Finding a Balance

Hello fellow Designers,

My name is Jacob Abruzzini. I recently graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in Industrial Design. I currently work at a company named Finis (fin-ees), where I design training equipment for swimmers (paddles, fins, suits, etc…).

Being a competitive swimmer myself and involved in a number of other sports (mountain biking, road cycling, kayaking, running…) I’ve always had a hard time finding a balance between design and athletics. During school there was a point in each semester where I was forced to sacrifice my athletics to work on design projects. I’m not saying this was a total negative decision… I actually enjoyed every second of it and I could see how it reflected in the quality of my work. All I’m saying is it’s hard to let go of a part of you life that is meaningful to you.

However, working full time now allows me to have a decent amount of free time afterwards to pursue my athletics at my leisure… The flip side is I don’t want my experience with design to end after work. There are a lot of design related things I want to do for myself, for my own enjoyment. Things like developing and tweaking my portfolio, sketching for fun, working through some personal product ideas, learning more about industrial design and other areas of design…

The real issue now is finding a balance between my personal design interests and my athletics. It’s been quite overwhelming to me lately considering there is so much I want to learn, do, explore, accomplish in both of my passions and I now have the free time to pursue them.

I realize this is an act of time management and prioritization, but I’m just curious if anyone on here has any tips, tricks, or experiences on how they found a balance between the important things in their life (work, design, athletics, hobbies, friends/family, etc…)?

Are there any creative ways where you were able to manage your time in a way that allowed you to do both?

How did you go about prioritizing your goals/projects?

Anyway, thank you for taking the time to read my intro and I’d greatly appreciate any feedback you may have.




Its a good question. It can be tough to balance and you have to have time to do the things you enjoy. For me, the only thing I really obsess over is design. The other things I do tend feed that energy or serve as a way to recharge. I’ve never had anything compete for my active energy though. Everyone has to draw those partitions differently and I’m sure it will evolve over time with other demands (spouse, children…)

I’m a footwear designer, and I run (a lot), so am in a similar place as you. I find the key to balance is scheduling. I work for myself so am a bit more flexible (Thursday afternoon 30km run if I’m not busy, sure, why not), but mostly do normal work and know I’ve got runs every evening and long runs weekend. I also run with a crew at scheduled times so that helps. If you block in time for work and athletics and/or if your work can be more flexible, it helps. Maybe suggest to your boss you’d like to come in late 2x a week to do a morning run/swim if that helps clear your head and stay a bit later. Explain how it might help the creative process and give feedback on items of design?

Do you find you aren’t doing enough of what now? Design? Athletics?

I’ve found my sweet spot. Running is my number one passion and design is my number one love. I probably do both 50/50.


Hi Jacob,

In advance this response ended up longer than planned. Hopefully I didn’t ramble on too much.

We are in similar worlds, design by day, and athletics/sports by night, though I have a couple decades on you.

I still haven’t found a balance I’m completely comfortable with. I think it’s partly finding a balance of some sort, but also just acknowledging that there are different things you like doing and some of those may not feel or seem to be working toward the same goal and that’s OK.

At the same time, the athletic, non-design, things you like to do may not appear to directly ‘feed’ your design goals, but may in fact support your design goals. As Yo said, there are non-design things he likes and does, that recharge him. More energy and enthusiasm to go after the design skills/interests.

Or from a slightly different angle is that doing the non-design things may in fact help you design. Lots of studies seem to indicate that getting the blood going, changing the scenery, helps loosen the mind to problem solve and think creatively. So embrace the athletics.

There are a couple other ways that I can think of looking at these to different interests that might complement each other, but I’ll stop before write too much more.

As far as prioritizing them, it ebbs and flows. Sometimes I’m good with the tidal changes others time not so much but ride it out, and/or work on shifting it, even if it will take time.

Presently while I wait for snow, as I love snowboarding, I will work on my personal snowboard binding project in the shop, while trying to find time to make a Christmas/holiday costume for a couple events this month. I’m still ‘in my head’ designing a sport sailboat idea (as global warming is ending winter, need to find other sports that gives me the same feeling. Surfing, windsurfing, sailing). I’m also considering going back to a sport that I ‘left’ a couple years ago, as trying curling last weekend remind me of some of the things I liked about the other sport (I have some farfetched design ideas for that sport, that came to me while doing it). Then there’s the furniture and jewelry dreams. Then there’s the cycling shoe mod/redesign concept that hit me a few months ago… Oh yeah, there’s the hub-less wheel design I have in mind :wink: .

For many of these ideas I’ll have to research, learn, experiment, play with, with all sorts of software, and fabrication techniques to build them and make them look gooood. So I’m trying to keep an eye open for where and ways to learn what I think I need. Then there’s the semi foreign world of marketing…

Hope this helped, good luck and enjoy the burrito.


oh yeah, looks like Bear Grylls might be making a come back, I might rewarm a T-shirt design I thought of years ago. Time to learn silk screening…

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I like riding a bicycle. While I’d like to ride 20 hours/week, I’m probably closer to 12-15 hours/week.

A couple of things. First I find on those 1-4 hour rides, I can clear my head and actually be more creative by not thinking. You know, the whole zen thing. Also on those rides I organize my time, believe it or not. I can prioritize, schedule and think of alternative plans in my head while riding because of the zen state, nothing else gets in. If you efficiently plan, your time is optimized.

I also hate to drive and riding is an excellent alternative to driving. I ride to work, to the store, just about everywhere. I’ll even ride to our friend’s lake house early in the morning while the family sleeps in, drives and gets there at the same time. Win/win for everyone.

Yes to all this. Bicycle riding is the only prescription i need for mental clarity. Even if it’s just a quick trip to the grocery store for hamburger buns.

The subject matter of athletics / sport is irrelevant. Everyone likes to spend their ‘free’ time doing something whether it be reading, watching movies, collecting sweet Elvis memorabilia, etc. The root cause of the issue is that you have a career that you are passionate about and find yourself striving to improve and advance in even while outside of work. This is a good thing. If you were working a job you had zero interest in and treated it strictly as a source of income I bet you would find you had ‘more’ time to dedicate to other interests.

Just wait until you have kids. That’s when the real trade-offs happen.

Hey Jacob, thanks for bringing up this topic, I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s responses.

First off I want to congratulate you for giving your newfound free time some serious thought and not succumbing to Netflix! :slight_smile:

I can totally relate to the questions you’re having and I’m still trying to find a good balance between trying to fill as much of my freetime with productive learning and enjoying seeing friends and family, relaxing, etc.

One thing that I can definitely recommend trying is to pick something you enjoy but takes a lot of concentration (like developing your design project ideas or portfolio tweaks) and wake up one hour earlier than you usually do every day to dedicate time to this task. It’s certainly an adjustment but stick with me for a second because there are a few huge rewards for your sleep sacrifice.

First, you will be super dedicated to this task because you are actively making a minor lifestyle change to work on it every day, it is literally the only reason you’re up that early. Second, since you’ve effectively taken this hour back from when you would normally not be doing anything else, you don’t have any other obligations to juggle. Finally, for both of these reasons, during this hour you are more focused and you will get a lot more done in less time, plus you get to start the day off with a win! Then later when you come home from work you’re free to focus on your athletics or anything else you want.

The only time I’ve tried this was/is during my learning sketching journey here on the forums and I’ve been really happy that I gave it a try, now it’s part of my daily routine! Best of luck finding out what works best for you!

I dunno, but I think athletics like running or swimming are totally different than playing games on the sofa or Netflix. In althetics like these it can be constructive to your mental state not destructive. You can clear your mind and think thinks over. It’s not just another thing to pass the time.

While I normally clear my mind and think of nothing while running, I often have a great idea and solution to a problem on a run. Sitting at a desk and “thinking” is not the same. Just happened today, in fact. Nice, quick 16km run and something I’ve been thinking of for weeks resolved itself. When it’s nothing but your body and nature, it all can work.

More I run, more creative and better I am at work. I’m pushing 400km a month and working less but more efficient than ever.

Find your balance!


“Just wait until you have kids. That’s when the real trade-offs happen.”

Thats the real bummer. But they grow and they bring something to the table that you would have missed without them. A neighbour of ours who happens to have 3 little monsters kind of solved it by walking back and forth to the office instead of commuting by car. A fortunate solution. No one bothers him within that hour of the day.


I feel this pain too. When I first went to ID I was in very good shape. I have been athletic for my whole life and it is a part of who I am. But I found myself slipping in ID school. The best way to combat it I found was bike commuting this allowed me to get a workout before and after my time at school. This carried on to professional life also, but as of late I have moved to another place and it is impossible to bike commute. I also had a little one recently and that has also upset the balance in the best way. So my time is very short for myself. There are a few things I do.

-Wake up early go to bed late. This maximize your time. I have never really needed much sleep so this works for me. I am usually up at 6 go to bed 10:30 0r 11.

-Also I go to the gym now (hate it.) But it helps. Usually in the morning before work I like it alright but really like being outside.

-Try to work athletics in on the weekend. I do longer actives on the weekend to help me stay sane. Early wake up around 5:30 and do something till 10:30. That way I get my balance with the family on the weekend.

This is pretty much how I handle it. It’s not prefect for everyone but works for me.

While I’m definitely in your camp, R, as far as athletics clearing my mind. There are people out there who simply don’t find enjoyment from sports of any kind. Those people may get the same reward you get from running, from reading a book for an hour, or going for a long drive in the country, or watching an inspiring documentary on Netflix.

To the kids comment, Surface Phil, yes. With three “little monsters” (nice one, m0-i) of my own, there’s definitely less time to do what I want to do than there used to be. But, it’s rewarding in many other ways. I’ve been able to volunteer at my oldest son’s school, talking about art, which is something I’ve always enjoyed, and something I don’t get to do very often. Even if it’s a room full of 1st Graders.

I was thinking about this a lot and thinking of my first few years right out of college. I didn’t have any balance. I worked all the time, mainly because I just loved it so much. When I wasn’t working I was at home practicing, trying to be the best designer at the firm. Plus side, I got ahead, fast. I simply was putting in way more time. Down side, I gained a bunch of weight and became generally miserable. After 5-6 years of that (I’m pretty stubborn) after a few years at Nike I started to realize I needed to get it together. Got in shape, focused on building my relationships, and just got generally much happier which also helped a lot at work. It took me a long time to figure out the balance thing and I still mess up. Mainly because I just really like working. But now I know that just working leads to bad things, including not being happy with working, so I try my best to keep it in check.

I agree with everyone here in the thread. Balance is super important.
We are not mindlessly sitting in a factory, screwing pipe A to pipe B for 8 hours a day but rather solve problems in beautiful ways through critical thinking, exploration and a keen eye to the future.

I trained and worked as a chef for over 8 years before joining a design school and starting my career in ID.
I loved cooking and the gratification of telling compelling stories through food, but the business killed my passion. I have worked for top people both in kitchens and design firms and I can tell you that even if the schedule in design seems like a challenge sometimes, it’s a cakewalk compared to most high end restaurants out there.
Work is 6 days a week, min. 12 hours a day. High pressure and an aggressive atmosphere constantly. That it was such long hours didn’t actually matter though, since you got paid so badly that on your day off, there was no money left over to do anything anyway…
…but on the flipside, you got to see and learn from true artists at work. So when I was younger I didn’t mind it and loved the ride.

To Yo’s experience, I also was not healthy. There is a culture of drugs and alcohol, personal relationships are fleeting and non-committal, the job always comes first.
Once I got older though, I realized that there is no future there for me and I realized that my passion was more about creating good experiences for people, whatever the medium. Today it’s aluminium and TPU instead of truffles and ribeye.
So sometimes I can’t help but role my eyes a little when I hear young designers complain about too little free time. Not saying this is the case here. Just lending another perspective from another passion driven field.

I’m a guitarist in 2 heavy metal bands and an industrial designer. For the first few years of working full time as a designer I lost my creative drive as a musician. I got it into my head that my creativity was a finite resource that I was using up at work and therefore there was nothing left for music.

What I have realised over the past year or two is that this was an excuse that I had given myself to slack off. Yes, design is important to me and it’s how I make my money (and for that I am very fortunate), but music is also important. Playing music is a different kind of creativity and makes me feel great.

My advice would be to only give your time to people and activities that deserve it. Don’t waste time, and try to limit TV watching. My girlfriend is the community manager for a major international review site and she is always going out and doing events so I dedicate the time she’s away to music.

Hello! I’m Stephanie. There was a time when I had a lot of things to do and I could not organize myself. I wanted to do so much. So, I took this class in Coursera (Work smarter, not harder). This is like an application that provide classes online. This class gave me some tools to manage my time and do what I want to do. I think this could help you. Is a class that you take at your rhythm and for me it was fun. They are about 4 videos, less than 10 minutes long.
Also, you could communicate your ideas to your surroundings so they can also help you achieve your goals. For example, tell the people in your work place what you like and maybe they also can help you to achieve both of your passions giving you more advices and methods to do it (maybe you have done this already).