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How one Engineering leader finds work/life balance through commuting and cooking

Cathy Reisenwitz

by Cathy Reisenwitz on December 10, 2020

Tim Olshansky is EVP of Product and Engineering at Zenput, where he recently celebrated his two-year anniversary. “It's been a wild ride,” Tim told me. “It feels like it's only been six months. But then again, 2020 has felt like 10 years.”

We recently Zoomed with Tim about how he’s finding some work/life balance while sheltering in place for COVID.

Tim’s background

As a young software developer in his native Australia, Tim came to the US to join a company with college friends already in SF, with the expectation of staying a year or two. “Now 10 years later, here I am,” Olshansky said with a laugh. “We had all reached that point where we wanted to do something different, and we had an opportunity to build a business.”

He joined Zenput in November 2018 as VP of Engineering. The company was around 30 people, and in addition to managing the Engineering team, Tim worked with the Product Management team and Design to implement and improve processes.

Today, Zenput has grown to 80 people, and continues to expand. Around the middle of this year Tim took on managing the Product Management team.

“My role is basically everything product development, including things like Security and IT,” Tim told me. “All forms of Engineering, I guess you could say.” Now his role covers everything from executive-suite discussions around strategy to budget planning for next year to getting into some of the specifics of new features for the product. “Day-to-day, I probably split my time 60% Engineering, 30% Product Management, 10% Design.”

How Tim finds work/life balance in COVID

Like many (most) of us, Tim is working overtime, logging many hours in Zoom, and staying physically isolated from his colleagues.

Our research shows the average worker is spending more time working, but has less focus time to get heads-down work done. Tim is no exception, estimating he’s working about two hours more each day than before the pandemic. “But I think that my day as a whole is probably not as effective or not as productive as it would have been pre-pandemic,” Olshansky said. That’s true of a lot of us who are burned out. One problem is it’s hard to ever really shut down, rest, and recharge.

Here are the two strategies Tim is using to find work/life balance during this time:

1. Continuing to commute

The lack of commute makes it harder to separate work and life. When we asked people how they’re unplugging from work when working remotely, the most common response was continuing to “commute.” Sometimes that involves just moving from the desk to the couch. But others, like Tim, exercise or run errands to signal to their brains that work time is over.

“Even that 20- or 30-minute separation had a pretty significant effect on being able to compartmentalize my day and separate particular activities,” Tim said. “I've had to get more creative. If I'm just constantly shuttling myself between my bed and where my desk is, that's a little bit depressing. I've actually started exercising more as a result of trying to separate myself from work.”

Tim bought some home gym equipment and goes down to his shared garage three times a week before work. “That separation, going to a different space, really helps put me in a different mindset.”

“My daily routine is I often get up sometime around 6:30, make coffee, read for a little bit, then work out, shower, [and] get ready for the day.”

“In the afternoons or evenings, pre-daylight savings, I would tend to take a longer walk. Now that it's dark around 5:00 PM, I've been doing that a little bit less. But still, if I can get out for 20 minutes in the afternoon, I'll go for a walk to wind down.”

2. Cooking

The other thing Tim does to unwind from the day is get serious in the kitchen after work most nights. “I found cooking to be a really great way to separate the day,” Olshansky said. “I have a habit of going maybe too far with my cooking,” he said, laughing. “What should really be 20 minutes, I end up making two hours. It's an unnecessary extravagance for a weeknight meal but I found it’s a really good hobby to separate things. I'll usually eat dinner and then I might do another hour or two of work just to close out the day.”

“It's probably also why I'm reading less,” Olshansky said. In 2018 and 2019 he read around 50 books. “I've probably read only two books this year,” Olshansky said. “Three, maybe. I don't know why. I guess I spend so much time in front of a screen that I'm not really interested in reading as much. That's a thing that I didn't expect to happen given I should have more time to read because I'm not going out, I'm not traveling. Although, if you count cookbooks then probably my book count is a bit higher than that,” Olshansky said with a laugh.

Connecting with Tim

For more on work/life balance during COVID, check out Three ways companies can promote work/life balance.

Our conversation with Tim also covered the tools the Engineering and Product teams at Zenput have adopted to help collaborate during COVID and advice to Engineers for maintaining career momentum during lockdown. Stay tuned for our next piece on our interview with Tim. In the meantime, you can connect with Tim or follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and his website.

Are there any Engineering thought leaders you think we should interview? Are you an Engineering thought leader we should interview? Email me at cathy at getclockwise.com.

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is Head of Content at Clockwise where she oversees the Clockwise Blog and The Minutes Newsletter. She has covered business software for six years and has been published in Newsweek, Forbes, the Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications.

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