If you’re an entrepreneur or a high-achiever, one of the challenges you’re likely facing is that you’ve trained yourself to work so hard and so consistently that you work constantly.
The demands of the goals you’ve set don’t stop just because it’s after traditional work hours. Rarely do you get to clock out by 6pm or have your entire weekend free to do what you like.
If you love what you do, that usually means you’re doing something that makes a difference and creates value in the lives of others. You probably describe it as your calling or your mission. When you’ve found work that fills you with a sense of purpose, it becomes hard to pull away, even when the pull is coming from the people you love most:
Often, it still doesn’t stop even when you decide to step away from work for the day. You find your mind occupied with work even when you’re trying to focus on spending time with family.
Nowadays, simply being at the dinner table without being distracted is hard to pull off. It’s common to see families at restaurants where dad is checking his email or mom is talking on the phone.
I’m not saying I’m not guilty of the same thing, but especially in the past few years, I have become extremely aware of that kind of behavior and have taken steps to change it.
Sure, we’ve all heard it a million times: Put down the phone. Look up from the computer. Focus. Be Present. But how do you do it when your work—your mission—occupies most of your mind’s waking hours?
For you overachievers, if you always feel the need to be working, what if you could shift your perspective so that when you’re with your family, you’re actually working on your family?
Make the time count. Here’s how.
3 Steps to Balancing Work and Family
1. Get Clear on Your Priorities
If you want to maintain good balance in your life so you can spend more time with your family, you must declare your family your number one priority, and make decisions based on that priority.
At first this may seem like old news. After all, if someone asked you if your family is your number one priority, your response would inevitably be yes.
But would your actions actually match your words? Be honest.
We all have a tendency to establish priorities according to what we know the priorities should be…and then dismiss those priorities as soon as something seemingly urgent comes up.
Even though we say family is the top priority, all it takes is that one phone call from a client that will “only take a second” for us to dismiss ourselves from the dinner table. Suddenly, regardless of our words, that client is now the top priority.
The reality is this: making your family a priority (and acting that way) must affect how you deal with friends and clients.
Your thinking can’t be the only thing that changes—your behavior must too.
When you realize that, not answering the phone at dinner becomes a no-brainer.
Are there exceptions? I thought you might ask. Which brings me to number two…
2. Manage Expectations through Communication
To maintain a healthy work and family life balance, you have to manage expectations for how you will spend your time.
Communicate your priorities and the exceptions to your family, colleagues, and clients.
I had to learn this the hard way.
There was a time when no one in my family knew what might happen with dad’s time. I didn’t realize how much stress that put on Polly and the boys.
One day while we were getting ready to do a family activity, Adam asked me, “Dad are you going to be able to stay with us?”
“Of course,” I said.
“I mean the whole time?”
While I was wondering what that meant, he said something that stays with me to this day:
“Sometimes, somebody will call you and you have to go.”
Ugh, was all I could think.
That’s when I made the decision:
There’s going to be work time when the family knows I’m working, and there’s going to be family time when they know I’m not working.
First, I let my family know. Then, I told my assistant, SB.
It may take some getting used to for your colleagues and clients to not have 24/7 access to you, but they will learn to respect your boundaries.
Start by blocking out specific time chunks during the week that are strictly for family. You can decide if that’s dinnertime, bathing and bed time, or just hanging out and being present time.
Let everyone know in advance if you’re having family time and that it’s the number one priority.
However, if there are certain phone calls you know you may have to take, let your family know in advance. It’s as easy as me saying, “Hey guys, I want to keep my phone with me and if Uncle Bob calls I’m going to have to talk to him for a minute, okay?”
Everybody knows in advance. No one feels misled and you are freed up to be fully present.
3. Intentionally Engage Your Time and Energy
When you’re with your family, you have to make the decision to intentionally engage with them. This is easy to overlook if you’re driving your child to baseball practice and your mind is on work. You’re not really present.
The secret to staying present? Always look for the extraordinary moments that hide in everyday situations.
This is especially true when dealing with kids—because, to kids, everything is amazing.
There was a time not too long ago when I had a looming deadline. There was nothing I could do about the fact that I put myself in a situation where I had to write from early in the morning until late in the evening. Until I finished this manuscript, it was a situation with which I had to live.
But that didn’t mean the extraordinary moments had to stop. I was still home to eat dinner with Polly and the boys every night. I was still able to put the boys to bed. The time I spent with them, even though it was shorter in duration than any of us would have liked, was what we had. And we made it count.
In every moment, there is the potential to create the extraordinary with your children or your spouse. It may take some practice, and you can even say a silent prayer to keep yourself focused. Something like, “Let me open my mind and heart and give this person my full attention,” can do wonders.
Think about this: if the teacher at school asked your kids to draw a picture of each of their parents doing something, what would they draw?
Would they draw you with a fishing pole, a baseball glove, or an iPhone? Would your head be up or down? How do they see you?
I do not want my kids to picture their dad holding an iPhone or writing when they think of me. Sure, I want them to know that I write and that my work is part of me, but when they think of me I want them to see me looking into their eyes and smiling.
With that in mind, I’ll offer you one last thought to ponder:
Could the excitement, fun, perspective, and purpose you find by being “at home” create a “you” who is infinitely more valuable in your work?
What’s your biggest struggle in balancing work and family? Leave a comment below and let me know!