The work-work balance

By Tim Glister on Sunday, 3 July 2022

We all now know that maintaining a healthy work-life balance is good for us. In fact, it’s one of the most important things we can do to make sure we’re able to function at our best on either side of that hyphen and also enjoy our time spent there too.

But what about the work-work balance?

Whether your career means working in more than one role, or you have a side hustle on top of your regular employment, or a hobby that has ended up becoming a little more professionalised than you’d originally intended, maintaining a sense of balance between your jobs is critical to making sure you don’t burn out and you do good work that you love.

I’ve ended up with a side hustle in the middle of my advertising career. I’m a creative director and an author of Cold War spy novels. Which means I spend my day coming up with ideas and writing things for clients, and then I go home and do the same thing for me (and hopefully some readers).

It’s incredibly fulfilling. It can also be exhausting and draining. But, now that I’m a couple of books in, I’ve realised that there’s something a bit symbiotic about my two jobs, and that each of them has helped me be better at the other one.

Here are five things I’ve learned from both that help me with both:

No time for writer’s block

In my day job I don’t have the luxury of missing deadlines or just not doing something. Creative work is the little bit of the process that gets squeezed in between the strategy being agreed and the media schedule starting. If we’re late, drag our feet, or can’t come up with a winning idea it can throw a big, expensive spanner in the works, so we try our best not to.

I do the same with my writing outside of work. Having a clear sense of deadlines and what milestones I need to reach when keeps me focussed on the progress I’m making and stops me falling prey to the dreaded writer’s block – which is better for both the people who are relying on me to get stuff done and for my own sense of achievement.

Set boundaries

This is really a part two to the above. Working smartly is all about effective time management. When I’m balancing four or more projects in my day job I have to be rigorous with how I divide up my days so that I’ve got enough time to think about the work, do the work, present the work, refine the work etc.

My first book was written completely at leisure (and in secret) which meant it sprawled over endless weekends and evenings, sucking up any spare second I had. Now I’m much more structured in how I divvy up my time for work, for writing, and for fun – so that each one gets the best of me, and I enjoy them too.

Stick (mostly) to the plan

It’s very easy to come up with brilliant, beautiful, smart creative that has absolutely nothing to do with the thing you’re trying to sell and won’t deliver on any of the metrics your client is trying to hit. It’s the same with writing a book. Some authors like to just sit down and let the creative muse flow through them. This approach can lead to incredible works of art, but it can also result in a mess no one else wants to read.

I’m not saying you should adhere to a list of reasons to believe or stick to a synopsis as if it was set in stone, because that’s fundamentally not creative. But having these things in place to help structure your thinking and guide your path towards making something people want to pay attention to is really useful.

Kill your darlings

This writerly phrase has long been attributed to William Faulkner, and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature so it’s probably good advice. Basically, it means don’t let yourself get too precious about your work. It’s a tenet that’s guided me throughout all my writing.

It’s possible to write the cleverest turn of phrase, the most beautiful metaphor, an entire chapter of exposition… and it just not be right. This can break your heart, cause a massive crisis in confidence, make you question whether you should be doing any of this at all. But, if you’re finding yourself having to explain your genius too much or trying to bend too many other things to fit your oh so brilliant idea, it might be better if you just got rid of it (and saved it for later).

There’s always another angle

So far I’ve been lucky enough to avoid getting writer’s block. I have, however, on occasion thought that a scene I was writing or the ad concept I’m coming up with is a little boring. Luckily, when that happens, I fall back on the fifth lesson I’ve learned: try another angle.

This is a fundamental part of my day job. It’s my responsibility to come up with multiple ‘ways in’ to a task, looking at how we can focus on the different things an audience cares about or that a product or service can do for them. So, when I feel like I’ve written the same conversation before, or scenes are getting a little too similar or familiar, I shake them up: shift the context, change the motivations, look at things from a different point of view.

These lessons might help you with your work-work balance, or even simply thrive at home in your regular job. And if you have any tips that you think might help me or anyone else, don’t keep them to yourself – share the wisdom!