Hardly a week goes by that i'm not asked, "How do you keep a good work/family balance?" If you are in a stage of life like me you seem to never find a free moment, you feel like you are about 2 hours short on sleep all the time, you feel like you start a hundred projects and hope to finish one! This is the nature of trying to work and have a meaningful career while trying to have a healthy family. I've learned the tug of war between work and family is not a problem to solve but rather a tension to manage.
I admit that I am not perfect at this so called, "balance." However, I have done a few things that have protected my from allowing my career to run over my family and likewise allow my career to thrive in the midst of a growing family. The principles listed below serve as daily reminders of how I manage the tension of work and family life.
1. Today is the key to tomorrow. When my wife hears this she rolls her eyes. It's part of my nightly routine. It's the reason behind why I prepare a number of things for the morning to follow. I pick out my clothes, pack my gym bag, prepare my lunch, I even pull out the needed cutlery, cookware and dinnerware for breakfast. By the time i crawl into bed, tomorrow is ready.
2. Do today's work today. Much of the struggle in the work and family balance is the unfinished work at work. Like you I leave the office everyday with a hundred things still left to do. However, i learned this simple truth years ago that has saved me from becoming a workaholic. I do today's work today. In fact, I submit there are only two types of tasks, stuff that MUST be done today and the stuff that can wait till tomorrow. Do today's work today and GO HOME. To be clear, advanced work that you do to prepare for a trip, for instance, is still today's work. When we complete today's work we can leave with a sense of satisfaction and shift gears to family life.
3. Make your family the alarm system. This one I learned by accident. I have done a decent job managing this tension which means my family has grown accustomed to me being around in a predictable fashion. When i get too far outside of that expectation my kids become the alarm system. I get the questions like, "Dad, do you have ANOTHER meeting!?" or "Dad, when are you gonna play with us?" or "Why do you have to leave now?" Each of the questions are like a built in alarm system showing me that things are not working. There are times that work demands are unusually high and I just have to be there. Other times the demands of family life are unusually high and likewise i need to be there. However, for most weeks if i start straying too far from normal my family lets me know.
At the core of managing this tension is a decision. It's an invisible decision and one I hope to never act upon. it is this, my family out-ranks my job. If I had to (gosh, I hope this never happens) I would leave my career for the good of my family. I don't believe anyone can truly manage the work/family tension without personally making this decision.
I hope this post challenges you and perhaps gives you a few steps to take to make some positive changes to help you manage work and family life.