Interviews / Software Engineers & Developers

Balancing the Grind with Mark Palfreeman, UI Engineer at Microsoft

Mark Palfreeman is a UI Engineer at Microsoft, currently working on developing a component library for the company’s online store and marketing websites.

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

I’ve been a web developer for over five years, primarily focused on web application user interfaces. I’m a student of productivity, simplicity, and finding better ways to do things. I love working on products that help people accomplish more, faster.

I now work for Microsoft as a UI Engineer developing a component library for our online store and marketing websites.

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

Not too far from a cliché “day at the office.” It offers me the most freedom to spend time effectively with competing priorities. I’m married with two young kids, so it’s helpful to assist my wife especially around dinner and our kids’ bedtime.

A typical day working from home looks something like this:

  • Morning: make coffee, read a book or exercise (when it’s warm outside), eat breakfast and shower
  • Work: check to-do list and calendar, work on my most essential/complex items in the morning
  • Lunch: eat as a family, play with kids
  • Work: code reviews, email, continue morning tasks
  • Dinner: help while my wife cooks, eat as a family, play with kids until their bedtime
  • Evening: clean up the house, wind down with a TV show, book, or game

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

Yes, our team works remotely about 50% of the time. Because I work in software and all our work is done via and for the internet, my work is a prime candidate for this model’s success.

Remote working saves me two commute hours per day for healthy outlets like reading and exercise. Sometimes I’ll start work earlier in the morning and take a longer lunch break or end early and go for a bike ride before dinner. I can also be a more available and helpful parent in the busy early years of my kids’ lives.

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

I once had a counselor tell me there’s no such thing as work-life balance; life is a bunch of competing priorities vying for our attention, constantly in tension, and we decide (or not) which ones get more of our time. I think there’s truth to this; there’s no “balance” applicable to every day, week, or season.

For me, work-life balance is a life that’s calm, focused, productive, and fun. My wife and I try to look at each week ahead to discuss how we want to adjust this tension toward certain priorities based on what we and our family need.

Finding balance is a life-long quest of trial and error, stress and relief. Let’s glean tips and keep learning but give ourselves some grace when things don’t go to plan. We decide what’s enough for us.

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?

  • Turn off notifications, especially after work hours
  • Block distracting websites during work hours
  • Use a to-do list (whatever the flavor)
  • Don’t eat lunch at my desk
  • Get outside

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

  • Essentialism by Greg McKeown
  • Deep Work by Cal Newport
  • Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
  • The Bible

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

Plan it (roughly)! My day can be dramatically imrpoved with a little foresight. Usually this begins the night before—setting out clothes or thinking through my next morning’s first steps gives me a higher chance of following through.

There will always be interruptions that derail the plan, of course. But if I start a day with a vision, it helps define what to say yes (and no) to, what can wait, and how to measure success.

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

My grandpa. The internet age has made our lives infinitely busier and more distracted. I think we have things to learn from someone who lived in a simpler time.

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

People vary drastically in their ambitions and desires. I’ve read great ideas from industry titans but am also prone to imposter syndrome with feelings of inadequacy and insufficiency.

It’s important to remember that just because I admire some people’s work doesn’t mean I want their whole life. Work-life balance for me as a husband and father will never be the same as a single person living in Manhattan.

Finding balance is a life-long quest of trial and error, stress and relief. Let’s glean tips and keep learning but give ourselves some grace when things don’t go to plan. We decide what’s enough for 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.