So you say that you’re tired of working so hard. You take calls at all hours of the night and all through the weekend. Your spouse and kids complain that they hardly ever see you and that you spend more time working than you do with them. The tension in your home every time your “crack”berry goes off is thick enough to cut with a knife. What are you going to do? Doesn’t your family understand that you’re just trying to provide for them? Why do they get so mad? Don’t they know that you would much rather spend quality time with them, but you fear that if you aren’t “on call” 24/7 then your employer will find somebody else to do your job? In this economy we all feel the pinch of being “disposable” and it scares the ever-loving bejeebers out of us!
How can you achieve that ever-elusive work / life balance? How can you keep your boss and customers happy? How can you keep your job and still keep your family happy, too? It seems impossible at times. BUT – you really can have that balance. You just have to figure out how you’re going to make it happen, before the blackberry goes off during dinner; before your boss calls during the school play; before your family moves on without you!
If you really want it, you must make a plan on how you’re going to get it!
Your Greatest Asset – TIME
Do you have a financial budget? Do you reconcile your bank account? Do you keep track of your spending in Quicken or mint.com? TIME really is your most valuable asset. Do you believe that? You should! You only have 24 hours in each day, 168 hours in each week. You can make more money, you can spend less money, money is not a completely fixed asset. TIME IS.
So then doesn’t it make sense to do an assessment of where you spend that valuable commodity called time? It’s time for you to write down where you think you’re spending your time (aka a “time budget”) and then track it for a week, or two; then compare reality against the “time budget” you created?
How do you create a time budget? The same way you create any budget! Jot down some categories, as detailed or as high-level as you want. Some obvious categories are:
- eating / preparing food
- watching TV
- time with family
- exercising / sports
Now that you have your categories listed where you think you devote most of your time, put a number next to each one. This number will represent the total number of hours you think you spend on that category in a given week. You can do daily or monthly totals, but weekly really is the best fit for this exercise. So, for example, next to “working”, you might put the number 40….or it could be 50, 55, or more, or possibly less. Do that next to each category – but don’t total more than 168 hours for the week!!
Next, you’ll track your actuals for a week. If you can do it for two weeks, or even a month, it will better account for the variations in your life and in your daily / weekly schedule. But track it for at least a week – minimum.
What did the results show you?
Define your priorities
After you’ve created your time budget, tracked it, and compared it for a reality check to where you’re really spending all of your precious time, you’re now armed with enough information to see if reality meets with your definition of happiness, of success, & of LIFE!
If there’s a gap between reality and where you would really prefer to spend your time, only you can change that picture. The best way to do that is to simply write down your priorities. They may have already been listed in the categories you used for your time budget. Or you may have found that you haven’t allowed any time for what you’d prefer to be doing.
Life’s too short to not spend your time doing something you enjoy, something good for you, something that fulfills your soul. I know this first-hand because I lost my 21 year-old stepson in a tragic and senseless accident and will never, ever get to spend any more time with him and the beautiful person that he was. He left behind two very young boys who now have to grow up without the benefit of knowing how wonderful their daddy was. They lost their chance at time with him. That time is gone. Forever.
Re-define your time budget based on your priorities
It’s quite easy now to just re-do your time budget; now that you have a feel for where you could cut back (watching TV, perhaps?) and where you could easily grab some time for what you love, what you prefer, what really means the most to you.
If that one key activity you truly enjoy isn’t being represented daily, or at least weekly, then you’re not living a pleasurable life. You aren’t working to support the financial means to enjoy the fruits of your labor. You work, work, work; and then sit in front of the TV because you’re exhausted. What would happen if you didn’t turn on the TV when you got home from work? What if you came home, prepared and ate dinner, and then spent some time doing something you L-O-V-E. It could be playing board games with the family, it could be reading, gardening, exercising, going for a walk or a bike ride. You could shoot some hoops, play tennis, or play ping pong off the side of the house. You could sew, knit, cross-stitch, write, or study a new language. You could take a course in something interesting; one course isn’t a life-long commitment, but it could start you down a new path of life-long enjoyment. You could learn a new skill, hone a new habit, meditate, or do some Yoga.
The point is: LIVE YOUR LIFE! Don’t just work and then exist, go to sleep, and then go back to work – what’s the point in that?
Now that you’ve begun to see how simple it can be to achieve some work / life balance, be sure you assess periodically to see if your “likes” have changed and maybe you’d prefer to be doing something else in your leisure time. Once you’ve gone through the exercise of creating a time budget and comparing it to reality, you have a limitless ability to dynamically change how your days and weeks are represented in your actions. Maybe you want to find time to volunteer regularly. Now you have the tools to see where you could make time available for exactly that activity.
Remember too, that when you experience a life event you should re-examine your time budget just like you would a financial budget. Marriage and babies have a wonderful way of changing your priorities; but if you don’t go in armed with information and insight into what fulfills you…..you could wind up losing yourself and your happiness. What usually comes out of that problem is an incorrect blaming of others on why you aren’t as happy as you were before. Did you abandon an activity that really fulfills you? That isn’t your new spouse’s fault. Talk to them and make compromises so you can both feel fulfilled in a way that is meaningful to you. And remember that what fulfills you very possibly doesn’t fulfill your spouse. This means you’ll need to carve out time to spend with them and time for your desired activity.
Back to basics
So how do you find that balance we talked about in the beginning when you’re possibly afraid of losing your job if you’re not available 24/7? Reality time here folks…..when YOU contact someone after hours don’t you expect that you may have to wait a bit, may have to get a call back, may have to report the issue and then wait for the support team to research and respond? The reality is that you should be able to eat dinner with your family, provided you are already at home and aren’t still stuck working late at the office, knee-deep in a crisis or project. You should be able to enjoy dinner without your blackberry having a seat at the table. Your family will see you portray a much more valuable life lesson if you show them that they’re important. Eat dinner, show them the respect of leaving your blackberry where it can’t be heard, then after dinner go check it for any messages that may require your attention.
When there is a once in a lifetime event – like the first school play or the last sports event before graduation – there is nowhere more important for you to be. Period – end of discussion. I don’t care what job you have, except for the military who have made the ultimate sacrifice and frequently have zero say on when they can be with their family. If we want to raise children who value their family, we have to SHOW them that we value them first. This goes for our spouse too. Sure, there are times when you have to work late, it happens. But make time for your spouse. Plan a date regularly. Be spontaneous, write them a note, send them an email or text, buy or make a card. Make sure they know that just because you’re busy, they’re still very important to you.
If the worst thing that could happen if you spend your evenings and weekends showing your loved ones that they come first is that you could get fired….then spend that time with your loved ones and don’t live in fear of losing your job over it. Most employers would rather know that you show them respect and passion at work for getting things done and that you expect and demand that same respect for your family time. Trust me, the worst thing that could really happen is that your loved ones are taken away from you too soon – because then, there’s no time left to spend with them.
Tying it all up in a pretty bow
You now know how to do a time budget, as well as how to track your time, and also how to do a review to see where you’re spending that valuable time of yours – Voila`! Now you can explore what changes you might want to make!
We’ve reviewed how to train yourself that it’s ok to ignore your blackberry during dinner and school plays 🙂
And we’ve also reviewed that the worse thing in life is not losing your job. It is unwittingly teaching your loved ones that something else is more important than they are. It is taking the risk that they know you love them and will never doubt it, no matter how much you neglect to spend time with them. It is losing them before you had a chance to show them just how much they mean to you.
I’ve launched a new program called Project Better Life. It’s a totally free, 21-day email course designed to help you focus more on what matters most to you, slay your time thieves, and live more intentionally! Check it out and see how we can get you focused on living a better life!
Regardless of whether you enroll or not – Get Out There and Enjoy Life!
Take care and let me know if I can help in any way.