I know the waitress didn’t mean to dig the knife deeper, but she did.
I am alone.
On my birthday.
In a foreign city.
Having a meal for one.
With nobody to enjoy it with.
This was it?
This was the life that I had been fantasizing about for the past twelve months?
The year was 2019.
It was the first year I took home a million dollars in profit from my advertising agency.
I had officially moved to Medellin, Colombia, to begin my digital nomad journey.
I wasn’t able to convince any of my friends to move with me to Colombia (shocker), so I was braving this journey solo.
Ever since I read “The Four Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferris, I wanted the coveted “work-life balance” he spoke so fondly of.
Backpacking through foreign lands and spending most of my free time relaxing, not working.
On paper and in theory, everything looked great.
There was just one problem.
I had gone full tilt.
In my quest to achieve a “work-life balance,” I went to the extreme.
I thought “work-life balance” was something you found in a far-off land where you didn’t speak the local language.
I thought that work was the enemy of life.
I had eliminated, automated, and delegated myself out of 95% of my work, leaving me the majority of the day for “life.”
But what exactly is “life?”
Not in some esoteric, Neil deGrasse Tyson way, but what was I supposed to fill all my time with?
For the previous 12+ months, my “life” was work.
There was no separation.
Now, I had almost eliminated the “work,” so I had to relearn “life.”
And what I learned was, it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.
Sure, the first few days were fun.
I took a helicopter to the manmade lakes of Guatapé.
I spent hours reading novels in the local cafes.
I took frequent naps.
I tried to fill my time as much as possible with what most people would consider “life.”
But after a while, I found it quite repetitive.
And dare I say, boring.
This is why I found myself contemplating this radical decision, while eating a meal, all alone, in Medellin, Colombia, for my birthday.
What I know now that I didn’t know then is…
Work-life balance is designed, it isn’t found.
It’s not something that requires selling all your possessions and traveling across the world.
It’s not something you learn from a monk on the top of a mountain.
It’s something you design.
It’s something you systemize.
It’s something you realize.
I don’t even like using the words “work-life balance” because that implies that they are a dichotomy.
That they have to be measured against each other.
That your life will forever consist of your significant other asking why you’re working during your vacation…
And you’ll always be talking about vacations during work.
Why can’t they complement one another?
Why can’t they be in harmony?
And that, my dear reader, is what we’re going to be discussing today.
How to achieve work-life harmony.
Step One: Design
If you’ve read any of my other letters (like “Breaking The Cycle of Neglect”), you know I follow a very simple process for getting what I want.The first step is to design it.
What do I want the end result to look like?
How am I defining “success”?
In this instance, I had to really think about what work-life harmony looked like to me.
If I had done this before I moved to Medellin, Colombia, I probably would have learned that it wasn’t necessary.
You don’t have to uproot and change your entire life to achieve this (unless you want to).
You can weave it into your current life.
You can begin by asking yourself these three questions:
1. How do you want to spend your days?
2. How do you want to spend your weeks?
3. Who do you want to spend this time with?
There is no right or wrong, and this will continuously change over time.
One of the best (and simplest) ways of doing this is to think about when you have the most energy vs. when your energy is drained.
For example, a lot of my energy is drained when I’m in back-to-back meetings all day.
So, in designing my life, I’ve made it so I only have two meetings a week.
Creating content and building systems gives me energy.
So in designing my life I spend the majority of my time doing exactly that.
You can review your design weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually, and make adjustments based on changes in your life.
Step Two: Systemize
This is always my favorite step.
This is where the rubber meets the road.
How do we take our design and bring it to reality?
How do we make sure that we don’t veer off course?
That we don’t let “life” get in the way.
We do that with systems, baby.
1. We eliminate unnecessary things in our lives that are not bringing us closer to work-life harmony.
This can be toxic people, foods that drain your energy, “side hustles” that take too much of your time, etc.
2. We automate as much as possible.
This can be a smart thermostat, a recurring calendar event for a massage, a sun lamp that turns on at 5:30 AM to wake you up and start your day, etc.
3. We delegate out the rest.
A house manager to take over household chores, an executive assistant to manage your schedule, a meal-delivery company to keep you on your diet, etc.
The goal is to remove any thinking.
For example, I woke up today feeling a little tired and, if I’m being honest, lazy.
When I opened my calendar, I saw that I had a massage scheduled for 12 PM and a spa appointment scheduled for 2 PM.
The best part is that I didn’t make this happen, my systems did.
Bi-weekly massages and spa days are part of the design of my work-life harmony.
It’s something that I know will give me the energy I need to do the work required to reach my goals.
But, considering how I felt this morning when I woke up, if it were up to me to reach out to my masseuse, call the spa, schedule everything, pay them, etc., I probably wouldn’t have done it.
It would have been easier to do nothing and justify in my head that it was the right thing to do.
But, thanks to the system I set up with my executive assistant, I still got to do nothing and I got to live my version of work-life harmony.
That’s when you know you’ve got a great system.
Step Three: Realize
It won’t happen overnight.
You won’t even really notice it happening at first.
But, over time, as you continue to design and systemize, you’ll begin to realize your version of work-life harmony.
This can take many forms; it all depends on what you designed in step one.
To help illustrate what it can look like, I’ll explain how I’ve come to realize work-life harmony:
1. All the businesses I own are things I’m deeply passionate about, I’m proud of them, so I love promoting them (check out Scaling With Systems if you’re interested).
2. All the work I do for those businesses are things I love to do, things that give me energy, things that don’t even feel like work.
3. All my friends are in similar situations, when we take trips together, nobody judges anybody for working by the pool or taking calls on the slopes.
4. I spend time “living” my life, not managing it. I don’t schedule trips, massages, plays, or concerts, I just look at my calendar and show up and experience it. I’m fully present without a care in the world.
5. I only hire people who share similar values to mec so when we host our company retreats in exotic places like Spain or Costa Ricac it feels like a trip with a bunch of friends.
6. The same thing goes with our clients; we only work with people who share our company’s values, so when we host our in-person masterminds, it’s like vacationing with 50+ friends (and we nerd out over all things business and systems).
7. I’ve hired my girlfriend to work at one of our companies, challenging her and allowing me to talk even more about what I love (work) when we spend time together.
And so much more…
This transformation won’t happen overnight.
And many people reading this could be years away from their ideal harmony of work and life.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps towards it today.
And even when you reach what you initially thought was your ideal life, you may need to go back and redesign parts of it, like I did when I first moved to Medellin, Colombia.
Over time, there will no longer be a dichotomy of “work” and “life.”
You’ll no longer have to choose one over the other.
You’ll just live in a constant state of harmony, with everything you do compounding to make the next even better.
That’s my wish for you, dear reader.
And remember, until next time…
Design, Systemize, and Realize!
P.S. I don’t want you to think I didn’t like Medellin, I actually fell in love with the city. Now, when I go, it’s with my new, harmonious life. It’s the venue for one of our business masterminds every year, so I get to introduce 50+ people to the city while we all get to do what we love: work.