Is WLB Possible For CEOs?

Lo Kidd

August 06, 2021

Running a business isn’t always glamorous. It’s risky, stressful, and at times downright difficult. Not to mention the high stakes can negatively impact your personal goals, relationships, and your health if you’re not careful.  

But growing a business doesn’t have to be this way. Russ Perry is the founder and CEO of Design Pickle, a flat-rate creative design service company operating internationally. And he’s proof that work-life balance is totally possible for business owners. 

In just five years, his team scaled to 500 strong across six different countries. And he found a way to run a thriving business that makes him feel “post-Thanksgiving satisfied.” But getting to this point wasn’t always easy.

👉 Prefer to hear the story from Russ himself? Tune in to his episode of Process Makes Perfect – wherever you listen to podcasts.

Admit when something is wrong

Before Design Pickle, Russ ran a creative agency for nine years. And while the business was growing and thriving, it was wreaking havoc in his personal life. 

“I used to think when this business is successful, then I’ll be able to have the family and the lifestyle that I desire,” Russ said. But he eventually realized that keeping his business and personal life mutually exclusive wasn’t working. 

“By voluntarily putting these two things so far apart, it was causing conflict in both worlds. My marriage was struggling. I was stressed and struggling with alcohol. And my business was in no better shape.” So, he decided to get sober and start facing the stress head-on. 

Once he had a clear mind, he finally saw the answer: the creative agency was simply a terrible business model. And it was time to step away and put that company to rest.

“It was a compassionate shutdown. I finally had space and openness to see what’s next,” Russ explained. But at the time, he had no idea what that was.

Rebuild with a clear vision

Russ knew one thing for sure: he never wanted to be back where he was. So, he started by resetting his vision. 

“I recognized that I didn’t have the skill set to solve the problem [on my own],” Russ shared. “So, I hired three personal development coaches. And in that process, I came to this really simple technique.”

The technique (which Russ has since dubbed “setting your principles”) was inspired by American billionaire investor Ray Dalio. Russ explains it like this: “You have to get clear on what you want before you come up with the plan to get there.” 

So, Russ got to work and wrote down everything he wanted three years from that day. He started setting his principles by asking himself, “what would I like to accomplish with my life?” Then, he wrote down those achievements – without getting too in the weeds about the specifics. 

Russ says you’re not seeking perfection at this point. Whether it’s your personal, professional, relationship, or travel goals, you’re simply aiming for balance and satisfaction.

Once Russ made his list, he didn’t really have a plan for how he’d get there – or even really know where there was. He just knew that it had to align with these goals. Otherwise, he’d be in the same predicament all over again. 

“I didn’t know where I was going next. But I was sure there had to be a better solution for who I was as a creative entrepreneur and the way I could create value in this world,” Russ told us.

Use your vision as a professional compass

Over the next few years, Russ used his vision list as a compass for his decisions. “[The list allowed me] to say yes or no quicker to business opportunities and ideas. Because I could say this decision will get me closer to these things [on my list] – or it won’t.” 

As a result, Russ turned down several business opportunities before coming up with the initial idea for Design Pickle. They all either involved too much travel or too much of his attention. Either way, he knew the opportunities didn’t match up with his ideal lifestyle. 

At some point, the idea for a subscription-based design company came to mind. And while Russ didn’t have a brand name yet, he did know that it aligned with his vision. 

“I finally had the motivation and confidence to focus on [a new business]. Because the list ensured my personal priorities were the foundation of the professional concept,” Russ shared. 

That’s not to say Russ’ work-life balance just fell into place and was instantly perfect. It wasn’t. Getting to where Russ is today took tons of maintenance (especially at the ground level) to ensure the balance didn’t fall back out of whack. 

But more than five years later, Russ is confident that he made the right decision. Because now his business fits into his life – and not the other way around.

Reflect and re-evaluate every year

Every year, Russ double checks that what he’s working on next still aligns with his personal vision. 

In the first quarter of every year, he makes it a point to sit down with friend and Trainual CEO Chris Ronzio. And together, they reflect on what they’ve both accomplished. Then, Russ and Chris re-evaluate what they want from the year ahead and three years out.  

Based on an exercise from the Warrior program, “[we write down] four quadrants: body, being, balance, and business. Then, we look at what we have done [in each quadrant] and decide where we want to go,” Russ explained. The duo uses the year ahead to achieve the goals in each quadrant.

But there’s a catch, Russ explains: you can only grow as far as the lowest-performing quadrant. Meaning, if you’re struggling with your wellness, it doesn’t matter how good your game plan is for your business. Because you’ll inevitably be pulled down by your health issues.

Russ and Chris do this exercise together to maintain accountability. They keep each other focused on all four quadrants, so nothing falls by the wayside. And, as a result, they’re able to grow in all areas of their life. 

Set 90-day goals

The duo sets smaller 90-day goals to make reaching these goals easier. Otherwise, it’s tough to look at your year three-year goals or even your one-year goals and have them feel tangible. 

Without setting smaller goals, Russ assures that his big goals would be purely idealistic. So, to keep himself motivated, Russ keeps these smaller goals in his line of sight.

“I have 2 whiteboards that I see all the time. One, right by my car at home, has my 90-day version of the year-long goals. Then, I have an expanded version at the office with my business and personal goals,” Russ explained. 

In Russ’ opinion, the most difficult part about setting these goals is having the discipline to check in on them. Because every three months, you need to find time to reflect, re-evaluate, and set new goals. 

That’s why Russ suggests scheduling time on your calendar (before it fills up) to set new goals as well as the time needed to achieve the goals you set. This way, you can keep yourself accountable and stay focused on your vision – no matter how busy your business gets.

This includes blocking off time for personal events to maintain the balance. “It may feel impersonal to schedule a date night on the calendar or a Friday-night dinner with your family. But the reality is you may not do it if you don’t,” Russ told us.

Setting the example and expect equal results

Remember, as a business leader, it’s not just you who needs work-life balance. Your employees need it, too. And you’re responsible for making sure that happens.

Russ explained that your team is always watching, so be sure to lead and live as an example of personal growth. And, as a result, the individuals who work for you will follow suit. 

Similar to Trainual, the team at Design Pickle sets 90-day personal goals every quarter. And using smaller groups, they hold each other accountable for making those goals happen. 

Design Pickle also has a super flexible policy on working hours and remote work. That way, their team can meet both their business and personal obligations.

According to Russ, this concept is part of his company’s success. “By giving our team opportunities to invest in their own personal growth, we’ve created a really tight group of people,” he told us.

Now that Russ has finally found a work-life balance, he’s healthier and happier than ever before. Because life is not just about showing up every day to work. It’s about having the skill sets and the knowledge to manage what else is going on out there. That way, you can balance your business with your life and feel more satisfied overall.

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