One Business Owner’s Solution to Work Life Balance

One Business Owner’s Solution to Work Life Balance

Are you someone that works to live or lives to work? That’s what James Sudakow, business owner and author of the new book Out of the Blur: A Delirious Dad’s Search For The Holy Grail of Work-Life Balance asked himself as his work and life priorities got severely out of balance.

In this episode, Sudakow reveals the traps he fell into as he was running a business while also needing to be present for his large family, and he shares the secrets to achieving balance in work and life that anyone can put to practice.


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Run Time: 37:04

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Brandon Laws: Hey, Brandon here and welcome back for another episode. It’s good to be with you. On this episode, I have another discussion with James Sudakow. He has been on the podcast a couple of different times and I really enjoy having him on the podcast.

In this episode, he discusses work-life balance and we’ve never really had an episode dedicated solely to it. I think he has a unique perspective. He’s a business owner. He runs a consulting practice. He’s an author and a speaker and he works a lot. But he has also got a big family and a lot of other obligations in his personal life.

So he really talks about what he has gone through in the last couple of years where he felt like his life was imbalanced. He’s working a lot and prioritizing was challenging for him. I think you’re going to relate to what he has to say. I think a lot of people will relate. I know I personally do and so I basically had a discussion with him on this topic. He’s out with a new book as of September 2018 called Out of the Blur: A Delirious Dad’s Search for the Holy Grail of Work-Life Balance.

The discussion is all about this book and one thing I will note is that yes, it does have a dad’s perspective. But what’s in this book is more just a point of view, but the framework is good for anybody – mothers, fathers, people who don’t have kids at all or a family at all and really just who might struggle with the work-life balance.

Brandon Laws: James, it’s so awesome to have you back on the podcast.

James Sudakow: Oh, yeah. Thanks for having me, man.

Brandon Laws: In the time that we last talked, you were busy writing another book. What was going on in your life to end up writing an entire book about work-life balance?

James Sudakow: In two words, too much. Too much was going on in my life. So yeah, just I finally kind of hit this wall where I guess whatever I was trying to do in the name of work-life balance just wasn’t working. So, I finally just sat down and tried to do something different and that – and what caused it was I’ve got – we have kids running around. I run my own business. I do a lot of writing. So, it was just so many things. I didn’t want to be absentee in any of them but I found that it just wasn’t working. So, I had to figure out a different way to go about it.

Brandon Laws: At the beginning of the book, you mentioned briefly about your dad and how you watched him and he would get up on the clock like 4:30 in the morning. He would work an entire day but he would – seemingly be available for the family. You know, attend – if it was sports events or activities and then he would probably stay up late and then he – you know, until midnight and then get up and do it all over again. He never seemed to burn out. Did you ever look at that as a model for like – maybe that was – he did something right and you wanted to capture that? What sort of influence did that have on you when you wrote this book?

James Sudakow: Well, it’s interesting. So, I do start off talking about my dad because my dad was one of my hugest role models and I thought he did so many things right. This is obviously a book about work-life balance written from a dad’s perspective, right? So, of course I started thinking about my dad.

I think I was oblivious, quite honestly, to everything he was doing as a kid, right? As a dad now, you kind of hope that your kid is a little bit oblivious to like how you’re doing everything that you’re doing as long as they’re getting what they need. My dad was clearly fulfilling all that stuff but it wasn’t until I got a little older where I started realizing, “Wow! This is how he’s doing it. And I think there were some great things about how he was doing it and then there were some other things where I said, “I don’t know if I can sustain something like that.” So, I have to think about trying to get the outputs that he got, but maybe not doing that because I couldn’t go to bed every night at midnight and wake up at 4:30 and survive more than a couple of weeks.

So, I was really proud of what my dad did for all of us. He ran the West Coast operation of a business and he was always available and always there for my sister and me. But I had to figure out how can I do that same output, but maybe a little differently because I got to get more than four and a half hours of sleep at night.

Brandon Laws: Same here. Yeah. It’s funny you mentioned that because I think, to a certain extent, kids are oblivious to what’s going on as long as they – yeah, again, they’re the center of the universe. As long as they get what they need, things are OK. And I wonder if you ever had a chance to ask him. I think you mentioned he passed away in the last couple of years. I’m sorry for that.

James Sudakow: Yeah.

Brandon Laws: If you ever got a chance to ask him, “How did you do this? How did you balance everything?”

James Sudakow: You know, it’s a funny question because I never did ask my dad how he did that. It was just like my dad was a bit of a machine. So, he did everything and the family was the most important thing to him. So, it’s interesting. I think some of the habits that I developed around what were kind of the problem were probably because he was such a machine and he was a classic type-A personality. So, he was driving hard at work, but never at the expense of the family.

So, I developed some habits probably from watching that without even realizing it around just like what I call in the book the Superhero Syndrome, which is where you just do everything and that’s your solution to work-life balance. It works kind of, I think, in the short term. But if you go longer term, like yeah, you start to burn out. You can’t do it anymore.

Brandon Laws: Yeah. It’s funny because, when I read your entire book, I thought to myself – it seemed like you wrote this book for yourself in a way, right? Like for all the dads that are out there too. But I think you needed it – it seemed like you documented – you wanted to basically solve the problems that you’re having with this balance issue. Did you get to the end of it and say, “Wow, I fixed the issues that I’m having and this is going to help other people, because I know other people are going through that”? Was that in the back of your mind as well when you were writing this?

James Sudakow: Yeah. So, what it started as was, hey, you know – I did a bunch of research on work-life balance when it finally became time for me to say, “What am I going to do about this problem?” You know, I read a whole bunch of stuff and I got kind of demoralized, to be honest with you. Yes, it was initially about solving my problems. And I got demoralized because there were people out there saying like, “It’s a false reality. You will never have work-life balance. It doesn’t exist. Stop trying,” and then there were other people that were saying stuff like, “You just got to do this work-life blend thing where you just bring everything together,” and I was like, “There’s no way I can possibly do that. I can barely multitask at work.” But add family, it’s a disaster. So initially, I started trying to solve it for myself. But as I started doing that, the perspective I kept coming from was – I’m a dad and a husband and there’s not a lot out there that really talks about this from a dad and a husband’s perspective.

You know, not to say that there’s like a gender issue with it. But you don’t hear this a lot discussed with dads and every – all of my friends that I talk with, all of my male friends, we all kind of had the same issues. We just didn’t talk about it that much because we’re not great at doing that. So, I started writing the book for myself but then I said, you know, there’s a lot of – all the people I know that are dads and husbands out there, we all kind of are playing in this similar area. Where’s the opportunity for us to think about something for us, right?

That’s kind of where it came to. How could I apply a methodology that might help all of us, regardless of whether you have all of the challenges I had or some of them or whatever else?

Brandon Laws: It’s interesting you said about the dad’s perspective because you definitely see that theme throughout it. It’s written from your perspective and your stories. But I didn’t feel like it was off limits to working mothers or anything like that.

James Sudakow: I agree.

Brandon Laws: I felt like all these principles that you have, they applied to anybody. That’s why I thought it was interesting just because there’s a lot of – especially people who listen to this podcast. There’s a lot of senior leaders and business owners who listen to this and they’re probably struggling with this, whether they’re a male, female.

James Sudakow: Yeah.

Brandon Laws: I think all this stuff that you have in there is relevant to just working parents in general.

James Sudakow: Yeah, no, I appreciate that. That was kind of where I went with it. It started off being like this thing for me and then just for dads. But as I started like diagnosing the challenges and my solutions to doing that, it obviously became applicable to anybody who’s trying to be a good parent and who’s also trying to do a good job at work, right? We all face the same issues when you have those things happening in your life.

Of course, there’s a lot of dad-isms in there just because I’m a dad and that’s how I write. But I think you’re right. I mean it can apply to anybody and in fact I have a woman that I coach, I do some executive coaching, and she’s reading it right now and said, “Yeah, you definitely have some dad stories in there. But like gosh, everything that I’m reading about could certainly apply to me too.” So, it’s nice to see that people are looking at it a little bit more broadly.

Brandon Laws: You pose a question early on in the book and you said, “Are you someone who works to live or lives to work?” and you answered that for yourself. How did you answer that?

James Sudakow: So, I answered that question as works to live. And it’s interesting because these are point-in-time questions and that’s one of things that I talk a lot about in the book is that this is the way I am right now. But I also have worked with a lot of people who are at different points in their careers where their kids are maybe grown and they’re out of the house. At that point in their time, they’re living to work and that’s cool too.

So, one of the things I found about work-life balance is this is like a continuous process and it’s ever-evolving. So, right now, at this point of my life, as much as I love my work, I’m doing it to fulfill my life and that’s the priority for me. That decision actually translates into a whole bunch of tradeoffs that I probably had never been willing to think about before because I made that decision that I’m working to live versus living to work.

Brandon Laws: I think that’s such a great point and you mentioned this at a point in time and you really started out the book and just the overall – before you brought up any of the concepts later on. You documented a day in the life and I thought you sort of illustrated as a kind of a funny but sad story that we can –

James Sudakow: Yeah.

Brandon Laws: Like there’s poop gate –which you got to read the book to understand what that’s all about. So, for the point in time thing, do you recommend people document a day in the life, so they really understand how they’re spending the time and figuring out like how they’re wasting time or how much time they actually have available?

James Sudakow: Yeah. I found the day in the life experience to be super valuable and obviously I go into one and more detail than anybody ever needs to create for themselves. I do it in the book for like explanatory purposes. But the day in the life is super important because the way I go to that, I started driving home one day and I started thinking about like – I do business transformation. That’s one of my things that I do consulting on and there’s a methodology to it.

I started thinking like, “Why wouldn’t I apply something like that to my own work-life balance problem?” and the first thing that I typically do or that we will do with a company is – well, what’s your current state? It’s important to know where you’re starting and one of the easiest ways, at least from a work-life balance perspective, is to do this simple day in the life exercise and just kind of write down a day.

What was happening and where were you stressed out? Where weren’t you? Where were you feeling in control and when weren’t you? And like the day then helps you get to this place where you can deconstruct behaviors that you didn’t even realize you were doing, or ways that you were spending your time that you haven’t thought about, or at least highlighting areas where you say, “Well, that was really stressful.” OK. So then the question is, “Why was that period of the day stressful? What can you do differently about it?”

That’s why the day in the life was such a valuable exercise for me and I talk about it in the book, how easy it is for anybody to do it.

Brandon Laws: Do you think a lot of issues that people have with work-life balance is because they’re just sort of winging their day and letting things happen to them versus like really prio – like digging deep and prioritizing what’s important?

James Sudakow: I think that’s pretty common and I can’t speak for everyone. But a lot of people that I spoke to – and I will raise my hand on this. I had this like sound bite about what work-life balance was for me. And it was no deeper than a sound bite, which means I couldn’t really figure out how to operationalize it, which meant by all means I was basically reacting all day long.

So, I knew I wanted to do a good job at work and I knew I wanted to do a good job at home. And that’s as far as I took my like vision of work-life balance. So, anything else that happened was in the name of those two things. But there was – it was really just reacting to what was going on in the moment and that’s basically what my day in the life describes. I suspected a lot of other people that have similar days in the life, you know, maybe without some poop gate issuesthat I talk about, but that reactive kind of nature of how it goes.

Brandon Laws: When you did the day in the life and you sort of analyzed how you’re spending your day and realized you could do things differently, did you ever start intentionally building out your calendar in a way that – you know, you’re blocking off time for yourself or for work? How does your calendar look? Are you using any sort of calendaring system to prioritize and to plan your day?

James Sudakow: Yeah. Well, I wasn’t. I mean I did a great job of it at work. One of the things that I found is I had yet to – maybe some people were much further along than me – I was great at calendaring my work stuff because that’s what I’ve been doing for a long time. The home stuff I didn’t calendar the same way and that’s what created all sorts of really weird integration or interaction points between the two.

One of the things that I talk about in the book that worked for me and that I’ve talked with a lot of other kind of working moms and dads about is this notion of strict compartmentalization and boundary setting. From that perspective, what that then translates into is actually blocking time on the calendar. I create an integrated calendar now. It’s how I do it. It’s work and life even though I’ve talked in the book about not wanting to do work-life blend. From a calendaring perspective, the way for me not to do work-life blend is to create an integrated calendar where I literally see big blocks of days that are allocated 100 percent for work or 100 percent for not work.

That’s how I’m able to start to kind of plan better. I wasn’t very good at doing that. I suspect a lot of people don’t kind of – they have their work and life stuff separated and to bring it together into one big calendar was super helpful for me to be able to actually compartmentalize better.

Brandon Laws: I think that’s a good point because – there’s a book I read years ago and I want to say it was The One Thing. I think that was the title of it – where they really talked about how like multitasking is a total – it doesn’t exist because you can’t put 100 percent of your –

James Sudakow: It’s a façade.

Brandon Laws: Yeah, totally, right?

James Sudakow: Yeah.

Brandon Laws: So, the point like I think you’re trying to make about compartmentalization, you’re just like if you’re going to block out two hours for work, you’re going to be like totally focused on the two hours of work, nothing else.

James Sudakow: Right.

Brandon Laws: And then if you have two hours for family, it’s complete family time and you shouldn’t have your phone out and you shouldn’t be distracted by other things.

James Sudakow: That’s exactly right.

Brandon Laws: Yeah.

James Sudakow: That’s exactly right and what I think a lot of us do and it’s – I don’t blame any of us for this, especially with technology being as ubiquitous as it is. It’s so easy to be gotten a hold of it at any point in time that – like when I think about my dad, if I take it back to my dad’s era, there were natural boundaries that existed between work and life that were just there because the technology wasn’t there to disrupt it. Technology is awesome. Believe me, I love all the technology that we have. But many ways, like I think about their problems. They were probably stressed out about not being able to connect enough.

Our challenge is not being able to disconnect, right? So, we have to literally force-feed the boundaries that used to be there. I don’t know if that makes sense or not but that’s one of the things I found for myself.

Brandon Laws: Yeah.

James Sudakow: It was huge, like a huge epiphany to say, “I’ve got to recreate boundaries that used to be there for my dad and mom when they were in that phase of their life.”

Brandon Laws: You had this like subtle point in the book. I laughed because this is so true, at least for me, and I’m sure other people can relate to this with technology. So, you said that you’re – one of your business partners – I don’t know if this is current or back in the day. But would urgently, urgently – it’s their emergency. He would text you about an urgent email that he had sent and you joked that it was like twice the urgency because he’s not only texting you but in reference to an email that was urgent about the same thing. That was twice the urgency but half the fun.

How do we avoid stuff like that and filter out like somebody else’s emergency? Because I think that’s sort of a manufactured urgency.

James Sudakow: Yeah. No. You hit on it right on the head and one of the things I talk about in the book that’s a huge problem at least I think for a lot of us with work-life balance is what I call manufactured or artificial urgency. In the business world, any of us who work there, I mean we know. Like urgency is there, right? It’s there all the time. But some of the times, the things that we’re responsible – and I had to take a hard look at my stuff. If I really were to ask the question of, “Is my business going to get degraded if this isn’t as urgent as I have decided to make it?” many times the answer was no, right?

When I get the urgent text about the urgent email, it’s the same question. If I don’t respond to this right now with the same level of urgency that is being given to me, what’s the consequence? I never used to ask myself that question. I think I just defaulted to a response because many of us do, right? That’s just the pace that business goes at these days.

So, I started asking that question and almost created something that I called “urgency filters.” What are the key questions I need to ask at work to decide if this truly is urgent or if it’s artificial? What happens to a lot of us is that urgency then cascades its way down into our lives outside of work. It just becomes a habit. So, I would urgently do things at home that had no business being urgent but it was like a habitual thing.

So, I had to figure out how to create that filter between what I would like to be urgent versus what really was urgent. What was great about that was it eliminated so many things that I was trying to do each day because they just weren’t as urgent as I wanted them to be and it also reduced my stress because I was manufacturing my own stress.

Brandon Laws: Filtering out urgent things on the surface sounds like a really easy – not easy but like an idea that would probably keep your sanity. The problem – I think there’s probably risks with it, right? Like pissing off people or – like if you manage people, like not getting back to them and they’re truly drowning or – like there are real emergencies. So, I worry that filtering too many things out would cause a lot of people problems.

James Sudakow: It can. I mean it can. One of the tests that I put it through was – look, I run a business consulting practice and I was worried that would I – if I were to reduce urgency on too many things, would I start making my clients upset, right? Because they’re the ones that pay my bills. And I have people that I manage who are on some of these projects. Would I be doing things that would be making them feel uncomfortable about the work?

The really interesting thing was – and you do – to your point, you do have to apply it carefully. If I was really careful about how I answered those questions, I have yet to have a client who has actually said anything about my change in urgency. What I found was that it was because my clock was so much faster from an urgency set than theirs was – even the most urgent client that I have – that I was literally creating urgency far beyond what their urgency was.

So, the key is to kind of not cross that line backwards around where their urgency filter is. If you do that, then you cause all the problems you’re talking about. But I think a lot of us set our urgency clocks so fast forward, that we’re well beyond what other expectations are. You just have to understand where other people’s expectations are and make sure you don’t rewind it further than that.

Brandon Laws: So, I feel like with a lot of urgency-based things, the mobile phone that we use is the cause of a lot of that. It’s the ding of the email. It’s text messages. Did you figure out any sort of solution around the notifications and anything like your mobile phone would – I mean it’s all urgency. It’s like in the moment, on demand. People can connect with you at any time. What are you doing to help filter out the urgent stuff?

James Sudakow: Well, I do a couple of things and none of these are legendary ground-breaking. But on the emails, I actually check emails at periodic points of the day and that took a while because what I used to do – and I even described it in the book – anytime I had a down second, I’m checking my email on my phone or I’m checking my texts on my phone.

I found that to be totally counterproductive, right? And I even had a guy – this is actually kind of a funny story that I don’t even talk about in the book. I got an email from a client and then I responded a few hours later. My email back to him, this just tells you about where my urgency clock was set. My email back to him said, “Hey, sorry for taking so long to get back to you.” It was like two hours. I said, “I’m so sorry it took so long to get back to you.”

His response to me was, “I get a good sense for how you’re wired right now just by the fact that you had to apologize for two hours,” and that was like a red flag –

Brandon Laws: Yeah.

James Sudakow: Oh my god. Yeah. Why am I thinking that’s such a long time? I’ve reduced the timeframe to a point that doesn’t make any sense. He would have been fine if I had responded at the end of the day. It wasn’t that big a deal, especially given the content that his email was about, right? So, I start to check my email at certain points of the day versus anytime I get white space.

On my texts, sometimes I turn the notifications off and I check those proactively versus letting the ding dictate when I check. Now I have to be careful. I have a family and so if my wife needs something or if there’s something going on at home, so we have a system by which I’m always checking just to make sure it’s not personal on the family side. But if there’s anything coming in, like my colleague’s text about the email, I just kind of let that go and he knows it. I’ve talked to him about it. So, it’s an interesting kind of way to figure it out.

Brandon Laws: When you’re at home, do you ever put the mobile phone like 20 feet away or whatever kind of the rule is? Like it’s far enough away that you aren’t going to go after it and so that way you can dedicate your time to your family in the moment – like is there anything that you’re doing from that perspective? Like turning it off or anything like that?

James Sudakow: Yeah. I turn it off.

Brandon Laws: Oh, good.

James Sudakow: I turn it off. So, from a compartmentalization perspective – and I got really strict about this. But again, within these boundaries of saying, look, I don’t want to kill my business. At a certain point in time, once dinner time hits, I turn the phone off and the reason that I do that is I found the struggle that I was having is I was always – when I wasn’t doing that – and I have a lot of things to do – I was constantly thinking about the thing I had to do next while I was doing the thing that I was doing.

Part of the problem with that was the cell phone. Because I could always access that stuff. OK. I’m playing with the kid. Let me just quickly look on this and I can send this email to this guy while I’m playing with the kid. Well, why would I want to do that? Then I’m not like enjoying my work or playing with my kid. So, I just turn the phone off. I actually compartmentalize fully and shut it off for the night and then I pick it up early in the morning.

Brandon Laws: You mentioned earlier a couple of times and you definitely talked about this in the book. But the work-life blend, a lot of people are using that term loosely right now. What’s the difference between that and work-life balance and which one is the best from your perspective?

James Sudakow: In terms of the difference first and then we can talk about the best. I think that’s a personal preference, quite honestly. The difference is I think with work-life blend, what a lot of people are talking about these days is look, you will never get the separation that you think you want. So, since that’s not possible, what you should do is just accept the fact that there is no work-life balance. It’s all life, and work is part of life and life is part of work. So just do it all.

Conceptually I get it, right? I mean it doesn’t – it makes sense conceptually. But when you try to operationalize that, that’s when people like me start having their brains start to shut down. I just could not do it. So – and then people try to multitask and we talked about kind of the concept of how multitasking really doesn’t work at all and it actually makes you less effective and less productive. All the science and research has proven that.

So that’s what work-life blend starts to create and so, ironically enough, what I found about myself when I did my day in the life is I was living work-life blend unintentionally, right? Reactively. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I said, “I can’t do this anymore.” So, for me, it came down to work-life balance really is about prioritization. It’s about making choices. It’s about accepting the implications of those choices and then kind of compartmentalizing it. And that’s the difference.

Now is it better than work-life blend? There’s a lot of people you might talk to who would say work-life blend works just great for them and that’s cool. Then they should do it. But there’s a lot of people like me who can’t process that. We want the separation and the compartmentalization and that’s where you kind of achieve work-life balance. I do think it’s possible even though a lot of people say it isn’t.

Brandon Laws: I think it’s really interesting because you’re a business owner. You’re running a consulting practice. I would think the blend, the work-life blend would be a default for somebody like yourself versus if you’re an employee at some organization, compartmentalizing and doing the work-life balance seems to be a lot easier. How did you get away from that blend approach when you – you’re the guy. You’re running your own business.

James Sudakow: That’s exactly right and that was part of my fear, right? My fear – when you run your own thing, I mean it’s conceivable that you work all the time and you kind of have to, right? I’m constantly doing business development. Monday through Friday doesn’t really mean that – it doesn’t mean the same thing to me or a business owner as it does to someone who works in more of a traditional role. Saturday and Sunday are just as good of days to be doing work as Monday through Friday. I know that works for a lot of people.

So, for me, what I started to try to do was I just tried to compartmentalize where are the days that I want to be 100 percent dedicated to my family or where are the half days that I want to be 100 percent dedicated to my family. I actually blocked those out first. So, I almost did it in reverse and this was kind of a risk. I said, “Well, if I do too much there, am I going to have enough time to run my business?”

I can’t run this business on 20 hours a week. But I took kind of the bold step of saying, look, if I want to see what happens if I compartmentalize family time first. And the reason I did that was because it’s so easy to block your work time first and then try to squeeze in the family time and then there’s never enough.

So, I said, “Look, if family is important to me and I can’t be hypocritical about this, let’s block that first.” Then I started blocking the time for work. And then it’s just like kind of a give and take and quite honestly, this is where some of my dad’s influence rubbed off. I will get up very, very early in the morning to get several hours’ worth of work done before anybody wakes up and then I feel great because then I can block that time for family without guilt. Because I got this work done. I got up early. I was dedicated. I was uninterrupted and it got done before the day hit, yeah.

Brandon Laws: It’s funny hearing you talk about the compartmentalization. It seems to me you would be able to live in the moment a little bit better and be completely present because I know you suggest doing that and going back to your earlier story about poop gate, you talked about like when you’re – I think it was swimming practice for your son and you snuck away to the bathroom to check email or something like that. That’s when it happened. He pooped in the pool.

James Sudakow: Yeah.

Brandon Laws: If you just shut it off, you said, “OK, this is swimming practice. I am 100 percent dedicated.” You would have been there in the moment. Probably you could have pulled him out of the pool in advance, right?

James Sudakow: Yeah. I would have seen what was going on because I know the warning signs of what was happening there.

Brandon Laws: It’s such a good story to illustrate how we kind of sleepwalk through our lives and are never fully present in one thing or another and we probably just need to dedicate ourselves, right?

James Sudakow: That’s exactly right and I talk about this concept of chasing time in the book. It says the exact same concept. Like I’m here physically but my mind is somewhere else. And why do that? Because then you’re not enjoying work or life. You’re always thinking about the next thing versus enjoying the moment of what you’re doing. I want to enjoy my work and I definitely want to enjoy my family. But if I’m trying to bounce back and forth and not compartmentalizing or trying to do too many things, it’s really hard to be in the moment because you’re always thinking about, “God, I got all this other stuff I still have to do.”

Brandon Laws: How does sleep play a role in all this? Because I think a lot of people think, well – you know, especially if you’re a family man or a mother of a bunch of kids and you’re working. You feel like to have either time for yourself or to catch up on work, you’ve got to do it at night when everybody else is sleeping. I mean that’s the way I think about it.

But that cuts into my sleep and I feel like to really be productive and present for the next day, I need to be fresh and have seven, eight hours of sleep. What did you come to the conclusion on regarding sleep?

James Sudakow: Well, two things. One, there are some very lucky people – and my dad was probably one of them, who don’t need a lot of sleep.

Brandon Laws: It’s crazy.

James Sudakow: I’m not one of them.

Brandon Laws: Me neither.

James Sudakow: So yeah, I don’t know how the heck he did that. I need seven or eight hours of sleep. I mean the biggest joke in our family is that I need as much sleep as the kids do and –

Brandon Laws: Twelve hours.

James Sudakow: But yeah, I could use a nap every day. I mean I kind of need that stuff just to function. What I found was I was very much doing the – OK, finally the kids are down. Our teenager is in his room and there are no problems there. Now I can finish some work and it’s nine o’clock and I will work for three hours, and great.

What I found was the next morning, I was just destroyed because the clock still starts early for when you got kids in the house, right? So, you’re not getting the amount of sleep that you need. What I really started to realize was I wasn’t getting the same quality of sleep because I was a little bit amped up from the work and I was not as efficient doing the work because I was starting to try to finish things at nine o’clock at night, thinking that was my only option, which is why I flipped it and said, “You know what? I’m going to bed early every night. I don’t care.”

If I got work to catch up on, I’m doing it – I mean, sadly, I’m doing it at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning. But what I found was I was so much faster at it at that next morning versus trying to cram it into the night before and my next day started off in such a better place.

Brandon Laws: The bulk of your book, you really talk about the eight traps, which we actually – we covered a lot of that in this discussion so far. But in the end, did you really figure out a solution for each of those traps that you found yourself falling into?

James Sudakow: I did, yeah. I mean I found – what I tried to put in were very simple and pragmatic, like doable solutions. For the most part, I stick with them. I still fall off the wagon. But it’s interesting. Behavior change is an interesting thing and I talk a lot about in the book of, yeah, I came up with some good solutions and then a couple of months later, I found myself not doing them because I had 15 years of habit doing it the other way that was taking over. So, you constantly have to keep reminding yourself what to do.

One of the things I was notoriously bad about, I described it – I think I mentioned it earlier – is the Superhero Syndrome. I just had a really long list of things on work and life to do every day. I was going to get them all done. Most of the time I did at my own expense. I kind of implemented a rule. It was kind of arbitrary. But it said, look, just do three mission-critical things for work and three mission-critical things for home and that made me feel a lot less quantitatively important because I was reducing my list by a lot.

But what I found over time – and this took months – I found over time that now when my list gets too long, I literally automatically start shutting them down whereas before I just tried to do it all. So, it just takes a while before the behavior change kicks in.

Brandon Laws: You don’t talk about this in the book. But I just want to ask you a personal question on this. It seems to me on the home life part of the balance, if you’re married, that your spouse can probably help you a lot – if you define time together, what you’re doing as a family, appointments and things like that. How has your spouse helped you with balancing personal time?

James Sudakow: Yeah. So, it’s interesting. My wife and I like to think of ourselves as very modern in the now people, very progressive thinking. But ironically enough, we have very traditional roles. I work. I am the one who is the sole financial provider and my wife stays home. The reason she does that is we obviously have – we have two little kids but we’re also legal guardians for her younger brother and sister who are teenagers and young adults. So, we have this really interesting mix and we made the decision to say, “Hey, look, that’s a lot of dependence at home,” and we want to make sure they’re getting the attention they need so my wife stays home. So that’s hugely helpful.

She does – she runs the house, right? In a very traditional sense. I think the non-traditional way that she has helped me is she helps me figure out where can I plug in appropriately to both help her and be present as much as I want to be, which is a lot, for her and for the kids versus playing the traditional role of I’m just out making sure I’m bringing in the money that we need.

So that has been really helpful and we talk about it a lot. There are times where she says, “I know you want to be here right now. But please don’t be here right now,” and that’s like, “OK, great. I get it.” I’m not helping as much as I think I am. So, we have a lot of those conversations too.

Brandon Laws: So, in conclusion – after the book has been written and you’ve sort of found yourself a little bit, is this sustainable for you? Do you think you will be fine or is it going to be taking a lot of work to really keep this balance in check?

James Sudakow: I think it constantly takes work but it’s also sustainable. So, I think the answer to your question is like yes-and, right? So, I don’t find that just suddenly now everything is like perfect and it’s super easy. We still are raising kids and I still have a job to do and I’m still married. So that always requires constant attention. But what I think has helped me significantly keep the train on the tracks is I have a framework from which I operate now and that was what I was like looking for and I couldn’t find one out there.

So, this business framework around the traps and having my vision and then having the behaviors aligned with the vision, that kind of stuff is what keeps me going and I can always refer back to it and say, “Oops, I’m violating this rule that I put in place to solve this trap and that’s why I’m struggling right now.” Then I go back to it. So that has been super helpful.

Brandon Laws: James, I really enjoyed the discussion. Your book is Out of the Blur: A Delirious Dad’s Search for the Holy Grail of Work-Life Balance. Where can people find the book? It just came out, didn’t it?

James Sudakow: Yeah. It literally just came out. They can find it right now in two places. You can go to my website which is and it’s available on Amazon as well.

Brandon Laws: What are you doing from a consulting practice standpoint? What kind of clients are you working with? What kind of work are you doing for those people?

James Sudakow: Yeah. We’ve got a variety of stuff going on. We’ve got some systems transformations that we’re helping lead. We’ve got some talent development stuff that we’re doing for some companies around building top talent. We’ve got some culture transformation work that we’re doing, which I think is really fascinating. So, we’ve got a lot of variety of things and I do a lot of coaching for leaders as well, mostly on the work stuff but sometimes we actually get into the work-life balance conversation too.

Brandon Laws: Well James, thanks for coming back on the podcast man. You’re a good friend of the podcast. I think this is your third time on and we always would love having you back.

James Sudakow: Yeah. Well, thanks for having me. It has been a lot of fun.

Brandon Laws

As Director of Marketing, Brandon Laws leads all marketing efforts for Xenium, providing oversight on all marketing campaigns, digital marketing strategy, events, sponsorships and public relations. Brandon brings a positive energy to every aspect of his role at Xenium—from internal initiatives around culture and wellness to industry thought leadership through the Xenium podcast and other social efforts. Active within the HR community, he currently volunteers on the board of the Portland Human Resource Management Association as the Director of Marketing & PR.

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