Don’t Fool Yourself: There is No Work/Life Balance

The idea of achieving work/life balance is a modern-day knockoff of the American Dream, rooted in the minds of ambitious yet overworked professionals who want to “have it all” — work and play, career and family.

I don’t believe there is such a thing as “work/life balance.” You don’t hear people talking about finding a “family/life balance” or an “eating/life balance.” It’s all life.

Work usually takes priority over the rest, however, because work is what we spend the majority of our day doing, it financially supports our dreams, and it’s a core part of our identities (the first “small talk” question people usually ask is what you do for a living). Add technology to our career-driven lives, and work-related priorities now have the potential to take over our personal lives. When this happens, professionals are putting their relationships, mental and physical health, and overall happiness at risk.

Technology Skews Our Priorities

The reason work seems to be encroaching more and more on our personal time is that every day, we unknowingly hand over precious power to alerts and notifications — distractions ironically set up to ensure we don’t miss a thing.

My notifications come from Google News, business blogs, LinkedIn, Twitter, productivity apps, airfare alerts, my investment firm, and (what should be at the top of my list) my son’s school. When we’re constantly bombarded with these bits of information, priorities and distractions start to run together, and we have a hard time knowing what to focus on.

It’s Not All Technology’s Fault

How do you know when your priorities have truly gone awry? I believe it’s when you’ve reached a point where your urgency to react to something is disproportionate to its relevance (or your priorities). Although technology enables every notification or alert to seem urgent, technology itself isn’t the true culprit. Rather, it’s our relationship with technology that throws us off-balance.

Do you delay a scheduled workout because you feel compelled to reply to an email first? Do your kids ask you to step away from Facebook? Do unread emails cause you stress even after a 12-hour workday? Do you check your phone at dinner? These are all signs that you have an imbalanced relationship with technology.

4 Easy Ways to Balance Your Life

Below are ways to begin building a more balanced life — one where you have room for hobbies, health, relationships, and personal priorities.

1. Take 30 minutes each morning before checking your email or phone.

I used to wake up every morning and immediately look at my phone to see if there was anything urgent in my inbox or something interesting on Facebook. It always started with me telling myself, “I’m just going to check,” but that quick check turned into 30 minutes of working, mentally prioritizing my to-do list, and looking for a problem to react to.

The most defining moment of your day is when you first wake up. You have a choice about the first information you expose to your brain. By meditating, exercising, journaling, or doing something reflective for those first 30 minutes instead of opening the digital floodgates, you allow yourself to start your day recharged and aware of your priorities. Learning to control which information we pay attention to — and when — is crucial to achieving balance.

2. Identify your “critical path” priorities.

Every year, my company holds a meeting for our executive team to discuss our “critical path” for the coming year. What are our most important priorities? Our departments then align their goals along that path. Professionals can benefit from going through this same process with their personal lives.

Can you identify your five most important personal goals and values? Is it better to be connected to your kids, be physically fit, or be on the road to a funded retirement? These priorities are part of your personal “critical path”; if you don’t define them now and give them the necessary attention, something less important is bound to take their place.

3. Find a non-work-related passion.

Without any interests or hobbies outside work, you run the risk of becoming resentful and isolated. While it sounds dedicated and noble to focus on work 24/7, most realize this isn’t a realistic or sustainable lifestyle. Many companies show outward signs of rewarding this behavior, but most people secretly have little respect for individuals with no boundaries.

Learn a language, join a gym, or volunteer at your child’s school. Most importantly, do something that makes you step away from your computer and smartphone. Non-work-related, tech-free passions expand your universe and make you a more interesting person.

4. Build a community of support.

Finding a non-work-related passion also involves building supportive, nurturing relationships outside of work. Money and jobs will come and go, but trusted friends who have your personal interests at heart can help you handle difficult professional decisions with less stress and more confidence.

When we take a look at why it’s so hard to achieve balance between work and our personal lives, technology lies very close to the root of the problem. However, the root itself has to do with our tendency to let our notifications drive our priorities.

Being dedicated and ambitious is admirable, but allowing work to define your self-worth and identity is dangerous. Don’t let yourself wake up one day and realize your kids are out of the house, you never went on that cruise, or you never ran a marathon.

By reevaluating priorities and taking the necessary steps to unplug from work and technology, you can achieve real balance — improving your health, happiness, and life as a whole.

(This post originally appeared in Fast Company in March 2014)

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Fifty Opportunities to Die

Entrepreneurship is notorious for it ups and downs. Barely making payroll sucks but getting mentioned in Forbes doesn’t suck nearly as much. Ironically, they can sometimes happen in the same week. This week I’m happy to report it’s a time for celebration. I often tell people that in the 4+ years since we launched TapInfluence, there have been fifty opportunities for us to die as a company. Fifty opportunities for the product to not work, for customers to not buy, for the right person to not get hired, for us to raise too much/little money, or to take a decision too lightly/seriously. Thankfully, we seem to be making the right choices and I’m grateful the startup gods (and venture capitalists) continue to smile on us.

Thanks to the hard work of many talented people, we announced two pieces of big news this week. First, we are thrilled to release the next version of our influencer-marketing platform that now includes the industry’s first Influencer Marketplace, a feature enabling brands and influencers to collaborate with one another inside a software platform to generate authentic content. For the first time, brands now have access to audience demographics and the ability to track the actual dollar value of each piece of distributed content.

Its no secret that one of the business areas most impacted by the digital age is Marketing. For every plugged-in marketer excited that part of their role now includes posting on Facebook and reading blogs, there are two others struggling to get their heads around the pace and volume of digital information, both how to consume and create it. Influencers represent an army of content creators and distributors and TapInfluence has just made partnering with them a whole lot easier.

The second announcement is that we are honored to have raised a $5.0 million Series B round of venture capital from existing investor Grotech Ventures and new investor Access Venture Partners. This latest round of funding will be used to expand the company’s engineering, marketing and customer success teams in Boulder and throughout the United States.

Many thanks to our team, investors, customers and our families for giving us the opportunity to live another day getting to do what we love the most. You can read more about our Influencer Marketplace launch and our Funding News on the Tapinfluence website.

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Are you faster than a South American Tiger Beetle?

One of the fascinating things about being a human being on this planet is getting a sneak peek at what goes on in other people’s brains. My friend Paul is an aerospace engineer who builds satellites, makes fractal pancakes, and has a beachfront condo in his brain where all the cool numbers hang out when on vacation from calculating how to diverting some meteor on collision course with Coney Island.

I wrote a post last year about my first half ironman and included some stats about my times for each segment. I thought it would be interesting to share his analysis of exactly how fast (or in this case, slow) I really am:

Your swim was 1.2 miles and you did that in 42 minutes or 0.7 hours; therefore you swam at 1.7 mph.

  • Penguins swim at about 15 mph, so he would have done this distance in about 5 minutes
  • A dolphin would have really kicked your ass, swimming at 25 mph, finishing in 00:02:52
  • A balisk lizard in danger will run on two legs on top of the water, which sounds fast but is actually only 3.36 mph.  He would have finished in 21 minutes, 25 seconds.
  • You would have totally beat Besa (our friend’s golden retriever), who swims at 0.8 mph. Besa’s time is 1:30:00

Your bike was 56 miles and you did that in “just under 4 hours”; therefore you biked at 14 mph

  • Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby running at 37.5 mph, so she would have done this in 1:34:08
  • If this was the Kentucky Derby (1.25 miles) you would have finished in 5 minutes, 21 seconds as compared to Secretariat who finished in 1 minute 59 seconds
  • If you were biking next to a falcon (flies at 75 mph), he would have beat you by about 3 hours and 15 minutes (falcon’s time: 00:44:49)
  • If you were racing a swimming sea turtle, you would have beat him. His time is 4:40:01, swimming at 12 mph

Your run was 13.1 miles and you did that in 3 hours, 50 minutes or 3.83 hours, which is 3.42 mph

  • You would have tied with a South American Tiger Beetle, who also runs at 3.4 mph
  • A mouse would have beat you both, running at 7.5 mph. His time is 1:44:48
  • A scared kitty cat would have beat all of you (31 mph) if you kept her scared for 00:25:12
  • If you were racing against a hippo on land you’d lose (25 mph), but in the water he would only walk along the bottom at 2.5 mph, so you’d beat him by an hour and a half-ish . His time is 5:14:24

Other facts:

  • You covered a distance of 70.3 miles in 8:32:53, at an average speed of 8.24 mph
  • The Space Shuttle Atlantis would have covered this distance in about 14 seconds (17,580 mph)
  • The earth rotated by 127.9 degrees in this time
  • 4,045 babies were born in the US while you raced ;)

Apparently, the South American Tiger Beetle and I would have become good friends and the only competitor I can mock with confidence is the swimming sea turtle.

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Why bloggers should be paid for sponsored content

The discussion about whether or not to pay influencers and bloggers who create sponsored content has been going on for years.  Some marketers believe that, like journalists, bloggers should not be paid for covering product news and its simply part of what they do to bring valuable content to their readers. I never quite understood this approach.  If a blogger has a meaningful, loyal following of readers who represent a valuable target audience for a brand, that brand should pay for access to that audience. It would be like T-Mobile or Chipotle (both Tour De France team sponsors) asking racers to wear their shirts for free.  Bloggers and those with influencial followings on their blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or any other social network should be compensated for their ability to create valuable, relevant content.

This post is part of a test of our new TapInfluence influencer marketing platform.  Thrilled to be seeing the company’s vision come to life!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of TapInfluence.  The opinions and text are all mine.

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BlogFrog is now TapInfluence

When my son was little, my life was so consumed with the basics – carrying him, teaching him, feeding him, and just making sure he made it around sharp corners and ledges without killing himself.  It was hard to imagine him grown up.  But now he’s a teenager, with a driver’s license and a job, and I wonder where all the years went.  I cherish every single moment of his childhood, even the hard ones, and am so proud of the young man he has become.

I have a very similar feeling about my company, TapInfluence, a cloud-based software platform that automates influencer marketing. My business partner, Rustin, and I started the company four years ago as BlogFrog and recently changed the name to TapInfluence to better reflect the idea that influencers aren’t just bloggers anymore. They include people with key audiences on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and other social networks.

When we both quit our jobs to start the company in 2009, we didn’t have an office, investors or customers – just a great idea and a passion for growing it into something big.  I look back on the last four years and can’t believe how much things have changed.  The company has grown to 40 employees, we have over 75 enterprise brand clients, and we’ve paid out over $1 million to bloggers and influencers who create awesome content online. Here’s a nostalgic walk thru the past four years. I’m so proud of our team!


TapInfluence Launch Video from TapInfluence on Vimeo.

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13 Ways Running A Start-up is Like Having a Baby

I have given birth to one child and helped launch at least 5 start-ups. I might have a few illegitimate start-ups out there that I don’t know about but we’ll save that for another post. I had a blinding moment of delusion recently with my current start-up where I experienced the exact same feeling I did as the mother of a toddler. It was a day where one microscopic sign of progress overshadowed months of endless challenge, preparation, and self-sacrifice. How can that be?! How can the joy of one tiny hint of improvement elicit a feeling so out of proportion to the work that led up to it?

Then it hit me. The absurd number of ways that running a start-up is like having a baby. Here are my top thirteen:

  1. The idea to have a baby, or quit your job to run a start-up during a recession, usually has something to do with tequila.
  2. Nausea is the first sign that you are pregnant or have agreed to join a start-up.
  3. The vomiting eventually stops in the 2nd trimester, or when you release your beta version, whichever comes first.
  4. You are for sure pregnant (or are a shareholder in a start-up) when your partner now owns half of everything that gets produced.
  5. You will be sleep-deprived until the baby is sleeping thru the night or you’ve hired someone to handle customer support, whichever comes first.
  6. The average birth costs about $50,000 depending on your health insurance policy and PR agency fees.
  7. You’ll resist the urge to rip a total stranger’s kidney out thru their left nostril when they tell you your baby is ugly or that your interface doesn’t conform to the latest UX standards. Even if they’re right.
  8. It is inevitable that your baby will make a mistake that lands you on the front page of the local paper and gets virally propagated across every social network. You will be subject to much public humiliation and embarrassment until another start-up makes a bigger blunder.
  9. Plan to fork over an allowance and expect nothing in return. Somewhere between $10 to $25,000 per week, depending on the economy and the cost of a movie-sized box of Milk Duds.
  10. Expect to be infinitely patient as your baby (and start-up) experiments with its identity and then eventually grows up to be something far removed from what you originally planned.
  11. You will spend the next 18 years teaching your baby, and your start-up, how to earn money on its own.
  12. You will instantly forget how much pain you went thru the moment your baby is acquired by a search engine giant for $230 million dollars.
  13. Despite being broke, exhausted, aged, and divorced, you will decide to do it all over again.
Posted in Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Start-ups, Work-Life Balance | 7 Comments

A Lesson In Gratefulness From Those With Less

I distinctly remember the day my son came home from elementary school one afternoon talking about how several of the kids in his class had iPhones. I was stunned. What does an elementary school kid need with an iPhone? He was jealous and bummed because he wanted one, too. It got me thinking about where we lived and how little diversity there was. Boulder is a beautiful, health-minded, pet-loving, educated and conscious city but it’s not necessarily a melting pot of diversity when it comes to ethnicity or income level.

I started to worry that he might take for granted all the things that were basics to us (like his Gameboy, three meals a day, electricity, a car to get him places) but might be luxury for someone who had much less.  I wanted him to be grateful for the things he had and have compassion and generosity for those with less. So instead of lecturing him, I decided to show him firsthand that there were kids in the world who were happy and joyful with far less.

Around that time, I had the opportunity to join a service tour with a Burmese monk (long story) to visit Myanmar and support orphanage efforts there. I took Noah with me so he could see for himself that many children live very different lives.

The trip was 12 days and we spent time in Tokyo, Bangkok, Rangoon, and rode for hours on a bus down dirt roads to remote villages in Myanmar. We were invited into homes where the average pay was $9/month and mostly went for rice.  Many children didn’t attend school because they had to work in the rice fields.

We visited orphanages where abandoned children were taken in by Catholic nuns (infant girls, the elderly, and those with physical or mental disabilities are sometimes abandoned by their families).  Many of the children had never seen a boy with bond hair and they wanted to touch him or have their pictures taken with him. He got to see how they still lived with joy and wonder, even though they had no material belongings or much of a future.

By the end of the trip, Noah had put aside his Gameboy and learned origami from the Japanese women on the bus who knew no English and gave him back rubs. He eventually stopped poking me and learned to enjoy simply looking out the window of the bus and taking it all in. He still remembers the orphans he met and how, even with so little, they still wanted to give to others.

To this day, he says its the best trip he’s ever had and wants to go back.  I know for sure those kids touched his heart and he taught him things about compassion, gratefulness and generosity in ways I never could.

This holiday season build a box with your family to teach kindness, compassion, and generosity.

Operation Christmas Child and influencer marketing platform BlogFrog have teamed up with 200 bloggers like me to spread the word about this great cause.

BlogFrog will match the first 200 boxes that are built.  Pledge your commitment below to build a box today on Facebook or Twitter!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Operation Christmas Child. The opinions and text are all mine.

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My first half Ironman, the Boulder Ironman 70.3 (#11)

It’s been 6 days and I’m still tired from the Boulder Ironman 70.3, my longest triathlon distance so far.  The race is the third in the Annual Boulder Tri Series which includes a sprint distance in June (Boulder Sprint Tri), an Olympic distance in July (Boulder Peak Tri) and a half ironman distance in August.  The race is 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run.

I was inspired to sign up by my friend Lindsay Brust, who blogged about her training and race last year at Reaching For Ironman.  Started doing sprint triathlons last year, did two Olympic distances this year for training, and was following a plan I found online. With each race, I kept thinking “well, I could go a little farther than that”.

Once you get to be a few days away from a race that long, there really isn’t any type of training you can squeeze in that the last minute that will help.  The biggest things you can influence by then are nutrition, sleep, and hydration.  So I tried to go to bed by 9:00pm the few days before, eat three solid meals of quality food each day, and drink lots of water.  To help with dehydration on race day, I avoid salt in the 48 hours before a long race too (a tip from running expert and former Olympian Jeff Galloway).

Saturday was all about prepping.  Had my biked checked out by Full Cycle in Boulder, stocked up on Clif Bars, Shot Bloks, and Gu, and calculated how much water I’d need to drink each hour.  I also packed a turkey sandwich.  I don’t know how endurance athletes survive on just GU and energy drinks for 4 to 6 hours because my body wants real food.  So I packed the turkey sandwich as my reward half-way thru the bike ride.

My swim heat started at 7:11am, which was fantastic because my age group (45+) usually starts almost an hour later.  It meant less time in the heat later in the afternoon.  The swim was relaxing and frankly, didn’t seem 1.2 miles long.  I was happy with my 42 minute time because my fastest mile time in training was 39 minutes and this was almost a quarter mile longer.

Since I knew it was going to be an 8-hour race, I took my time in transition.  I dried my feet off, went to the bathroom, ate, and put on my heart rate monitor so I could make accurate adjustments for the heat. I even stopped for a picture (thanks, Dave!).

The bike ride was lovely.  It was only about 8am so still cool and I had done this route several times so I was comfortable with the course.  I’m a slow-and-steady racer so I usually find my groove on the right side of the road and let people pass.  Drafting is not allowed and you have 15 seconds to pass someone or you can get a time penalty. My butt started getting sore about 2 hours into the ride but went away after about hour 3. I paid attention to the time, alternated water and Accelerade, and had my last solid food – my sandwich.  That was THE best turkey sandwich I have ever eaten! Completed the bike leg in just less than 4 hours.

The run is my weakest part.  I’m not fast but I can go slow forever.  By now it was just around noon and starting to get warm. At transition, I put on my hat, reapplied sunscreen, and grabbed my fuel belt.  Even though they hand out lots of GU and gel shots at the water stations, I don’t like to experiment during a race so I carry my own.  It’s just not worth risking the stomach distress and blowing a race I’ve been working so hard for so I don’t mind carrying a few extra items. The first hour and a half of the run wasn’t bad. I felt better than I thought I would and my fuel and hydration was working.  Then the heat really hit me.  My heart rate started spiking into the 170s so I would slow down or walk until it went back down.  I try to keep my heart rate between 145-155 for a long race.  Because of the heat, my heart rate was in that zone just walking. It was hard to stay cool but the ice cold sponges they gave out at the aid stations really helped.  I drank water every few minutes and ate one Shot Blok every 2 miles.  I didn’t even want to know what the temperature was so I didn’t ask (it was 93).  I just kept my eyes on the dirt path, kept checking my heart rate, and plugged along.  I walked most of the last few miles because I just couldn’t run any more, especially on the small hills. FINALLY, I could see the finish line tents in the distance and I got loopy knowing I would finish.

Dave was at the finish line and was a sight for sore eyes.  As soon as I crossed the finish line and hugged him, I broke down and cried.  I hadn’t realized I was holding it in but seeing him made all the emotion and mental struggle come loose.  I was so relieved to be done and proud that I finished.

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Banner advertising: a $62B industry based on a product nobody likes

I find it fascinating that even though research continues to show that banner advertising effectiveness is declining, projected spend is rising.  EMarketer projects that US brands will spend $62 Billion on online advertising by the year 2016 (click image to see full Mashable article).

If you think about it, success in the online advertising world is based on one thing – distracting you from engaging with the content you came to a site to read. This means it is an advertiser’s goal to interrupt you about a topic you probably care nothing about and likely doesn’t have anything do to with why you came to that site.

According to Performance Marketing Insider (see their banner ad Infographic here), the top reasons people don’t click on banner ads are:

  • 31% only want to click ads when they’re in the mood or interested in looking at them
  • 31% are worried that their internet behavior will be tracked
  • 46% worry pop-ups will take over their screen
  • 54% don’t trust most online banner ads they see
  • 55% are worried about getting a virus
  • 57% are afraid of receiving spam from advertisers
  • 58% say online banner ads are not that relevant to them
  • 61% don’t want to be distracted

If people don’t like banner ads, why do advertisers continue to spend money on them?

In the defense of smart brand marketers everywhere, it’s not because advertisers adore shouting at you from the sidebar.  When investment is increasing in a technology that is dying, it’s a sign the industry lacks alternatives. Brands know the best place to reach target consumers at scale is to engage with them online. While it might not be perfect, online advertising is still more cost-effective, measureable, and scalable than print or television. It’s reluctant spending.

Well, the cavalry is here and it’s called Influencer Marketing.

Influencer marketing is the notion of de-segregating brands from content.  You’ve probably seen it in action without even realizing it.  If you’ve enjoyed watching any of the Tour De France seasons the past few years, you owe part of your enjoyment to brands like Gatorade, T-Mobile, Chipotle and Discovery Channel.  By sponsoring athletes, they have added value to your experience and helped bring you the very content you wanted to see.

In the online space, bloggers and social media content creators are the new influencers.  They have loyal followers on their blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms and their peer-targeted content is more trusted than brand messaging alone.  Smart brands are embracing this and partnering with niche-based bloggers to help create large-scale awareness online.

It’s an exciting time to be in the social space and helping brands partner with relevant influencers is what my company, BlogFrog, is all about.  If you are a blogger or brand looking to learn more about influencer marketing, come check us out!

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Sittin’ on the dock of the bay

I am not a very good vacation-taker but time away from work is important. We need it to re-charge, calibrate our senses, and reconnect with those loved ones who have been unconditionally cheering for us on the sidelines of our work, patiently waiting their turn.  Last week I went back to my roots and spent a glorious week in my hometown on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay with memories of crabbing, fishing, sailing, waiting tables at Harris Crab House, and sitting on the end of the pier in the back yard just staring at the water. I did a lot of that last week.

Family vacations don’t have the reputation for being relaxing, healing, or heck, even very fun. But this one was a blast.  Twenty four of us came in from all over the country including siblings, spouses, grand kids, cousins, aunts and uncles. My parents are in their late seventies and early eighties so it was heartwarming to have so many of us in one place, all getting along and catching up.

We taught the younger ones how to bait crab traps, put a worm on a fish hook, how to use a dip net to scoop a crab up from behind a dangling chicken neck , and how to treasure the flavor of a sauteed softshell crab. The older kids got to jet ski, kayak and learn a bit of history during a tour of the Naval Academy. When it rained, we all packed into the living room and watched classic movies from our childhood like The Pink Panther (the original with Peter Sellers) and Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

I wouldn’t have changed one single thing, except to make it longer!

Posted in Work-Life Balance | 1 Comment