Karl Hughes is the founder of Draft.dev, a technical content production company that helps create in-depth blog content for brands trying to reach software engineers.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
For the past 8 years, I’ve been a software engineer at tech startups in Chicago. I started off doing odd-jobs and writing code and eventually learned to hire and manage teams of developers. Working with startups was an amazing learning experience.
As a developer, I got the chance to touch every piece of the stack and start several scalable applications from scratch. This year, I decided to leave my role as CTO at The Graide Network and start my own business: Draft.
When Coronavirus hit and The Graide Network needed to cut costs, I went down to half time. I’ve always enjoyed writing, so I started picking up freelance technical writing gigs, and pretty quickly I had more demand than I can handle. With some savings in the bank and a few clients committed, I decided it was time to make the leap.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I like organizing things to a fault, so my days are extremely regimented.
I wake up at 5:30, walk the dog, and eat a leisurely breakfast with my wife and son. I do a quick workout, my wife goes to work, and I play with the dog and Joe for about an hour. I walk my son to school and get home at about 8:30 to start work.
I block two periods of focused work time from 9am-11am and 1pm-3pm every day. In between, I take meetings with prospective clients, teammates, and mentors. As long as I get those two focused blocks of work in every day, I know I’ll get everything I need to do.
Around 3:30 I pick my son up from school and walk the dog again. I hang out with the family and make dinner, then do administrative work (scheduling meetings, responding to emails, etc.) between 6:30 and 8:30. I read until 9:30 and start the whole thing over again.
I realize that this level of structure isn’t for everyone, but it really helps me be more productive and happy.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Even before I started my own company, I’ve always worked for startups that allowed remote work. I don’t think I’ll ever try to get an office for Draft as I really enjoy being able to take a break to walk the dog or hang out with my son anytime I want.
Since I’m not commuting to an office, I can take a long break in the afternoon around dinner and then do a little more work in the evening if I want. I can work 3 days per week or 7 days per week. I can work in the morning when my brain is fresh, then take a break to run if I want. Flexibility is definitely one of my big priorities in achieving balance.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
My work energizes me, but I’ve realized that if I put in too many hours I start to feel burned out and other parts of my life suffer.
For example, my wife and I went to counseling before we got married. Because we’re both very organized people, we realized that we needed to schedule time together or else I would fill every crack in my day with work or learning. I know that to some people scheduling family time doesn’t sound natural, but I find it very helpful.
Another thing my wife and I both like to do but have to plan for is travel. I love planning every second of our trips, but I’ve realized my wife needs some flex time to relax so I have learned to make my itineraries more flexible.
Seeing new places, interacting with people from different cultures, and learning about the world is one of our family values, especially now that we have a child.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started/stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
I started scheduling a “no-screens” day every couple of months last year. I read a book called Bored and Brilliant that talks about the need for our brains to experience downtime and boredom.
It actually unlocks more productivity and creativity if you don’t fill every day to the max as I tend to do. I’ve found my no-screens days to be a great time to self-actualize and put my life experience in perspective.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
Right now I’m really into entrepreneurship (fitting as I just started my own business). Some of the most impactful books I’ve read in that area are:
- Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
- How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
- The 4-Hour Workweek
- The $100 Startup
Every year I read at least one personal finance book. Some of my favorites have been:
- MONEY: Master the Game
- Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns
I also enjoy fiction. Some of my favorites authors are:
- Philip K. Dick
- Cormack McCarthy
- Daniel Woodrell
- Haruki Murakami
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the most important books that (I believe) every American should read:
- Another Day in the Death of America
- The Line Becomes a River
- The New Jim Crow
- Into the Kill Zone: A Cop’s Eye View of Deadly Force
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
My Kindle. I read 30 to 50 books per year, and at least half of them are usually on the Kindle. When I read on my phone or computer it’s too easy to get distracted and paper books only work with good lighting, so I couldn’t live without my Kindle.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
James Clear always has good things to say. I’m also a big fan of Seth Godin.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Don’t let someone else’s definition of balance define your life. Spend time reflecting on what truly brings you joy and how you want your life to be defined before you buy into what others tell you to value.
David Perrell recently mentioned this on his blog so I’ll close with it:
“Humans are like sheep. We don’t know what we want, so we imitate each other. Instead of creating our own desires, we desire the same things as other people.”
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