Founders / Interviews / Software Engineers & Developers

Balancing the Grind with Chris Coyier, Co-Founder at CodePen

Chris Coyier is a website designer and developer, as well as the co-founder of CodePen, a social development environment for front end designers and developers.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’m a web designer and developer. I built CSS-Tricks, a website all about building websites, going strong for 10 years.

I’m the co-founder of CodePen, a playground for front-end web development. It’s a social development environment for front end designers and developers.

Along with Dave Rupert, I’m the co-host of a podcast called ShopTalk, a show about (you guessed it), building websites.

I’ve spoken at events and given workshops all over the world. I’ve also written two books: Practical SVG and Digging Into WordPress.

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2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I’m fairly early to rise. Up by 5am. I clean myself up, feed the dog, do some home duties, and ride by bike down to work. My wife and I share an office room to ourselves in downtown Bend, Oregon. I’m there before 6am. My wife takes the mornings with our 2 year old daughter, we have child care during the day, and I take the evenings to split the parenting load a bit.

The early morning hours are the best. No meetings usually.

I pick something super random and fun to work on, which for me is usually something like writing, building something, improving some process, answering some hard email, or the like.

That’s often my favorite and most important part of the day as it’s deep work into something valuable.

Then the rest of my day gets broken up by scheduled things. I usually have a handful of meetings in a day, both internally with my teams and externally with things like potential customers or advertisers. I find the day disappears rather quickly to bouncing back and forth between communication channels, meetings, emails, and coding.

I always try to get outside at some point doing the day for a stroll and change of scenery, then I kick off by 4:30pm or so to bike home.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

It only allows for it. CodePen is a fully remote team. Most people work from home. I think I might be the lone person right now who goes into an office. I do that partially because I like it and partially because we have a 2 year old daughter at home and it’s easier to focus on work if I’m out of the house.

I don’t think I’d ever go back to a big shared office again. I’m fairly introverted so I’m happiest with a heaping helping of alone time.

It’s not about having a scale and making sure you balance things on that scale perfectly at all times, it’s about having your priorities straight.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

You know I don’t think about it all that much. I think balance happens, to a degree, somewhat naturally. If I’m feeling a little fried with work, I pull back a bit, but not because I directly choose to, My brain just drifts and I focus on other things instead. I tend not to feel too guilty about that.

My favorite thing I’ve ever heard on this subject came from Cameron Moll. I was at a conference he spoke at ages ago and he said he doesn’t worry about work-life balance, but instead, he focuses on priorities.

It’s not about having a scale and making sure you balance things on that scale perfectly at all times, it’s about having your priorities straight. Certain family things are always #1, for example, and obligations outside of family, friends, and work, are way down the list and the first to be cut when higher priorities come up.

Again, it’s not about balance but about making sure you aren’t burning time on the wrong things. Everyone’s priorities are different, but should be actively considered.

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5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

I’m quite sure I have more bad habits than good, so take all this with a bucket of salt. But one thing I like to do is to try to make as much of the time I spend working is spent working on something of lasting value.

That’s why I like to blog, for example. If I finish a blog post, that’s going to be published at a URL and that URL is going to get some traffic now, and at least a little bit of traffic forever. The more I do that the more I build out my base of lasting content that will serve me forever.

Or I work on things that processes for me or me team easier so we can do more. Or I work on building relationships with people. Or polish up something that needs polishing. If I catch myself spending time putzing with something that just isn’t worth anything, I get a sensation about that. Little warning bells that guide me back toward more valuable work.

6) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

I’m not sure any particular book that stands out as a life-changer for me. I tend to enjoy Scott Berkun’s books and find plenty of pearls of wisdom in those. I admire Seth Godin’s ability to blog every single day without ever missing a day.

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7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

A big one for me is when I can go into a day not feeling overwhelmed from the start. That happens for me when I’m working a normal schedule and I’m keeping myself caught up with everything.

Things get a lot harder when I lose days of work, even if they are expected. If I lose a Monday and Tuesday because I’m at a conference or something, I know Wednesday is going to be tough, because I’ll be playing catch up while doing everything else I need to do.

It’ll take a few days to get back into the rhythm and getting the most out of each day. That’s not a great situation unfortunately. I’d like to be able to miss days without so much penalty, but I’ll have to report back when I figure out how to do that.

For me, work looms so large in my life because I want it to. I’ve found what I like to do and I have found some degree of success in doing it.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

Oh I dunno I always like hearing more from my friends. Brad Frost or Lara Hogan or Jeremy Keith perhaps. All great people who have interesting lives outside of work. I’d also like to hear from younger people too.

I’m 40 this year and my life is super full between work and family. If my wife and I have a couple of drinks and play a game a few nights a month, that’s a hopping social life. What is it like for a 22 year old balancing their career and family and friends? What is their priority list like?

For me, work looms so large in my life because I want it to. I’ve found what I like to do and I have found some degree of success in doing it. But if that’s less clear for you, and you have other big goals in life (start a band, have a family), how far is work down your priority list?

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

My classic quote that I like to trot out is: “It’s amazing how much you can get done in a day if you sit and you do it.” It’s from a documentary called Home Movie, and the guy saying it is saying it about how many baby alligator head keyrings he can make in a day, but it goes for any of us.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.