Friday, March 25, 2011

How do you balance work and family life?

This was a question I got asked during an Animation Mentor Q&A I did last year, and which I get asked from students/workshop people and via email quite a bit. But it seems like that question has been coming up more often lately so I thought I'd expand on my Q&A response and outline my daily and constantly evolving workflow.

My initial response to "How do you balance work and family life?" was:

You balance it with a lot of care, sacrifice and reshuffling of priorities. :)

My main priorities are as follows:

1. Family - it's very important to me to spend as much time as I can with my wife and son, especially my son. He grows up fast and before you know he's off to college or somewhere else, all grown up.

2. Primary Work - I say primary because the FX house I work at is my primary work, which allows me to pay my bills. I'm the breadwinner at the moment so I need to make sure that I don't jeopardize my position there. Being Swiss, I'm very anal and time conscious. :) So the moment my required hours at work are up I'm off home to spend time with my family. But I'm also a huge fanboy and love my work and I've been treated very well there, so I'm also a company man and try to help out as much as I can in terms of Overtime Work and additional duties. You can't be a slacker or do less than is expected of you. We do 9 hours a day on a normal day, so that's where I'm going to put 200% of effort into it. If a show is in crunch mode and you're being asked to stay late or come in on a week-end, I'm there.

That's the biggest balancing act and every now and then you reshuffle things. Let's say my son is off to camp, I'll spend a bit more time at work if it's needed, so #2 becomes #1 and so on, while making sure that I don't neglect my time with my wife.

3. Secondary Work - That would be AM, my workshops or other teaching activities. Whatever time is left I spend here. And again, if #1 and/or #2 change in terms of demand, then #3 gets bumped to the top.

I love doing animation work, so it's a constant fight over what priority gets the number 1 spot. :) But you can't have everything, so that's where the sacrifices come in (or compromises). I wish I could eat pizza all day and watch movies, but that's just not going to happen (too often...).

But as whole: family first and respect your work. I like to be productive but without certain tools I use it'd have a much harder time.

Now, what are the tools or methods I use in order to get stuff done? My current helpers are:


I love gadgets and those two are huge time savers for me. My iPhone is always on me and it helps me organize meetings, schedules, appointments, etc. in a very quick and efficient way. I can take notes whenever I need to (say you have a new animation idea or want to write down some acting references you observed), I can shoot reference or take pictures whenever it is needed, scribble down sketches, expand my reference library etc. Plus I can respond to emails whenever I have the time and I do respond to every email that I get (workshop people get priority treatment, so if I haven't responded to you yet, I will! :) ).
Perks on top of that are the various apps you get on it, games, Netflix, Hulu, web browsing, and the list goes on. I get a lot of stuff done thanks to it and once I get home I pick up my iPad for the same reasons. The only time I use a PC is for heavier work like animation in Maya or any After Effects work, plus most of the online workshop critiquing (although I just got an app that lets you frame through video clips, so now I can do even more work on the road!).

The downside is that you're always "on", but I found that a minute here and there responding to emails and doing other work throughout the day is much better than doing nothing and getting to it in the evening or even worse at the end of the week. By then there's a huge pile of stuff to go through and I'd like to relax in the evenings and on week-ends.


Ah Twitter. How annoying it can be. I have to admit, I used to hate it. The name, the idea behind it, tweets like "I'm taking a shower." Really? It felt so self centered. I remember ranting about it to my students for an hour during my last class at the AAU. When they asked how they could stay up to date with the stuff that I was talking about in class, someone suggested I should just join Twitter and the students could follow me that way. It cracked me up and I reluctantly joined. And oh boy was I wrong. Well, it's still annoying, but it totally changed my browsing habits. Enter Echofon. I used to have bookmarks in my browser and I would check certain sites on a regular basis to see what's new or use RSS feeds. But with Echofon active in Firefox I just have little pop-ups that show me short headlines from the sites that I follow. It's very concentrated and streamlined and my web browsing time went down dramatically. Which is of course very good when you're at work. :)
Obviously work comes first, but every now and then there is a new trailer that's online or other news that you want to read and with Echofon I can do just that and save time.
Once you have a post popping up that interests you, the Firefox tabs enter the game.


You should see my browsers at home and at work. I have so many tabs open, some of them are months old. Why? Well, again, work comes first. So, once there is something that interests me, I'll open it in a tab and whenever time permits, I'll get to it. And it's not always work work work. There are shots that take a long time to render, files that need to get transferred to the TDs down the pipeline, etc. etc. so whenever something like that comes up, I can catch up with the stuff I want to read/watch/listen to. If it's something longer, like a making-of or a whole site by a super cool artist, then I'll resort to Spungella and Swench and I'll post it there so I can read it at home at a later point.


And here's the shocker! A lot of the stuff on Spungella that I post, I haven't looked at. Dun dun duuuuuh.... (And this goes for all of Swench. It's my online bookmark corner that I can access whenever and where ever). But I know that I will later because it's stuff that interests me. There's no way I would be able to read through and watch everything that I post beforehand. I wouldn't get to my work and I'd be fired within a week. So once again, time management and priorities. With Echofon and Blogger, finding something and posting it doesn't take longer than 30secs, sometimes even less and that's usually all done during a render.
But yes, I still have tabs open that are really old because I read little sections at a time or check updates. :)
For instance, this article mentions a few good episodes that I wanted to watch at one point, or this is about the Black Cauldron. Sure I could post it and read later, but for some reason I'm keeping those and many other tabs open. Hahahaha!

So there you have it. Nerdy secrets revealed. :)

It helps of course that I love animation and that I love talking/teaching about animation and that I have a very patient family. Believe it or not, it's really not that crazy once you found a good way of managing the duties and getting your work done. But don't forget to relax. As much as I like to be productive, I also love being lazy. Give yourself time to unplug and to just do nothing.

I hope that answered some questions and as always, leave a comment or email me if you have more questions.




Thanks JD that helped a lot :)

Dapoon said...

Excellent post Jean! Trust me, I fret about this ridiculously. I'm still a struggler (and my career hasn't really 'taken off' yet). To add to that, my age is slowly catching up which is gradually pushing me towards marriage. And being a bachelor, I'm someone who's already torn apart between career and family (my parents), I can't even begin to imagine what would happen when I get married. So thanks a lot for this post, really insightful and gives a certain clarity of the bigger picture! :)

Christopher said...

Great post, this is something that I think about as a newly married guy studying animation (and I'm certain my wife does too).

Something you might check out is an app called TweetMag for the iPad, it takes your Twitter feed (or any group you create) and aggregates all the articles posted into a magazine format that you can read. Haven't tried it yet but the concept is really cool.

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Thanks for the tip!