Lisa A. Flam
By his own account, Ian Sparks has a hard time finding his personal off switch.
After serving in the Army on active duty, Sparks began a full-time corporate job as a project manager in 2017 while continuing his combat engineer military service in the Army Reserve. In October 2018, he added a third job to the mix by co-founding Battle Bars, a company that makes protein bars aimed at people with a high-intensity lifestyle.
“It is hectic,” said the 30-year-old Sparks, who lives in Pittsburgh and is a captain in the Army. “The upside is that it provides me a lot of energy because I’m doing something that I’m passionate about, and I’m a fast-moving person so it keeps me moving and that makes me happy.”
Sparks puts long hours into his work life, rising at 5 a.m., working at his day job from about 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and returning home to handle his Battle Bars business or Reserve duties until around 10 p.m.
“My days are pretty packed,” he said, adding of his evenings: “Even when I am relaxing, I have my laptop in front of me. I don’t shut off very well.”
Throughout his career, which saw deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and now includes commanding 100 people in the Reserve, Sparks has learned a thing or two about how to get the job done. Here, Sparks offers the lessons he has learned and strategies that help him successfully manage a full-time job and two part-time roles.
On Sundays, Sparks creates an online list of everything he has to do in the week ahead for his work and personal life and ranks them in priority order for each day of the week. “Even if I’m getting an oil change, I put that on the list,” he said. The list populates his three calendars and helps with time management and planning.
“It provides me situational awareness of everything that’s coming up in the week ahead and it allows me to set those items or tasks that are the most important early on, and that way I can focus on them and not get lost in the weeds on smaller, maybe insignificant items,” he said.
After his final deployment, Sparks found he was neglecting his workouts. After feeling the effects of not exercising, he began putting physical activity on his task prioritization list, and now usually works out first thing in the morning. He gets out of the house, away from the computer screen and work, by going to the gym or outside for a run.
“It’s an instant endorphin release, which is obviously very healthy,” he said. “It gives me energy and it makes me feel better about everything in general, but also it clears my mind so that when I return to my tasks and my work, I can approach it from an energized and renewed perspective.”
Whether for his Army work, his corporate job or for the protein bars startup, Sparks has sought help from a mentor when needed. If you don’t have a mentor, find one, he suggests.
“Over my career I’ve gained many mentors through my various travels that I rely on for their expertise in various fields,” he said. “Rather than sticking to myself and driving forward in something I might not necessarily be familiar with, I’ll turn to my mentors that I’ve gained, and I’ll get their feedback and opinions on a situation.”
Don’t sweat the little things and keep pushing ahead in the face of obstacles, Sparks says.
“One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned is to let it roll off your shoulders and keep moving forward rather than stop,” he said. “Personal resilience is a big part of my life and it’s been a key to everything.”
Recognize tasks that you can delegate when appropriate. “Learning when to pass off a task and empowering others to do that is really helpful, especially from a management perspective,” he said.
Always remember your long-term goals and center everything you do around those goals, says Sparks.
Although his days are long, Sparks says the best part of his work life is that he is still growing and learning.
“I would not mind having two jobs instead of three, that’s why the goal is to go Battle Bars full time, hopefully within the next year,” he said. “With more time I can make things grow faster.”
With a laugh, he added, “And a little bit more of a social life would be nice.”