Many fathers struggle with the concept and the practice of work-life balance. The many demands that work, family, life in general and personal needs place on our time and attention can cause us to feel significantly out of balance.
The National Partnership for Women and Families tells us that 64% of American families report that the time pressures on working families are growing, not shrinking, despite all of our efforts to find better work-life balance.
And a recent Aon Consulting study suggests that almost 9 out of 10 employees have a hard time balancing work and family.
Fathers who have been able to make changes and reach a greater work-life balance status can attribute much of their success to a few key strategies that help them prioritize and manage their time and find ways to keep the many demands on their time in dynamic equilibrium. The ten strategies listed here can help any father do a better job of creating better work-life balance for his own life and for his family.
Create a personal purpose statement. It can be hard to know what and how to change when life feels out of balance if a person doesn’t know what parts of life need the greatest emphasis. The process of creating a personal purpose statement can help a man figure out the important things he needs to be and do. Writing, revising and rereading a personal purpose statement is a key element in intentionally creating a work-life balance strategy.
Complete an activity log. Almost every time management guru recommends that people create an activity log from time to time to see, in real life, how people use their time. The idea of an activity log is to track on 15 or 30-minute intervals during an entire day how we spend our time and seeing whether our practices align with our priorities.
It can seem tedious and like a time waster, but it is an important investment in seeing how we are doing and preparing us for a needed change in how we program our time.
Think in terms of roles. Every man has a number of roles that, in total, merge into his life story. Roles might include things like husband, father, son, employee, volunteer, and money manager. When we see life in terms of our various roles, it is easier to determine how effective our life balance is. Planning your time with an emphasis on balancing the many roles you have can become a big part of finding that elusive ideal of work-life balance.
Set effective boundaries. With the ever-increasing pervasiveness of technology in our lives, it can be hard to distinguish between work time, family time and personal time. In many families, handheld devices have come to dominate family time. Setting some boundaries for the use of technology can be really helpful in finding greater balance. One family I know has a shelf near the front door where all smartphones are placed for the time between arriving home and the end of the family dinner. This allows family members to interact and talk without the distractions of text messages and phone calls.
Once dinner is over - and until bedtime - the devices can be on and used.
Make time for you. Many men suffer from the “empty bucket syndrome.” The feel like they are constantly asked to give more and more of themselves and have less and less personal time that allows them to fill their own buckets. Men can benefit from having a self-care and personal development plan that helps them eat smarter, integrate exercise into their schedules, read and study on personal improvement topics, and making time to refresh their relationships with things like weekly date nights and periodic retreats.
Create a personal morning routine. Part of the bucket-filling effort for many men includes a daily morning ritual. One of the best known morning ritual programs is called The Miracle Morning, taken after the title of a book by Hal Elrod.
The Miracle Morning suggests an ideal routine of getting up an hour before the rest of the family is up and engaging in 6 daily practices - silence (meditation or prayer), affirmations, visualizations, exercise, reading and journaling. Many men have found The Miracle Morning or other morning routine efforts to be a great way to build themselves and to not neglect the importance of their own personal development.
Plan times weekly and schedule them. Many men plan time on Sundays to create and schedule their week, balancing their work appointments and schedule with the schedule of the family and programming in needed time for appropriate balance. Getting the family on the same scheduling page and then including family activities on Dad’s work calendar can help keep all of the important items in their place.
Multitask with the family. “Multitasking” is widely recognized as a failed concept. Granted, it can be hard to prepare a work report while talking on the phone and sitting at a soccer game. But there are some activities fathers can do where two activities can blend together. For example, if you are needing some exercise, take one of the kids with you on a walk. If you need to run to the hardware store, load one of the kids in the car and talk while you drive. Look for opportunities to do tasks in which you can involve your family members.
Use rituals when you get home. Many dads work to create a “coming home ritual” so that when they walk through the door at home, work gets left behind. One dad commented that he listens to his favorite music in the car on the way home so that when he pulls in the driveway, he is relaxed and ready to interact with the kids. Another dad has a large oak tree outside of his front door and on the way in from the car after work, he touches a low branch of the tree where he figuratively leaves his work problems on the branch. The following morning as he leaves for work, he touches the branch again and takes up his work mindset again.
Rituals that help with work-life balance are important and can make a difference in how we interact when we get home.
Evaluate your progress with the family. There is no better way to assess the time and attention you give to your family than to ask them. Try at least monthly to spend time with the family and ask some questions about whether they feel loved, supported and appreciated. Assess as a family how the entire family is doing with work-life balance and family relationships. It may be painful on occasion, but feedback is good and changes can be made when you know how you are doing.