Why finding balance—and maintaining it—may be the most important resolution of all

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA — January 4, 2011 — A year ago, I was at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, speaking about what this new decade, the 201xs, would bring to marketers. Among the suggestions made were asking consumers for their trust, rather than their time. That social media as a shiny new object was on the wane. And that 2010 was the year to take risks.

Checking your email when you wake up: koyaanisqatsi

But I could have, should have offered one major suggestion: that marketers should strive for Balance.

All throughout the year, I had conversations with marketers, clients, agency types, strategists, anyone in our business, about the idea of balance. Did things seem out of control? Were they working harder? Seeing less of their family? Waking up to check their Blackberry for mail? Were they working through weekends? Emailing clients or bosses from restaurants? Putting in tons of overtime with no end in sight?

And was this the New Normal for them? This life out of balance?

The unanimous answer was YES. Everywhere in the US and Canada, people seemed to be working the hardest they’d ever worked. Mostly, I suspect, from fear about losing their jobs in an uncertain economy: business had improved but job growth had not, leaving employees completely overworked. Perhaps long hours were also also coming from fear of losing competitive advantage, or not investing the same outrageous level of effort as the rest of the team.

For the past year and a half, I’ve been working for DDB Canada, a division of DDB Worldwide, the largest advertising agency in the world by revenue. Working hard. I put in 650+ hours of unpaid overtime last year, for all of the reasons above, but also because I loved the work. I truly loved being a part of an award-winning agency team. And there was so much to do!

But after a year, I started to seriously struggle with the long hours, the commute, and the distance from my wife. When she finally confronted a prowler in our backyard at 3:00am, while I was in Vancouver, I realized that while DDB was the agency home I’d long sought, the living situation and lack of work/life balance was far too uncomfortable to perpetuate. My body and my home were all showing signs of supreme neglect. Time to redress the imbalance.

Returning to Seattle in a new role

I’m incredibly pleased to announce that in an effort to right my life, I am joining a “startup for grownups” called Ant’s Eye View, effective January 17th. AEV, which was formed just before I started at DDB, is a social business consultancy with offices in Seattle, Mountain View, and Austin, TX. AEV creates social business strategies (similar to what I do now for DDB) and helps companies find their customers’ voices and produce operational insights from them. Unlike DDB’s Radar practice, which focuses primarily on social advertising and marketing, AEV looks for ways to inject customer preferences into all aspects of the enterprise value chain: marketing, customer care, operations, fulfillment, training, etc.

My role will be account lead and senior social business consultant: very similar to what I’m doing today. AEV prides itself on providing work/life balance in what can easily become an all-encompassing role, so I’m hoping it’s the right place to right my life.

Thank you, Canada

I want to publicly thank my colleagues at DDB Canada, especially Frank Palmer, Lance Saunders, Patty Jones, Marty Yaskowich, Rob Newell, Matt Nelson, Paige Calvert, Jenn Green, Dean Lee, Cosmo Campbell, and Nicole Moore, for their help and camaraderie over the course of a challenging 18 months. DDB Canada is the kind of agency that we used to have more of in the US: very strategic, very creative and often very, very funny. The team is collaborative, open-minded, fun, and very solid. Every single time I showed prospective clients (or conference attendees) the creative product, people were impressed. Despite the long hours, I have very much enjoyed working with these talented people.

Playing on the Canadian team was one of the best gigs of my career.

Who says imbalance has to be the New Normal?

So, back to resolutions: who says we need to be constantly connected to everyone else, all the time? Who says that speed is ultimately more important than quality? Who says we need to sleep with our iPhones or Blackberries within reach? Or respond to every tweet? Just because something’s the trend doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

So my steps to regaining balance are:

  • Do all my primary email in the morning — and then stay off email for the rest of the day
  • Do all my social networking once in the morning and once in the evening — that’s it!
  • No introductory “coffees” and meetings
  • Work/think/write more in outdoor venues rather than my home office or at work
  • Produce a smaller quantity of higher-quality things, on time — rather than a ton of shitty, half-baked products
  • Being present for my wife and kids, rather than constantly checking mail or checking in on Foursquare or what. ever.
  • Spending more time on the house – and fitness

Everyone makes resolutions each year with the best of intentions. Often, those fall by the wayside out of bad patterns or neglect or fear. This new role is a very big step to leave the familiar world of DDB, to make a leap of faith by venturing back into the world of startups, and a chance to make some smart new friends at Ant’s Eye View. A chance to make a significant resolution happen. To change the balance.

I hope your resolutions work out just as well. 🙂

READ MORE: Ant’s Eye View announcement

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