those disciplined enough to pay it off quickly, but its not a retirement plan. We've also met quite a few folks who followed popular book-shills into a poor retirement, including several who "retired" young only to need jobs and struggled as seniors.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

Well glad it managed to prompt a few changes which hopefully last longer than most peoples new Years resolutions...

The reason I said about tracking hours and that was only in terms of a few minutes every day to recall, was that it would give you some way of measuring the effectiveness of your changes rather just relying on how you felt.

SO e.g. you could look at a previous month and say I spent 60 hours a month on admin and now I'm only spending 20 or whatever.

But hey, I get the grind of it and I have to do it every week to try and recall what I did so that I book it to the right project, so if that's one of a few thigs you don't take forward then so be it.

So try to pencil in coming back in 6 months and letting us know how it's going!

Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

(OP)
@CWB1 The way I'm doing it now with 5 properties, collected rent covers the mortgage and most expenses, and in ~15-20 years, the properties will be paid off so the rent (minus expenses) is pure income. I don't know much about IRAs, so I'll look into it. Maybe it's a good idea to sell and dump it into an IRA before the legal retirement age kicks in.

@LittleInch Agreed, and thanks for the advice. I think it wouldn't work for me, but everyone is different. Will definitely come back and let y'all know how it went. Almost none of the items on the list are trivial, so I think if I get even 3 of them done and stick with it, it's quite a life change. Though the goal is to do all of them.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

Glad to hear the book is having the intended effect.
My neighbour (he is an entrepreneur) gave me his copy just when I needed to read it. I'm just paying it forward.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

Stateside our system strongly encourages seniors to retire by penalizing them for significant income and assets, hence the popularity of tax-advantaged retirement accounts and downsizing property. Real estate is generally a lousy retirement plan bc it ties you to both high AGI and valuable assets. We buy another reno project every few years mostly/entirely for cash, pay them off quickly over the next few to minimize interest losses, rent, and occasionally sell when values jump. Cashflow helps pay into the retirement accounts but isn't a retirement account. We'll retire ~50 with a govt pension, retirement accounts, and selloff the real estate slowly by ~60 to minimize tax burden.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

(OP)
@CWB1 I think I can run some numbers. I'll see how much I can potentially get from living off rental income and high AGI, versus dumping it into retirement. If that doesn't make sense, that's because I have no idea about this subject. Will start watching Youtube videos and finding some books. Thanks for the heads up!

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

You said something about not being to find an account.

Be careful about that one. If it because they won't let you do things the way you want you need to ask why. They maybe trying to keep you out of trouble. I know someone learning that the hard way.

If they were just too expensive of inefficient then keep looking. A good one will save you enough in taxes to offset the expense.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

I'm going to respond to your problems, because fixing those is the pathway to your initially-listed desires:

Almost every solution is conflicting with something else. 

Yes, but that's the nature of all things in life. Everything is a trade-off. You said you wanted "work-live balance", well, that means taking away from the work in order to get a little more life.

I'm having a hard time figuring out what compromises to make, because I'm well aware that I can't do it all. 

You need to either select a leader from your existing pool, or to hire someone who is strong in leadership who knows not only how to delegate to others, but how to take things from you to force you to delegate. Ideally, you'd do this yourself, but from your post I think you've got two problems; 1) you're natural personality type is that of someone who doesn't delegate and 2) you've been doing it all so long by yourself, that it will be very difficult to teach an old dog a new trick.

It's hard to just give up on improving my knowledge, because I was always a stickler for self improvement and lifelong study. 

You've mentioned this a couple times, so I think the hobby you should really focus on is this one, as opposed to "video games and art". Don't dive into a hobby, just because it seems like a hobby you should do. I naturally tend to research the crap out of things before I do them, so I'm kind of in your boat. I find that the research required to turn myself into a semi-expert in something before taking on the project is almost as rewarding as the project itself. In the course of building my own guns, I've fallen down a lot of interesting rabbit holes, for example.

Any time that could be spent on long term business improvement (iv) or studying (iii) is much better spent on improving the business today 

This statement is an excuse to avoid doing the scary work required to get that long-term improvement. You will always find ways to burn time today in order to avoid burning time for tomorrow. Set aside a chunk of time each week. It doesn't have to be daily. Maybe it's 2 hours on Thursday mornings. But set that time aside and stick to it. Whatever you'd normally do during that time should be handed off to a trusted aid (leader). The more you do this, the more you develop that person to take on responsibility. The side benefit of giving yourself this time is that you are building the leadership bench behind you that will allow you to delegate more in the future. Remember that trust is always initiated from above in an organization. As the leader, you must demonstrate trust in order to earn it back from your subordinates.

It's more productive to optimize workflow (3) and do daily work to get projects out on time and done with quality, therefore retaining clients and increasing reputation. Again, maybe it's just my ego, but it's hard to dismiss the notion of self improvement in the first place (b). 

BS. How much optimization are you really achieving right now? Don't answer that. Think about it realistically. If you've been putting in all this work to "optimize workflow", then most of your workflows should be pretty well optimized by this point. I think this is another excuse to avoid doing what needs to be done.

You're correct that schedule and quality are crucial to retaining clients, etc. It is also correct to say that you are not developing your people if you don't allow them to make mistakes, because fixing your own screw ups is how we learn and develop. I bet, if you're honest with yourself, you've been holding back your employees from taking on some responsibilities that could free you up, because of your own fear that giving up any control is the same as losing all control...

This post is my "leadership tough love beginner's course". Don't take it personally, because I'm not attacking you. I'm attacking your self-described perceptions.

Obstacles cannot crush me; every obstacle yields to Stern Resolve.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

(OP)
@Jaycen Thanks for the input! It's very much appreciated, and of course it takes a while to read my long post. I think many others have echoed what you said, and you're right that I have a problem delegating. Due to the responses, I've been delegating a lot more lately and I'm currently training a leader. I'm letting them make some mistakes, which I consider as a cost of training.

Quote:

You've mentioned this a couple times, so I think the hobby you should really focus on is this one, as opposed to "video games and art". Don't dive into a hobby, just because it seems like a hobby you should do.

I've thought about this extensively and talked to a therapist and friends/family. I've ultimately decided to stick to one hobby (art) and have given up video games completely, except to play with my kid. I decided not to tie the hobby to work, because that 1% of stress in the back of my mind would hinder me from enjoying it. I've talked to some successful entrepeneurs and not one of them had a hobby that ties into their work. So I think it's better this way, because I don't want my entire life to be dedicated to work. I haven't yet gotten back into studying engineering, but that's on the horizon; can't change my whole life and habits in one month. It'll definitely happen once my project-manager-in-training is up to speed.

Quote:

I bet, if you're honest with yourself, you've been holding back your employees from taking on some responsibilities that could free you up

Agreed. I think this is the single most important takeaway here. I have had some (major) hiccups recently due to delegating, but it needs to be done. After all, CEOs of big engineering companies aren't doing the calculations and client relations themselves.

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

Jaycen,

I see that you are a new member. You have used the [pre] tag to do quotes, and your long lines are extending way off screen. TGML has a [quote] tag which works way better.

--
JHG

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

Great advice from several folks. Congrats on owning a business that has 5 employees. Not many people can claim that, so you should be very very proud.

As an engineer turned entrepreneur myself, I have 3 main suggestions

1. Seek a business coach or mentor. SBA (Small Business Association) provides funding for SCORE which provides free guidance to entrepreneurs like yourself. https://www.score.org/ If you don't like the first mentor assigned to you, don't give up, try another one. If you don't like SCORE find a paid business coach. If you need help finding one let me know.
The ROI will justify this step

2. Read the book "4 hour work week" :)

3. Seek advice only from those who have experienced what you are going through and have been entrepreneurs themselves. It is very very hard and very very time consuming endeavor especially when you are working to take your company to the next higher level. So despite all these tips and best efforts the idea of of work life balance is a myth as an entrepreneur. Instead focus on work life integration.

All the best!

RE: 12 years in, struggling to find work/life balance

(OP)
@jsr3 Thanks for the tips. I'm hesitant to hire a business coach until I get some of these tasks done, but I've been looking into it for the long term. Besides SBA, my state has a free mentoring program as well that I'm looking into. I have a little group of entrepreneurs I meet sometimes and will extract some ideas from them. And I ordered the 4 hour work week, getting to that after finishing the other one. Heard lots of good things about Tim Ferris. I think I have a bit too much "work life integration" at the moment, so I'm working on scaling that back.

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