Whether you work at home, or away from the home – or own your own business – chances are successfully balancing work and family are difficult endeavors.
The bottom line is that depending on what is currently happening in your “ NOW” – one or the other always seems to rise to the top of your priority list. When you have bills to pay, meetings, deadlines and a host of other big things happening professionally, you likely burn the midnight oil and end up spending excessive amounts of time working. And then of course, when the kids are sick, you have 15 places to be in a day, 8 softball games a week plus band concerts and award ceremonies that require your attendance….family takes the bulk of your time.
The question is how to balance the two so that you aren’t spending all your free time catching up on work and all your time with family worrying about meeting your professional responsibilities.
Sadly, many people believe that having and raising a family requires the ultimate sacrifice professionally. However, this is not the case. There are millions of successful entrepreneurs and professionals who have vibrant family lives, and are able to make the most of both worlds. Margaret Newhouse, the Assistant Director of Career services at Harvard University, advises professionals young and old to approach this balance with the same common sense, creativity, and flexibility that they would any other aspect of life. In fact, a huge part of career, and life success is learning how to remain fulfilled both personally and professionally – and realizing that this success cannot work without delicate balance.
So for you hardworking professionals with family, here are a few tips on how you can balance work and family!
- Set boundaries! Today, professionals are so connected that they are virtually available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you have a blackberry, laptop, Ipad or any other device that your professional side of life uses to contact you – find the OFF button. Literally! Set your email to auto respond to clients or higher ups, so that it doesn’t look like you are avoiding your professional responsibilities. If you don’t have a clear boundary of being OFF of work, your family life will suffer. Far too many children and spouses feel they have to compete with ringing cell phones, text messages and the constant desire of family members to check emails throughout the day. This is no way to spend time with your family, leaves you distracted, AND has you being taken advantage of professionally. Additionally, if you work from home – count your blessings and make sure that your family is clear that when you are working….you are WORKING. If you have young children, hire a neighborhood teen to come entertain the children for a few hours so you can actually get some work done. 3-4 hours of well-focused work is definitely more productive than 24 hours of on again off again working arrangements. With boundaries in place, both your professional associates and your family, will learn to appreciate your schedule.
- Don’t be a yes person. Many professionals feel that in order to get ahead and stay ahead, they have to agree to everything that their employer asks on them. With the fledgling economy, this line of thinking has become even more prevalent. If your employer constantly requires unusual, or unprecedented requests from you and you always say yes, chances are they will continue to hold you to this expectation. Instead, come up with creative alternatives so that you don’t end up feeling overly stressed and over worked. Additionally, if you are afraid that saying, “NO,” to your employer will land you in the unemployment line – try to negotiate deadlines on tasks. The point is that you cannot be everything to everybody and you cannot be everywhere at once. Saying yes both personally and professionally will diminish the quality of your work and of your relationships.
- Be organized. This means have calendars handy. Keep them with you at all times, load your to-do items into your phone and remain on top of your commitments. This way, you always have a quick point of reference that ensures you know what you have to do both personally and professionally – and what more you can do! One great idea is to pencil in professional responsibilities in one color ink and family functions in another color. Organization can make you 50% more efficient and for busy professionals with family, it is key to remaining calm and available for both sides of your life.
- Think about your tradeoffs. It is always a good idea for you to be aware of what you are willing to give up, in order to experience gains. For instance, if you are being offered a new position at work that will take up a lot more of your time, be clear on what you are willing to trade. And more importantly, what you are not willing to trade. For instance if you coach your child’s football team and the new position would make that an impossibility…decide whether the trade off is worth it. Make sure that you aren’t lured by financial gains alone and be brutally honest with yourself about what you are willing to give up in your life, and what you are not.
- Imagine yourself in 25 years from right now. What would you have wished you have done differently? What sacrifices are you making now that you will regret? Whatever choices you make to balance your work and family right now, should be something that you will feel good about on your deathbed.
- Schedule your social commitments. In trying to balance work and family, many people forget their own social lives and other activities that make them feel good. If you love playing tennis, then make sure that your weekly tennis match with your friend is part of your permanent schedule. Remember, you have to make sure that you are taking care of yourself as well. When you are happy, have regular stress relievers and don’t leave your personal needs out of the schedule – you will be a much better parent, spouse, and employee.
- Listen! If the balance between work and family becomes off kilter, chances are the clues will be EVERYWHERE. Listen to what others, even your young children, say to you. Listen to your boss and listen to your own internal chatter. Then, make swift decisions to induce some changes.
The delicate balance between home and professional life definitely takes time. There is a lot of give and take, and a lot of trial and error you will have to experience before you get it right. But once you do, life will flow together and you will feel like you are giving your best to your family, friends, employer, and yourself.