Ari Weinzweig and his co-founder Paul Saginaw chose a third way when faced with the decision of growing their popular Zingerman’s Deli through geographic expansion or keeping things small and local. Their solution: a consortium (or “community,” as Weinzweig calls it) of nine related businesses-;all of them in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Weinzweig, who has run the roughly $50 million community since 1982, takes a similarly individualistic approach to time. While most entrepreneurs try to manage it, Weinzweig has learned to appreciate it.
How do you balance your personal life with work?
For most of human existence, we haven’t had the concept of work-life balance. The idea of going to work and coming home is a 20th century construct.
So “balance” is the wrong way to frame it. I see it as one life. What is the best, most rewarding, most contributing existence I can create? The old and honorable idea of “vocation” is that we are each called to a line of work that we are well suited for, and so there is no separation between work and happiness. When people feel they’re going after their dream, they are their best selves. Their energy is better, which enhances every other element of their existence. It’s a virtuous cycle. Whether you work 20 hours or 100 hours doesn’t make a difference. The question is: how do you feel about all the elements of your life?
But our reality is that we only have 24 hours in a day. The rubber hits the road in the way we decide to allocate them.
The reality of human existence is that we will never have enough time for anything we’re really interested in and care about. I try to make peace with that instead of letting myself feel drained and exhausted by the fact that I don’t have “enough” time. If you feel like life is a constant battle which you are losing, that negative energy is passed on to the rest of your life. I realized that I was never going to have time for everything. I far prefer that to the problem of people who don’t have a lot of great things that they’re excited to do.
How do you make good use of the time you have?
I try to make the most of every minute. Most people complain that they don’t have enough time. It’s amazing how much difference you can make with mindful use of a minute or two. I try to leave little notes for my girlfriend every day to tell her how much I love her. It takes 10 seconds. Or I’ll call a friend or send a nice email to someone I care about. People could take a little time to do these little things. I also run every day, cook every night, and I journal regularly.
A lot of it is how you think of “work”. I was at the deli on the morning of July 4, watching the sunrise. I emailed a friend who replied, “You work too much.” But I was having a fantastic morning, reading and drinking tea. My friend was about to start a six-hour drive home from a getaway weekend with his wife and kids, which didn’t sound like much fun to me, but technically qualified as “vacation.” And I wondered: Why is that “fun?” Often what other people describe as time off sounds onerous and stressful to me. When someone says they’re taking time off to clean their garage, to me that sounds horrible.
Part of what gets lost in the discussion is that people lose themselves. They focus on work and family, but they don’t take care of themselves. Traditional Native American agriculture was centered around the “three sisters:” corn, squash and beans. If you only work, then that’s like mono-cropping. You will burn out like the soil burns out. Work, family, and the self are like the three sisters. If you grow all three together, they will help each other, and the whole system will be strong.
Do you use any tools to help yourself prioritize?
I write up a detailed three-year vision for how I want things to be, a vision that encompasses my whole life. What’s the future I want? If you write it down and share it with loved ones, it will stand a much greater chance of happening. What will success look like in the future? What’s it going to feel like? How can I be a better listener, help people achieve their dreams? If you can’t answer those questions then you are playing not to lose, which means you always lose. In my book, “Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 3: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Managing Ourselves,” I wrote a vision for my relationship with time. Most people are angry with time since they feel there’s not enough of it.
What’s that vision look like?
Here’s an excerpt from my vision of how my relationship with time will look in two years:
“My relationship with time is better than ever. I really do love it. I appreciate each little bit of time that I have to work with and very much enjoy being with it. Although I still slip, now and again, into frustration with time's seeming shortness, I recover now more quickly than ever. I never fight time the way I used to when I was younger….
“When I'm dealing with time, I've learned to really watch my language-;I've almost completely stopped using phrases like ‘I have to … ‘ ‘I can't … ‘ or ‘I should.’ Instead, I own my choices, and I understand that everything I opt into doing will have (both intended and unintended) consequences. I've pretty much completely stopped complaining about not having enough time.”