Work-Life Balance Takes More Than Good Intentions and a Plan

It was past 7:00 pm last Friday and the office was empty.  I had already been at work for 12 hours and I was utterly discouraged by the large stack of papers on my desk, as well as the ever-increasing list of things that still needed to be complete. My wife called and gave me a “free pass” to stay at work as late as I needed to get things done. But in the end, I knew I needed to get home to spend some time with my family.  You see, all this talk about work-life balance means nothing if I am filled only with good intentions and a plan.

Action

I had to act, and I had to act quickly.

I packed up my bag and shuffled out the door.   As I was driving home, I thought about the things that need to occur for me to successfully juggle a career and a healthy family lifestyle. While these may be true for every venture (whether business or personal), there are three simple steps:

  • Desire. Unless you married a pterodactyl (…yes, that is the correct spelling…), or unless your child’s nickname is “Denis the Menace”, most workaholics have the desire to change.  We have all heard about the guy on his death bed who never said, “I really wished I had spent more time at work.”  The reason why that analogy resonates with each of us is because we don’t take the time to slow down and think about our desires.  We are too concentrated on the goal of the day, the challenge at work, the next big business deal. But if you slow down and get to the heart of the matter, most will say they wish they had more balance in their life.
  • Plan. Many people fail at this juncture because they do not know what a plan entails.  It is this simple…Pen, Paper, Write: “Once a week for the next four weeks, I will be home by 5:30 to eat dinner with my wife and kids.  After dinner, we will go on a walk (or read a book) (or jump on the trampoline) (or…anything other than watch TV or a movie).”  A plan is nothing more than directing where your time will be spent.
  • Action.  You cannot stop with good intentions and a plan…you must act.  That is why planning is so important because if you set your plan at a level you cannot reach, then the choice of non-action becomes easier than action.  So long as you press forward with your plan, no matter how small a step of action it is, you will be one step closer to finding work-life balance.

My suspicion is that we all get stuck at one of these steps.  A plan with action and no desire soon fizzles out.  A heart-filled passion without a plan often hits it the target of no where because no planning was done.  And as a juggling spouse, all of your desires and plans to spend more time with the family do not mean a thing if you never get through the exit door at work.

Question: Desire, Plan, or Action…Where’s your downfall?

All Hell Breaks Loose at Home and You’re Busy At Work: What Next?

All hell breaks loose…can he say that in a blog post?  Yep, and I am not talking about the Eminem song featuring Dr. Dre.  I am talking about the phone call you receive from your spouse in the middle of the day and you just hear in their voice that something is wrong.  You want to help out, but frankly you are in the middle of putting out fires at work.  What can (or should) you do?

phone

Air expectations.

This means you and your spouse should openly talk about “bothering” each other.  In my marriage, my wife has often said that she does not call me because she is afraid of “bothering” me at work.  Whereas, I have a different expectation: I won’t let you bother me.  Sounds harsh, but let me explain that a little better.  I often have told my wife: “Call me any time. If  I am busy or not there, I won’t answer the phone. If I can talk, I will answer the phone.  If it is an emergency, text me and left me know it is an emergency.”  Over the years, by airing our expectations, we have gotten better in communicating about emergencies.

Answer if possible.

If you can answer the phone, then answer the phone.  There have been times (… I hope she is not reading this…) that her number came up on Caller-ID and I did not want to answer the phone.  I may not have been working on something at that particular moment, but I was sure that I did not want to talk to anyone.  You’ve been there…I know.  Anyway, it just takes a minute to answer the phone and ask them if you can call them back.  If you are kind with your words, then they will certainly understand.  If it is something important, then you will be glad you answered the phone.

Avoid the minimizing.

Sometimes all hell breaks loose at home and, since you are not there, you don’t fully appreciate and understand the stress on the other end of the line.  In fact, this happened today.  I heard kids screaming in the background, but there was a chilling monotone in my wife’s voice, as she said:

“Can you talk?”  Of course.

“I need help.”  This sounded really serious.

“Your son bit himself and blamed his brother.  That’s devious of him and I am so distraught.”  I laughed.

That was the wrong response.  I actually said the words, “Whew, I thought it was something serious.”  In the end, my wife just wanted some encouragement and I (wrongfully) minimized her problem.  I should have saved my humorous words for tonight’s pillow talk.  But, I messed up.  Don’t minimize your spouse’s feelings.

Attend emergencies.

So what happens if the call is truly a family emergency?  You need to do whatever is necessary to attend to the emergency.  If you are in a staff meeting, they will excuse you.  If you are on a client conference call, it can be rescheduled.  Even if you are in a court hearing or in the middle of a momentous marketing pitch, they will (or should) understand.  If they do not, then you may have to make a choice between family and work.  And I suspect depending on the emergency, you will make the right choice.

Question: What do you do when all hell breaks loose?

Image: Victor1558

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