I’ve worked in my fair share of environments over the past 20-odd years across different industries, countries and different operational models. It’s an unfortunate reality that, across all of these, there has always been the notorious “tug” between work life and home life. When I started Cogo, and especially as our company started to grow, I realised the importance of balance and, more specifically, rest. I have to do it because it sets an example for others, and others have to do it because it supports a happier, more balanced life and mental health.
Ever heard the saying that you can’t pour from an empty cup? There’s also plenty of research that backs this up - check out this study by Deloitte talking about the importance of sleep and Alex Pang’s book, Rest. Particularly, these studies emphasise the need for our brains to reflect on the day, the work that has been done and the information taken in to appropriately “process” our days.
At Cogo, this reflection part can sometimes be challenging, as we’re a remote-first and global company, which means it often happens that people (including me) struggle to differentiate between where work ends and home life starts when you’re always in the same space, and it’s always easy to just “quickly check Slack or email”. So we’ve had to think about how to enable work-life balance regardless of location and work environment and encourage employees to actively and intentionally switch off, rest, and come back to work mentally and physically more energised.
I recently declined a regular evening meeting because I needed to “de-Cogo” my mind to help me switch off from work, recover from jet lag and get a good sleep. The outcome of this intentional action was astonishing, and I realised that, just as we encourage meaningful, small steps toward changing the world, we need to take this same approach to our work and our mental health because, ultimately, that will put us in a much better position to lead impactful change.
So I’ve put together a few tips on how to declutter your mind from work. For me, these tips and tricks ensure that I have both a happy life outside and at work.
I get a good sleep most nights and enjoy work-free evenings and weekends by decluttering. That means keeping my inbox and Slack under control so I don't worry that I've missed something or feel anxious about the hundreds of things I might have to do. I spend about 30 minutes every day processing inbound comms.
I only ‘touch’ a message once, and then my options are another 4Ds: do it (if less than five mins), diarise it (if more time is required), delegate it or delete it. Then, I remove all notifications and pop-ups from emails, Slack and social media. Research shows these pop-ups reduce efficiency and effectiveness, and this is particularly important at times you are not meant to be working! We have a strict ‘no phones in the bedroom’ rule at home.
Cogo can be super exciting, and it really does make me happy, but those emotions are more regular (and others, such as feeling stressed, overwhelmed and distracted, are less frequent) when I get endorphins flowing from other areas of life. Exercise, entertaining friends, enjoying time with family and eating good food are things that make me happy AND give my brain time to switch off from work.
I make sure I put aside time for all these things - good for me, my friends, family and the business.
In a start-up, especially a fast-scaling one like Cogo, it’s very common to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff that needs doing. There is always more work to be done, and the current 'busy' phase we are in is not temporary; it will be like this for years.
It is essential for my mental health that I cull and cut things from the list of things that I could be doing or just do things quickly and accept it's not possible to do everything well. Therefore, I have a list of five or six priorities/jobs to do at any one time, in addition to maybe two saved Slack messages and eight emails to action.
Getting good sleep is super important for my happiness and my productivity at work. I can feel when I'm tired, and I know I'm less effective, more irritable and ultimately not as strategic (e.g. I find myself responding to what’s in front of me rather than doing what I need to do). I also know working late nights impacts my sleep.
With a global team, there is always someone who is at work and might need me, but I keep a strict rule of only booking meetings on two evenings a week. On other nights, and importantly also after evening meetings have finished, I don’t check emails or Slack. Take evenings off, your next day will rock!
I try to get to the end of the week feeling that I couldn’t have put in more effort or been more productive than I was. It’s never perfect, but I still aim for 100%. This doesn’t just mean ‘trying hard’. It means setting up my work week, so I am super focused on getting the stuff done that matters most (see ‘Cull’), don’t get distracted (see ‘Declutter’) and have a workspace that makes me as effective as possible (e.g. two screens whenever possible - data shows it makes you 20% more efficient).
For the last five years, I’ve worked on average 40 hours per week, give or take 5%. Controversial, right? But it shouldn’t be. I love my partner and my kids and don’t want to feel like I’m trading them off. But I also know what it feels like to be overworked - I’m less effective, less strategic, and I’m less supportive of the team around me. As long as I practice the other de-Cogo principles, I never end a 40-hour week thinking, ‘I really should do some work on the weekend’ or ‘I’m not sure if I should take that holiday’. I feel happy with my effort, and most importantly, I arrive on Monday feeling SUPER PUMPED for the week ahead.
In summary, work-life balance is not really about how many hours you spend at the office versus at home. It's about knowing when it's time to work and when to switch off—both your laptop and your mind—wherever you’re working from. It's about learning how to set boundaries that work for you.