Quality versus Quantity: How to Balance Work and Family

Whoever said that “quality is more important than quantity” when spending time with your family probably had more kids than me.  If you don’t know, we are blessed with seven wonderful children ranging from age 15 years to 16 months.

I don’t know about you, but I think the amount of time you spend with your kids is just as important as what you do when you are with them.   So the real question becomes:  How can you juggle the demands of a busy career, community or church involvement, and your family obligations?

While I don’t have all the answers, here is what I have learned over the past few years:

  • Your family should be a top priority.  Throughout my career as a lawyer, I have struggled with finding the right balance between work and family.  It always seemed to be a competition between which of the two got my attention at any given point in time.  It took a long time for me to realize that my family is critical to my success as a lawyer.   (Even now, it continues to be a daily struggle … but I am getting better!)  Once you realize how important your family is to your overall well-being, you can better plan your days.
  • Your work will (or should) appreciate your priorities.  I have worked at three separate law firms throughout my career, and I can say, without hesitation, that every one of my employers valued the importance of a healthy family unit for their employees.  As an business owner, I expect my assistants and staff to have the same balance and mindset.  While not all employers share this ideal, I think it is important that you set proper boundaries going into any new employment so that you can love your job, at the same time as you care for your family. (Again, this continues to be a commitment that I have to remind myself daily!)
  • Your family needs both quality and quantity time. There is no secret or magic formula to finding the right balance, as each family has a different make-up.  For my wife, who homeschools our children, it means that she still needs to take time to spend with each child separately, even though she spends most of the day …  every day … with them.  For me, it means that my kids need to see me every day,  even though there may be times when I leave to work before they awake and I come home from work long after they have gone to bed.  (… Tell me how to figure that one out?…)  For example, at least one day a week I try to spend breakfast with the family and go into work late.  Late Friday nights and early Saturday mornings are also a must! When I have an errand to run, I’ll take one or two smiling faces with me on what we call “an excursion of a lifetime” … even if it is to Home Depot. Whether or not you have kids, you also have to take the time to invest in your marriage.  (This is where I have the most room for growth.)
  • You have to meet your kids at the playground.  I mean this both literally and figuratively.  Kids love the playground and even the 1/2 hour quick stop to the playground will meet your children’s expectations.  This also means that you need to get down to their level …  and I mean their eye level …  so that they feel you are connecting with them.  For example, just this morning as I hopped in the shower to prepare for the day, Jackson knocked on the shower door and asked if he could take a shower too.  While I could have said no, because I had to get to work, I opened the door, sat down in the shower with him, and we played with buckets of water for ten minutes. The giggles from my three-year old were the perfect assurance that I had made the right decision for this ten-minute interruption to my morning ritual.

If your life is like mine, there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. However,  you need to make sure to plan for both quality and quantity time with your family.  It’s crucial to your success.

Question: Do you have any tips and suggestions for this juggling father?

Image: Earls37a

Why You Should Let Your Kids Play on New Asphalt

As many of you know, I am a construction lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee.  Last fall, I came home to a fresh layer of asphalt throughout our development.  Smooth. Warm. Black.  It looked great!  Then my kids … 5 out of 7 of them … pulled out the chalk and began destroying this perfect surface.

Since their daddy represents road builders, they even created lanes for travel.  I am sure they did not commission any environmental impact studies.  Nor did they properly carry out lane closures.  (…amateurs…)

My immediate reaction was to get mad … They were playing in the street! They were ruining perfectly good asphalt.  But then the quiet voice reassured me.  They are kids … and they are going to be alright.

Do you get stressed by juggling professional demands and family life?  Here are some reasons why you should let your kids plays on new asphalt:

  • Let your kids be kids.  Too often, I confuse “good behavior” with “good character.”  I think my job as a parent is to instill good character, which naturally should result in good behavior. Right?  But when my focus is on their actions, rather than their heart, I become rule-driven.  Wake up, Matt, they are kids.  Let them play!  That’s what new asphalt is for … bright colored chalk!
  • Let yourself be a kid.  My job as parent does not end with allowing my kids to play, though.  I need to play with them.  In this instance, I flopped down on the new, black street and began drawing.  The giggles of the little ones at my side, laughing at my “less than perfect” stick figure was all I needed.  This was fun.
  • Live one life.  Most of my hurdles over the past ten years have stemmed from that fact that I tried to compartmentalize every aspect of my daily life (i.e., work, health, family, friendships, etc). Each had their own little box. Until I came to the realization that there is only room for one life, there was conflict.  I suspect that you will experience the same.  That means, if you are a passionate executive, then take that passion home to your family.  If you work great with your kids, then work great with your staff and employees.

Question: Are you juggling work and family and community?  What tips can you share about finding the right balance?

If You Can’t Lead Your Family, How Can You Lead Your Business?

People often ask me how I have time to practice law, raise a family, run a construction law blog, and then open my book of life and share some lessons here.  Jokingly, I respond, “I simply don’t sleep.

But that’s not really true. I suppose the real answer is that I find the time. You see, lessons in leadership are just as applicable to running a business as they are to raising a family. To me, I often ask myself, “If I can’t lead my family, how can I lead others, whether in a business, a church, a community organization, or other group?”

Most of the following lessons I have learned within my own family, but they equally apply when working with any group of people.  In fact, I would suggest that if you are able to apply these tips to your personal life, it will make it easier to lead others to the water.

  • Leaders are humble. “All great leaders are humble,” says leadership guru John Maxwell. “Instead of talking about their accomplishments, leaders are looking to give the team credit.” In the family setting, this means that you don’t always have to be right with your kids.  You eat the peanut butter and green bean sandwich for your rising chef.  You say sorry when you yell.  You humble yourself for your family.  In business, you lift up others and make it about the team.
  • Leaders are fun. In my family, I tend to be the disciplinarian. However, on most occasions, I am the class family clown.  If the goal of parenting is to reach their heart, then you will not reach it by force, loud words, or through submission.  You will reach it through a giggle or a smile.  Businesses are the same way.  In his book 1001 Ways to Energize Employees (affiliate link), Bob Nelson says that the “power of positive reinforcement” is common sense, but “not common practice in most organizations.” You need to find ways to connect with your group in a fun way, and the rewards will follow.
  • Leaders are forward-thinking.  As a father, I want to make sure that my children are mature and well-adjusted when they leave our protection.  I don’t want to settle for just getting by with a few rules.  I want to envision the challenges that lie ahead and prepare for them.  In business, you should be looking at industry trends and identifying the future problems so that you can develop solutions ahead of time.
  • Leaders are planners. When it comes to family matters, I can only speak on this subject from the wrong point of view (i.e., the failure to plan is a plan to fail).  For family trips, my wife plans our vacations 10 years in advance.  I let the kids know where we are going after we get there, we’ve bought the trinkets and we are on our way home.  While there may be something to “living spontaneously,” a true leader plans … makes lists … organizes details … and develops contingencies. 

While this list could go on, the important take-away is to understand that you have a tremendous opportunity to tear down the walls between your personal life and work life. If you have tension and struggles within your family, I would suspect that you will find the same hurdles in your job arena.

On the other hand, if you can lead your family, you can lead anyone.

Question: What other words do you use to describe leaders? Leaders are ________.

Image: thirtyfootscrew

The Day We Buried Sarcasm, Yelling and Bad Attitudes

Ever had a family burial ceremony?  We did last Fall.  No, it was not for the hermit crab (…he died years ago…).  No, it was not for the water frogs (…inexplicably they are still alive…).  It was for a few invited guests that we let come into our house.  They have overstayed their welcome and we were ready to kick them out.  Do they live in your home?

Sarcasm. Yelling. Bad Attitudes.

It started with a sit down family meeting.  I apologized to the kids for my sarcasm and yelling.  I told them that I did not like raising my voice to get them to listen to something.  I told them that my words had not been sincere when they asked me questions.  I told them, “I’m sorry.”  Finally, I told them I was willing to give up sarcasm and yelling.  We spent the next few minutes talking about things they were willing to give up, too.  One said, “Yelling at my sisters.” (…I guess you can “catch” behaviors…).  One said, “Bad attitude.”  One said, “Pizza!” (…We’ll give her a couple of years to catch up…).

We then drew a picture of our sacrifices on a 3×5 card and proceeded out back to the burial site.  We dug a hole and we placed our cards in the hole.  We talked to the kids about making choices in life and how can accept our bad behaviors or get rid of them.  And in the crisp, cool weather that afternoon … we buried sarcasm, yelling and bad attitudes.

When you decide that you are tired of just “getting by” with the same old attitudes, then you can do something about it.  When you are ready to “play to win,” then you can make a change.  If you are ready to make a change in your life, I suggest that you have your own burial ceremony.  Here are few things to remember:

  • It is never too late.  A habit is never too old to break.  It may be difficult, but you can decide to change your patterns of behavior whenever you want.  You also don’t need a house full of children in order to decide to change.  Your behaviors may affect a spouse or a friend.  They may affect your health or your work.  The important aspect is that you can decide to change … today.
  • It takes a plan.  Concerned about my sarcastic words, I knew that I needed to do something more than stop talking.  (…I talk for a living…).  Instead, I knew that I had to write down on paper what I was willing to set aside for my children.  I had to admit that I was wrong.  I then had to take a physical act of abandonment.   You may not need a ceremony.  Perhaps you want to reign in your spending—try freezing your credit card in a bag of water in the freezer.  Addicted to swear words?  Set up a “swear jar” and donate some Benjamins every time you cuss.  Make a plan and stick to it.
  • It may fail, but stay focused.  Finally, realize that you are human and that you are likely to fail.  In fact, just a few moments after I buried sarcasm yesterday, I found my silver tongue snapping at my wife about something she had asked me to do weeks ago.  Luckily, she was smart enough to remind me about our burial ceremony and she put me back in place.  Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Men succeed when they realize that their failures are the preparation for their victories.”  When you realize that you are going to fail, you are free to succeed.  Henry Ford failed numerous times in business before he finally went on to build the Ford Motor Company.

Question:  What have you let in your home that needs a burial ceremony?

Words, Tones and Looks Are Game Changers

It’s no secret that the words you use with your spouse or children have a tremendous impact on your relationship with them.  But did you know that the tones you use or the looks you cast have the same meaningful impact?

As I was hanging an over-sized dry erase board this evening, I gathered all the right tools to make it a quick install: the stud-finder, the large level, the tape measure, the drill, and a handful of screws with washers.  I was marking the wall with the stud-finder, a nifty little grown-up toy that caught Dylan’s attention.  As I got the first few screws in place, Dylan broke the silence.


“Yeeeeeesssss, Dylan?” I snarled back, eye brows pitched and eyes rolling.

“Um … Nevermind.”

I looked down at him and saw that I had changed his entire thought process with two small words, stated angrily, coupled with a facial expression that crushed his enthusiasm.  I had to act quickly.  I jumped down from the step stool, dropped the drill and got in his face with a smile: “What do you want, son?”

“Nevermind, Dad.”

Was I too late? Did I truly steal his question from him?

“Dylan, I am sorry.  This project is not more important than you.  Your question matters to me.  You matter to me.  What did you want to ask me?”

“It’s no big deal. I just wanted to know how that thing finds wood behind the wall.  That’s all.”

“That is a big deal … and a great question!  I am sorry I tried to steal that question from you.”

We spent the next 15 minutes laughing and giggling about the stud-finder.  It was close, but I almost put another wedge between me and another kid in my family.  I’m good at that … are you?   As you think about your words, tones and looks, remember these tips:

  1. Words are alive.  When I think about the negative words I use with my spouse or kids, my mind often flashes to my dad and his father, who chastised dad every time he spilled his milk as a child.  It became a prophecy of milk-spilling because my dad had heard those words so many times.  Those words from granddad were alive…they pierced my dad’s young mind and heart…and they grew inside him like a tumor.
  2. Tones and looks change the words.  You can say the same word, “Yes”, with 20 different tones and have 20 different meanings.  You can roll your eyes with sarcasm or gaze softly, each sending a distinct message.  People easily pick up on your tone and if they think you are unapproachable, they will stop approaching you.
  3. All of them are game-changers.  Negative words are discouraging and positive words are encouraging.  When you realize that your words, tones and looks can tear down your spouse or children, as well as build them up, there is not much of a choice to make.  Proverbs 17:22 says that a “joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.

Which do you want?  You can make a difference.  You really can be that parent who runs up and down the soccer field screaming “Go! Go! Go!”  You really can be the spouse who says, “Great job with the kids today. I know it’s hard, but great job.”  To be joyful is to be ready to spread encouragement, enthusiasm and positive words to others.  Are you game?

Sometimes Parents Need to Be Told What to Do!

You think we have it all together.  We must.  After all, no one in their right mind would have seven kids unless they were either crazy or really good parents.  In our family, it it is probably a little of both . . . but definitely insane in the brain! And not a day goes by where my children don’t teach me about parenting.

Time to relax.  A few months ago, I was hoping to catch a movie with the kids after dinner, after their showers, pillows and blankets spread across the floor. (…Admittedly, that is code for “Let Daddy lie down on the couch and rest his eyes while purportedly spending time with the kids.”….)

I put the movie in the DVD player, I fluffed my pillow, and I pressed play.  Everyone was situated for the family movie except for Faith, my #5, who was trying to squeeze her small frame into my blanket, pillow and body.

“Faith, sit down.  The movie is about to start.”  This time I said it calmly.  Next time I wouldn’t.

“Dad, I’m trying. But there is no room,” she cooed softly.

I didn’t bite. “Faith, sit on the floor.  There’s plenty of room.” Yes, this time I snapped.

“But, Dad, I just want to sit by you.”

Most people would have melted with those soft blue eyes, but not me.  I wanted everyone to sit in this spot and watch the “family” movie quietly so that I could get some rest. 

“Faith, there’s no more room next to me.”  I thought about that statement.  How can I deal with those words, yet still get my sleep?  Let me try this:  “What do you want me to do Faith?”

“Well, you could could put your arm around me.”

She smiled.  Innocence.

Sometimes parents need to be told what to do.  In a split second, my heart was pierced and my mind went racing.  She’s right.  She just wanted to spend time with me, but I had something else in mind.  And with those nine little words she solved her problem . . . and mine.

You see, as parents our world is filled with total chaos: dirty diapers, meals, spilled paint, broken glass, laundry, sibling fights, naps, naps interrupted, soccer practice, violin practice, church, more dirty diapers . . . you get the picture. 

And yet in the midst of this chaos, we have a job to do.  Unconditionally love our children.  That’s a tough job when you have your list of things you want do for yourself.  Even though we know, as parents, what our role should be, it often takes a few words from our children to remind us of our job.  For Faith, she just wanted to have her Daddy hold her.  For Dylan, he just wants to play a board game at 9:00 pm when I am tired.  For Alie, she just wants me to listen (and not talk). 

What about you?  What are your children telling you?  Slow down. Play with me.  Listen. Laugh.

That’s all they really want . . . is . . . a piece of you!

Image: jenpilot

Can You Talk to Yourself a Little Nicer? Yes and Here’s How!

The most important person you are going to listen to today is yourself.  Those are not my words—they are the words of John Maxwell on his leadership blog.

As Maxwell explains, there are a lot of voices we hear throughout the day, but the one that has the most positive upside or most negative downside is … what we say to ourselves … what Maxwell calls self-talk.

The point is 100% correct.  But what if you have been beaten down by a parent, spouse, boss or other person for so many years that you are stuck in negative self-talk?  What do you do to get unstuck and start talking/hearing positive self-talk?  Hear are a few ideas:

  • Recognize you are not alone.  There is a reason why leaders like John Maxwell and Michael Hyatt are successful.  Because they help hurting, struggling people.  And this world is full of hurting, struggling people:  You are one. I am one. Your best friend is one. Your neighbor is one. Your pastor is one.  We are not alone with our struggles and one of the best parts of the Internet is the ability to connect with others, finding a wealth of commonalities.  Look around.  When you recognize that you are not alone in your struggles, you gain the ability to walk side-by-side a negative self talker or to follow a positive self talker.
  • Realize your potential.  Mom always told me that God does not make junk.  Whatever your faith, you (and your past) are living proof that you can always do better.  Remember the first elementary school project you had?  The next one got better.  Remember the first lawn you mowed in the summer heat?  The next time you did it faster.  Remember the first song you sang in public?  The next one you sang was more melodious.  The point is that we all have talents and passions. No matter what negative things can be said about you (…by you…), there is untapped potential in you to shine.  I believe it!  Do you?
  • Re-assess your talk.  I use the word re-assess because you have to go back to the drawing board.  If you are mired down in low self esteem, you have already assessed your value (…albeit incorrectly…).  You have to re-assess, meaning DO IT AGAIN BUT THIS TIME CORRECTLY.  With a clear lens, see that you are not alone, you have great potential, and that the negative things you have been telling yourself for years is simply wrong.
  • Repeat daily.  This is perhaps the hardest part.  You may believe in yourself just a little bit more after reading these words.  You may find an ounce of passion that you once had that got lost after years of negativity.  You may ignite a spark to get unstuck out of old patterns.  But the world and your circumstances are not going to change overnight.  You have to repeat this assessment everyday you get up, you have to turn on the positive self talk, and you have to reject the negative self talk.

Question: What tips do you have to help turn the negative talk to positive talk?

Image: John Newman

Five Tips to Plan Away from the Office

Summer is a time of fun, and giggles, and vacation, and if you are lucky…trampolines.  Hopefully you will get a chance to get away from your office or your studies for a little vacation this summer.

Although it can be difficult, you can successfully be away from the office to focus on your family.  Here are a few tips to help you plan for your time away from the office, whether for a vacation, business trip, or new addition to the family:

  • Plan ahead and schedule your days away. The real point here is to actually “plan” you time away from the office. When you are talking about a vacation, mark the time off on your calendar, even if you are staying in the area. When you are going away for a business trip, block off at least one-half a day on your calendar for “prepping” to leave.
  • Tell your clients, customers and colleagues in advance by email. Whether you are an attorney, a business executive, an educator, or any other professional, you should tell your closest relationships about your expected absence. Even if you don’t have time, make sure you set up your email to send an automated message about your time away from the office, informing them of the date you are expected to get back and giving them an emergency contact number.
  • Schedule your “away” work and deadlines before you leave. If you find that you have a deadline that occurs while you are away, either finish the project, assign it to your closest colleague, or get an extended deadline … all before you leave. If you plan to work while away (which I would not advised while on vacation), then prepare folders for each individual task. That way, you can grab a folder if you have a spare couple of hours to work, whether on a plane or in a waiting room.
  • Find access to wi-fi connectivity. Most hotels, vacation hot spots, and even hospitals have access to wi-fi. But you should make sure ahead of time. If you cannot find wi-fi access, there are numerous applications that can turn your mobile phone into a modem for your laptop.
  • Pick an “ally” in the office to help you during your absence. It is important to have a strong network of co-workers in your office. Although your customers or clients will be aware that you are unavailable (or have limited availability) while you are away, there are situations where emergencies may occur. In such a case, prepare a trust-worthy co-worker to help you while you are away, whether it involves your regular work tasks or things that need to be done on an emergency basis.

Question: Do you have any “away from the office” tips?

My Transition from Blogger to WordPress … Why?

If you don’t have a technology background, it is difficult to surf the waters on your own when starting a blog. When I first started blogging years ago at www.growingandgrowing.com, I signed up using Blogger.  But I had many friends who touted WordPress.

Last year, I moved from Blogger to WordPress last year.  Why?  According to Google, there are more than 43,200,000 reasons why WordPress is better than BloggerFor me, there were a select few good reasons for changing from Blogger to WordPress, including:

  • WordPress is more robust.  When I started blogging here, it was simply a family website where I had posted a few family pictures along with some funny stories about my kids.  Then, a few years ago my father had a near fatal car accident and the blog became a conduit to communicate with family and friends throughout the country.  It also became an outlet to describe the tremendous trials that our family faced.  Over the past year, www.growingandgrowing.com has become a platform for me to share some best practices about leadership and life.  For this new platform on leadership, I simply needed a new blogging platform.
  • WordPress is more functional.  At first, I was using Google’s free hosting on Blogger.  There were a lot of constraints and limitations from Google during those first few years.  I felt that I was just using the “freebie” blogging platform.  However, on the self-hosted WordPress blog, I have found that many of the prior limitations are no longer present.  I now have access to literally thousands of “plugins” that allow me to control the functionality and usefulness of the blog.  Consequently, I have received numerous comments about the “professional” feel of my new platform.
  • WordPress allows ownership.  It never happened to me, but I have heard many stories about bloggers whose blogs have been marked as SPAM by Google bots.  It could take hours or days to get control back.  Some report that when Blogger flags your blog, there is no person to contact and no easy recourse.  Now that I own my content on a server that I can control, I am more comfortable.

I may not be blog-saavy enough to understand some of the technical differences between Blogger and WordPress … and I understand that Blogger has taken great measures to add new functionality to its platform over the past year … but I have to say that the transition just feels right!  Do you know what I mean?  Take a look around and let me know whether you agree.

I will soon be launching a new e-newsletter using Mail Chimp’s plugin.  I will be updating the commenting section using the Disqus plugin.  These are just a few options that I am excited about on a WordPress platform.

Question: Have you recently moved from Blogger to WordPress?  What tips can you share about your transition?