Getting Stressed About Work-Life Balance?

Marc Randolph
5 min readFeb 28, 2024

You can always move the goalposts.

Sometimes the demands of a business can make work-life balance seem like an impossibility.

Take my Tuesday date nights. They were sacrosanct. But sometimes, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t avoid the times when life got in the way of…well…life.

In the weeks leading up to the launch of Netflix, for example, all I could usually manage was a frantic rush home to scarf down dinner with the family before heading back to the office for another late night. Several years later, when Mitch Lowe and I were testing a Netflix kiosk project in Las Vegas, I rented a condo and spent the better part of June, July, and August there. Not a lot of Tuesday date nights that summer, either.

That’s just the way it goes sometimes. Maybe you have a product launch coming up and it’s all hands on deck — including yours. Or you’re raising money, landing a huge contract, or just struggling to hit your numbers for the quarter. Despite your best intentions, it might just be impossible to slip out at 5:00, switch off your phone, go for a run, and have a quiet evening with your partner.

But there is a way to unleash your beast mode when needed and achieve the work-life balance that we all strive for. You simply have to adjust your measurement window.

The truth is that very few people can achieve balance every day. I certainly can’t. Occasionally there’ll be a day when everything aligns and I get in a long run in the morning, a lot accomplished at work, and still push away from my desk in time for dinner with my family. But that’s the exception.

And that’s OK by me, because I measure myself by the week. Tuesday and Thursday are for calls and meetings, and both days are usually booked from dawn to dusk many weeks in advance. Wednesdays are reserved for deep work, and if I’m on a roll, I may not emerge for lunch or get in a workout at all.

But by compressing my week this way, I earn myself a four-day weekend, where I have plenty of time to sit and drink coffee with my wife, read a book, go backcountry skiing, and generally make sure I’m fully decompressed. Looking back over the full seven days, I can pat myself on the back for a week well-lived.

If you think about it, this is a little bit like healthy eating. We all know what a “balanced meal” looks like: lots of vegetables, enough protein and carbs, not too much junk. But if you don’t eat a balanced meal for every single meal, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed — you just have to balance it out over the long run. Maybe you had a pile of hot wings for dinner last night, but today it’s oatmeal for breakfast and a salad for lunch. You’re probably going to be fine. The same goes for balancing your work and personal activities.

Not everyone has the luxury of owning their own schedule, of course. If measuring your life by the week still doesn’t get you to the balance point, you could try measuring by the month. Push hard for sustained periods, take breaks when you can, and at the end of each month, look back and see how you divided time between work, friends, family, and self.

If you’re in the startup game, maybe you’ll need to measure by the quarter. This allows for a concentrated multi-week push, a sustained effort to raise a round, a two-week trip to Europe to lock down that new distributor, and a bunch of long nights and weekends at the office. But if you do all that, and also take a bunch of three-day weekends, a full week off in the middle, and kick off early on a few other days? That’s still a balanced quarter in my book.

At the far end of the continuum, if you’re young and just starting your career, it might be appropriate to measure work/life balance by the decade.

Let me explain.

In a LinkedIn post a few weeks ago, I compared the early days of a startup to the “mass water start” that kicks off many triathlons, where the best strategy is often to go all out for the first few hundred yards, in order to find some clear water. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it sure beats getting your goggles kicked off.

The analogy also applies for someone early in their career. When you start out, you don’t have the skills everyone else does. So you work twice as hard to learn them, and to prove yourself. You haven’t learned how to prioritize, so rather than doing the top two or three things on your list of 10, you do the top six. If you’re a newly minted lawyer, you pay your dues as an associate before being considered for partner. The same goes if you’re an MBA grinding away as an associate, or a new doctor struggling through residency.

When I was in my twenties I worked like a dog: first to arrive, last to leave, regularly working weekends. Not because I had a demanding boss — I just loved what I was doing.

After several years of this — and some not-so-subtle encouragement from my girlfriend (now wife) — I finally backed off that schedule a little bit. But by that point I had built up many of the skills I’d use for the rest of my career as an entrepreneur. More importantly, I had learned the shortcuts and prioritization techniques that let me get the critical things done while still leaving time to have a life outside of work.

It’s not always obvious when it’s time to back off, though, and this is where you have to be careful. A lot of people spend decades pushing, pushing, pushing with the idea that they will “make up for it someday”, only to wake up one day wondering where their life went. If you’re more than a decade into your career and still striving like a rookie, it might be time to assess whether that’s really necessary — or healthy.

And don’t beat yourself up too badly if you didn’t get in all your workouts one week, or missed a climbing trip with your friends. As long as you’re aware that you’ve built up a debt, you can make plans to pay it back. Once the craziness of Netflix launch day had settled down, I took a bunch of days off to recover and reconnect. And on the days I was able to make it home during my Vegas exile, I made sure to put my phone away and be present.

The important thing isn’t to follow some kind of influencer-approved have-it-all schedule, where every day has you exercising, meditating, hustling, focusing, socializing, and crushing every presentation (all while eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of sleep). In the real world, nobody can do that. Not every day, at least. Instead, what’s important is to figure out your way of finding balance, on whatever schedule you can make work. Yours won’t be the same as mine, and it probably won’t be the same for you five years from now. But there’s always a way to make balance work — even if it means accepting a little imbalance now and then.

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Marc Randolph

Netflix Co-founder. Entrepreneur, Investor and Advisor