GUEST: Damon Burton, President of SEO National
The challenges of balancing work and personal life are . . . challenging.
But getting it right has never been more important.
The end result of poor work/life balance is decreased productivity and an inability to disconnect from work and truly connect with other people in your life.
Damon Burton, President of SEO National, has successfully disciplined himself to shut off work at 5 o’clock and on weekends, while still building a successful business that has stood the test of 12 years.
So obviously, we had to ask him how he’s done it.
Why “Time” Is the Best Motivator for Work/Life Balance
Damon is the eldest of seven kids. You might not expect it, but that gave him a head start on recognizing the importance of work/life balance.
He saw how fast time went as he helped raise his younger siblings. So when he was married and kids were on the horizon, he could easily compare the two situations.
As he made the leap of faith in the entrepreneurial world, the awareness of his family was there. It’s a daily thought to him about how quickly his kids are growing up.
When you start your own business, you think you’re going to have all these freedoms. You do, but you certainly don’t work less. And as your business evolves, there are rhythms of work. You progress, grow, and accomplish, then things are smooth for a while, then you go to the next level and have to grind it out.
Family is still first priority for him through every stage. He doesn’t work past five and rarely works on the weekends. Instead, he gets up early to get in work before his family is up.
How Do You Shut Down at 5??
"Not only do you have to come to terms with how to make things work for yourself, but you have to clearly communicate to your network how you roll."
President of SEO National
The “stopping at 5” thing sounds ludicrous to a lot of people. Entirely impractical.
But there’s a definite thing you can do to support a more balanced schedule:
Take email off your phone.
I know, I know. It’s a shocking thing to say given the current speed of business. But it’s doable—promise.
You don’t have the anxiety about responding because emails are literally not there for you to look at. It’s not that Damon gets any fewer emails than anyone else (he wakes up to 300 a day), but he checks them when he wants. Once he goes into his inbox, he wants to commit to knocking them out instead of sending one-off responses.
Not only do you have to come to terms with how to make things work for yourself, but you have to clearly communicate to your network—your boss, your clients, and your team members—how you roll. When you take on a new account, be very transparent about your schedule.
It doesn’t have to be weird. For example, you could introduce yourself and say email is your preferred communication, but you only check it once a day. You can guarantee responding within one business day, just not necessarily in real-time. Most clients will be understanding of this.
As long as you set the expectations, there are generally no problems.
Do Boundaries Negatively Impact the Customer Experience?
The short answer is no.
At least not for SEO National. In 12 years of business, Damon’s never had that problem.
In addition to setting expectations, you can put touchpoints in place. It wouldn’t work for all industries (such as social media management, in which you need to respond in real-time), but with Damon’s clients, there’s a sequence of events that kicks out to his team.
The sequence tells his team when to send a welcome email, when the next person should send an email, and so on. The client gets lots of communication at predetermined touchpoints so they don’t have to ask questions.
If you proactively reach out, you won’t have to respond to so many questions.
How in the World Do You Disconnect From Work?
It sounds great in theory, but for many people, the sense of being “present” with people and circumstances outside of work is so unfamiliar that it produces fear. They enjoy it until they realize they’re enjoying it, then they freak out.
One of the things that can benefit you the most is to schedule time to disconnect. Put it on your calendar. For example, from 8-9 in the morning, Damon has his calendar blocked off for walking his kids to school. Then from 3:15-4:00, he does the same thing for when they get off.
“I schedule those things that are important for me,” he said.
"I schedule those things that are important for me."
President of SEO National
Walking your kids to school one day probably won’t be something they remember that day, but eventually it will.
Scheduling time for decompression and disconnection outside of work will be uncomfortable at first. It might not work for a while. You almost have to train your mind that, “Oh, yeah, this is a thing” so it doesn’t revert back to what it knows.
Keep at it, though. After three or four uncomfortable times of doing something, it should start to become more natural.
Persistence, more than anything else, can help you eventually break through the wall of familiar anxiety.
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