Forcing Balance: A Wild and Crazy Road

I’m writing this from the woods off the coast of Georgia. Outside, all I can see are stars. Well, mostly all I see is dark, but also stars through the gaps in the trees. The only sound is crickets. Which sounds like a lazy writing cliche, but in this case it’s actually all I hear. Like for real.

I’m also CEO of my search analytics software company, Keylime Toolbox. And I’m consulting with several companies. And doing a lot of speaking. And writing. And so on. You know. The usual.

To  borrow that annoying answer from every terrible job interview ever, working too much is both my greatest strength and biggest weakness. Which is a totally obnoxious thing to say, but no joke, my tendency is to wake up, drink a bunch of coffee, then get to work. Then eventually go to sleep at some point. Repeat. I barely see my friends. I never date. I manage to not starve by way of Amazon Fresh.

I never really thought this was a problem until a few years ago (becoming an oldie can do that to you, I guess). I started prioritizing sleep (which I just used to think of as a necessary evil and did as little of as possible, and now I realize is maybe the most important thing you can do to be healthy, grow old, and stay smart).  I took several months off and traveled the world. I tried lots of things, but balance eluded me. And sure, I know that balance is a mythical unicorn, but my nature is to throw myself full in headfirst to whatever I’m doing. So I can hard-core take time off. And I can hard-core work. But once I’m focused, it’s game on. Amazon Fresh it up and keep the coffee coming.

So.

I decided to try a radical experiment.

Is it possible to do lots of great work but not do it 20 hours a day? That seemed unlikely so I introduced a forcing function.

Meet my forcing function:

I’ve set out across the United States, working as I go. Instead of waking up, then drinking coffee, then working, then sleeping, then doing it all again, I’m waking up, drinking coffee (obviously), then finding a local coffee shop or library or cafe or park. Then working. Or maybe waking up, firing up the generator to make some coffee in the middle of nowhere, and looking out on this while working:

I’m discovering cool little towns. Seeing friends that are scattered across the country. Learning about tech like cell boosters and wifi extenders. Taking truck stop showers (no, seriously; I am not saying this will help with the dating thing). Discovering cool museums. Launching software features. Leading workshops.

I can’t work 20 hours a day because at some point I have to find a place to stay for the night.

I bought a 2009 Roadtrek 170 popular, which is small enough to fit into a regular parking space, but large enough to have a bathroom and shower, full kitchen, double bed, and two different places I can set up an office. I can stay at an RV park with full electrical, water, sewer, and cable hookups or I can stay overnight, fully self-contained (including roof-mounted solar panels) in a Walmart parking lot.

I’ve been on the road for 11 weeks and have driven over seven thousand miles.

Is it working? Sort of. I still work a lot and still feel like I’m not working enough and still feel that anxiety of always being behind. But I also feel like I’m living my life now, and not waiting to live it.

Want to see where I head next? I’ve started a blog documenting the trip at Girl Meets Road. And of course, you can check out the cool stuff we’re launching at Keylime Toolbox. I might even start posting here more often!

And maybe I’ll be headed your way. Let me know where you are so I can add you to my GPS!

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2 Comments

  1. JC October 7, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    How you can’t find a date is beyond me. And probably everyone. No way. Just no way.

  2. Andrew G November 18, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    Much of your writing resonates with me…I find myself asking many of the same questions about work-life balance as of late, since I’ve accepted that much of my success is due to going above and beyond my job description. I guess the question I have for you (and have asked myself) is does the lack of work-life balance make you unhappy? Or do you get fulfillment out of working that much?

    Anyway – this is an interesting experiment – I’ll be watching to see if it helps you strike that balance!

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  • About Vanessa Fox

    Vanessa Fox
    I write and speak about the search engine industry and searcher behavior and help companies with online strategy and audience engagement. I'm fascinated by our searching culture and how it's shifted the way we seek out and consume information.

    In 2010, I wrote Marketing in the Age of Google, which I updated and released as a second edition in 2012.

    In 2008, I founded Nine By Blue and Blueprint Search Analytics, which I sold in 2013.

    I used to work at Google, where I built Webmaster Central and helped launch sitemaps.org.

    Now I'm CEO of Keylime Toolbox, software that generates online performance insights from Google Webmaster Tools, web analytics, and server logs for organizations of all sizes.

    I'm also traveling the United States in an RV, working from a different city every day.

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    I'm working from a different city every day, traveling the country in my Roadtrek 170. See where I am now at Girl Meets Road.
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