It’s 4:45pm on a Tuesday, I’m sitting in my office and trying to get it all done before I head home. Two or three emails later, it’s 5pm and time for me to power off and get home. As I’m packing my bag, I remember I brought in a lunchbox that I need to grab from the breakroom fridge, along with copies sitting on the printer that I neglected to pick up earlier, and not to mention that “one last thing” I needed to tell my co-worker that can’t wait for tomorrow. After all is said and done, I end up leaving the office around 5:20pm, heading into a 45-minute commute that would get me home around 6 or 6:15pm, if I’m lucky. I’m growing impatient as my car won’t start fast enough and finding myself hitting all the red lights on the way to the highway. Once I’m there, a traffic accident adds about 10-15 minutes to my trip. The environment around me is causing a delay in time that I could be spending with family. I get a call from my spouse around 5:45pm – “Hey – where are you?” my spouse asks, “I thought you were done at 5:00 today – was I wrong”? And the excuses begin. What I didn’t realize at the time was that when 5 o’clock rolled around, I was already late for my family commitments. I had pushed myself to a reactive place which caused me to place blame on everything else, except the one thing that was truly to blame- myself.
The demands of our world can easily become expectations we set for ourselves. We so easily forget that the reason we decided to start a family was to temper those expectations with a little unknown, something to give our lives additional meaning and value, a foundation on which to build a legacy. When the demands of the world become too much, that legacy and precious foundation can become the first thing we decide to trade away in the hopes that just a little overtime checking email will help me “get it all done.” Keep in mind, your commitment to family can help fuel your energy at work, and your commitment to work can fuel your quality time with family – the trick is finding the right balance so you can stay focused and feel productive in YOUR world.
Whether you are a “work-from-home” parent, or flex your skills in the office every day, having a strategy for balancing family and work commitments helps you stay focused, proactive, and supports overall well-being.
Here are 7 Strategies to think about when balancing family and work commitments:
- Plan Using a Calendar– Tracking your work AND personal commitments on the calendar can help you and your family plan better for ever-changing commitments and agreements. Having a calendar creates a visual foresight to the minutes, hours, days, and months to plan ahead.
- Set Goals – Personal and Professional– These include measured business goals/expectations AND it includes the goals you set for your family, your relationship with your spouse, your kids, your immediate and extended family. Make your goals VISIBLE. Create a ‘vision board’ or space on the refrigerator to view your family goals on a regular basis. Make a daily commitment to these goals and how you plan to achieve them. That way your activities are focused towards those objectives, and you create a sharper sense of direction.
- Optimize Your Work Environment– If you work from home, set up a dedicated space to work (not the dinner table), which could be a separate office, basement workspace, or corner of the house that is dedicated to work-related activities (or your local WiFi hotspot). That way, you and your family know that whenever you are in that space, you are focused on work and whenever you are NOT in that space, you are focused on family.
- Plan Transitions with Arrival Times in Mind– If you are meeting family for dinner, shuttling your kids to activities or need to run an important errand, build in transition/travel time so you can arrive when you plan to arrive, not arrive as a result of when you leave. This will help you stay out of reactive mode and keep your train running on time and with purpose.
- Align with the Schedule– By aligning with your spouse or family on daily responsibilities, goals, work hours, family activities, you are saying “I respect that we all have things we need/have/want to do and if we align on the schedule, we can give that gift to each other AND get the right things done AND spend quality time, And, And, And…” – this includes allowing you/your spouse extra personal time to exercise, cultivate a hobby, call a friend, run an important errand- all of the things that help us recharge, refresh, and truly BE in our lives.
- Keep your Expectations in Check– Know that your work commitments are important because they support the well-being of your family. Your job helps pay bills, living expenses, and (occasionally) provides a joyful vacation that creates lasting memories. Your family commitments are important because they support your sanity, perspective, and the energy you bring to your work. Any guilt you may be feeling could be the result of not using your work and/or personal time effectively – be strategic with your 24 hours and you will feel a sense of accomplishment that impacts your family and work in a positive way.
- Implement Self-discipline– Make a daily commitment to planned work hours and planned family time – eliminate the question marks. When it’s time to close the laptop and transition, just do it! The work will be there for you. When it’s time to hop on a call or project, tell your family it’s time for you to work so that the family can benefit. Be transparent, avoid excuses, understand how your actions affect others, and above all- COMMUNICATE.
Let’s replay the earlier scenario:
It’s 4:45pm on a Tuesday, I make the decision to transition because I told my spouse I will be home by 5:45pm. I grab the copies off the printer, pack my bag, grab my lunchbox from the breakroom, and decide to save the “one last thing” for tomorrow since I already have a meeting scheduled with my co-worker. After all is said and done, I leave the office around 4:55pm into a 45-minute commute that will get me home around 5:40pm. My car starts, I hit some red and some green lights on the way toward the highway, an unforeseen traffic accident adds 10-15 minutes. I get a call from my spouse “Hey – where are you?” my spouse asks, “I thought you were done at 5:00 today – was I wrong”? I reply, “Nope I left a few minutes early but there was a traffic accident – I will most likely be home around 5:50pm – sorry.” She replies, “No worries. Drive safe and see you soon!”
Ah, if life were really like this… Wait – it could be! If you take just a few moments to consider your own strategies for balancing family and work commitments, you have already moved the dial towards adopting sustainable behaviors that will benefit your loved ones and your career. It’s a process of daily decision-making, combined with a daily commitment that INTEGRATE the two. Dance with time as your guide.
What strategies will you try to support for greater balance with family and work?