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Research Triangle Business Advisors

July 2016 Newsletter


Today’s employers seem to want more of our time than ever. In the US, the average worker puts in 55 hours a week. In addition, Email, text messaging, cell phones, and social media keep us tethered to the office even when we’re technically “off-duty”. So, the question is, how can you keep up with your always-on career and still find time to  spend time with your family, enjoy some kind of social life, and just plain relax? This month I start off with some personal experiences on dealing with work/family balance and then I’ll share 10 key things you can do to help deal with this issue.

  Bob De Contreras





Balancing Work and Family

Conflict between work and family is a very common source of stress for working adults. Given today’s business demands, more and more people are finding it hard to satisfactorily fulfill their roles both at home and at work. Employees find it difficult to find the balance between career and family — there seems to always be one that is given more priority than the other. This situation inevitably leads to strained relationships at home and work, and potentially physical and mental health deterioration.

Finding balance between our work and our family life may seem to be a very daunting task, but a lot of people have already done it, so there shouldn’t be any reason that you can’t do the same. Some of the things I have done to deal with this issue include:

I set a goal for achieving acceptable family time.

I chose to set a goal around my children. I decided that I would be there for every sports game, every recital, every school function, every birthday party, every Halloween, etc. That may seem aggressive and impossible, but I purposefully set the goal high.  It was not easy to achieve and there were hundreds of attempts from my work to steal me away. Sadly my daughter, as she graduated from college, would not forgive me.  She still had not forgiven me for the ONE event that I missed in 22 years. I felt like I met the goal.  Set a goal for time with your children or your spouse or your extended family.  Just pick a goal and LIVE it.

I set a goal for achieving acceptable work time.

I chose to set a goal around the employees in my span of control.  I decided that I would always be available to my staff when they needed my help.  That was when THEY needed my help, not when I WAS READY to help. Now, that can get out of control quickly and impact personal time, so there was a Quid-Pro-Quo. I would be available to them when I was working if they rotated the responsibility to do the same for their teams when I was away on work or personal time. This plan resulted in several long term successes. First, I was able to BE away from work when I was away from work. Second, my team leaders’ on-the-job training developed a high level of skills in managing their teams. The result being that during one five year period when I did this, nine of these team leaders went on to start their own businesses. Third, all of us developed stronger trust, confidence, and lasting relationships.

I communicated regularly with my family.

I used to think that I was the only one who could solve my work versus family life issues.  But over time, I realized that there is no way for me to get things right if I only rely on what I know — or at least think I know. So I made it a point to regularly talk with my spouse and children so I could validate their perceptions, opinions, and even objections with my work. This opened our eyes to a lot of things and made us better aware of the issues that we all needed to deal with and improve. I also made sure that the entire family understood my obligations and responsibilities at work. On several occasions I brought my children to work with me for the day.

I avoided making assumptions about family needs.

In the beginning I assumed that since my wife and I both worked for IBM in professional jobs, that my wife understood the demands of work, travel, and business cycles. When we got married she left IBM to stay home and raise the children as her full time job. Surprise!  My assumption was wrong.  Now that she was out of the workforce, slowly over time, she forgot what work demands were like.  I had to reset my thinking and not make assumptions about her understanding and her needs.  This is just one example, but it highlights the importance of avoiding assumptions that are not validated with your spouse.

I didn’t take a hard day at work out on the family

A tough day at the office exacerbated by an hour drive home in traffic creates a very bad mood.  Showing up at home with this “dirt of the day” can make a mess at home. I came up with the plan to always walk in the door at home and sit down on the living room couch for a half hour with my eyes closed and give myself time to calm down.  It worked very well for me.  There was one little problem though. One day my 8 year old son brought me a Father’s Day card he had made at school.  The teacher had prepared these cards with questions the children then filled in with their answers for their fathers. One question/answer was puzzling to me. Question: My Dad? Answer: Sleeps a lot! So, I asked my son why he thought I sleep a lot. His answer was a surprise. He said, “Well, every day when you come home from work you go to sleep on the couch.” I found out that I needed to explain why.

I accepted that imbalance is sometimes unavoidable.

Twenty years ago I was the executive, in a start-up company, responsible for a once a year, worldwide customer conference. These events were lavish events costing over a million dollars and critical for our growth and client retention. Since it was a start-up company, I had no back-up. I had to be there to manage this event. Unfortunately, the day before I had to leave for the event, our home was struck by lightning. You can’t make this stuff up.  My wife was not very happy that I had to leave for the event and she could not understand why there was not someone else who could take my place. In the end the event went well, and there was nothing to be done on the home while I was away. There are times when a conflict between work and family just can’t be avoided.

The dilemma of balancing family and work has no easy solution. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every person and family must find specific solutions to their issues depending on their own preferences and needs. But basically, a balance between work and family occurs when a person is able to sufficiently meet family commitments and adequately perform responsibilities at work. There is nothing wrong with working hard to gain some of the finer things in life, but you should also not forget the worth of the things and people that really matter most.


10 Keys to Balancing Work and Family

1. Find “down-time.”

No matter how much you love your job, no matter how big a part of your life it is, ultimately you need to be able to turn it off and spend some time not working. This is hard for a lot of people, because their work is an important part of who they are as individuals. This can be admirable, especially when you accomplish great things in your career, but an always-on-the-job attitude can be harmful in the long run. This attitude is harmful physically and mentally.

2. Keep one calendar.

It’s important to make a good schedule and keep to it. It’s important to place both your work and personal commitments on one calendar. Block out all your work and non-work commitments and make sure to allow plenty of down-time and non-work time. Treat non-work commitments as seriously as you treat working commitments — the time you’ve assigned to family and your own activities needs to be just as inviolable as the time you spend in the office, going to meetings, or meeting deadlines. This is especially true if you think you are so busy that you can’t schedule that down-time.

3. Learn to say “No.”

If you’re having trouble keeping on top of everything going on in your life, it may be that you’ve committed more time than you have. If you don’t like to refuse favors, new responsibilities, or even casual requests, for fear of a) not pulling your weight, b) not being a team player, or c) missing out on something important. Make a point of seriously considering any request that comes your way by double-checking your schedule before taking anything else on. When it’s too much, don’t be afraid to refuse. You won’t be doing anyone any good by taking on tasks that you won’t be able to do well because you’re too overwhelmed to handle them, or by accepting social invitations that you’re too stressed out to enjoy.

4. Enjoy “no to-do list” personal time.

Stop making lists of things to do in off-time if it creates stress of not finishing the lists you make for this time. While it’s reasonable to want to bring the skills you’ve honed at work into the rest of your life, if it starts to make your non-work time feel like just so much more work, then stop. You probably need to communicate this to your spouse so they can drop the “honey do lists.” Drop the list for a day or two, and take things as they come. This is really about attitude, drawing a clear line between off-time with “work” and real off-time (down-time).

5. Keep it organized.

There’s nothing worse than finding yourself faced with long work days or extra work days because you didn’t get enough done during normal business hours. Consider:

  • Going paperless: my office is paperless. Need I say more? I take hand written notes in client meetings on my iPad. There’s no getting up looking for files, misfiling, paper waste, toner waste, buying folders, buying paper. Oh, and being able to fax and email documents in seconds saves so much time.

  • Categorizing: for everything. I “group” my medicine cabinet into “morning items” versus “evening items”. My cooking spices are in a cabinet in alphabetical order. I use an app called “BookShelf” for all my electronic notes and categorize everything related to a particular client into one “book.” I have an email folder for clients and subfolders for different items for each client (notes, invoices, reports, interviews, etc.). This categorizing makes it easy to find things that I look for, sometimes, 5 months or 5 years later.

  • Touch once: I touch every piece of paper, every email, every text message only once because I deal with each immediately after reading.  It takes too much time to go back, reread, and rethink on each multiple times. Part of the process on email and text is to delete the message as soon as responded, so I’m not tempted to rethink my response.

6. Batch process.

Our brains work more efficiently when we are working on common things. Our brains and out bodies for that matter don’t like change. Batching similar tasks can be a great way to get more done in less time, whether it’s handling your work email or your mail at home. You’ll work faster and better because your mind is only on one thing, and when it’s done, you can forget it — so worrying about that bill you have to pay or that email you should respond to doesn’t “spill over” into the rest of your day. You know that your bill will get paid during your normal bill-paying time, and your email got responded to when you processed your email.

7. Clear your mind.

People often ask me what I’m doing tomorrow.  I respond with an, “I don’t know. Let me check my calendar.”  I check that one calendar that contains all my work and personal items.  When they challenge me with, “You don’t know what you are doing tomorrow without checking your calendar?” I respond with, “That’s right.  I don’t clutter my mind worrying about things I don’t need to worry about today.”  My mind is free to focus on today’s issues today and tomorrow I’ll focus on tomorrow’s issues.

This same logic applies to personal time. I don’t worry about Boy Scout evening meetings or church activities until the day I see them on my calendar.  So, my mind is not cluttered and I can relax when I’m on “down-time.”

8. Good enough is better than perfect.

This may sound like heresy, but it’s based on people not wanting to pay the cost of perfect and being perfectly happy with good enough. The idea is to give yourself a set amount of time — say, an hour — to do a job. If at that point it’s good enough then stop. Let go of your perfectionism and just do as well as you can in the set time. You may have to go back and make adjustments — but you’ll be charged up by knowing the “heavy lifting” is already done. By forcing yourself to cram the whole job into a short time period, you’ll be improving your productivity. Obviously, this isn’t going to apply to every situation, but you will find it works more often than not.

9. Keep the lines of communication open.

I learned this the hard way when a rough patch of work started to alienate me from my family. Let the people closest to you know what’s going on in your work life when things get hectic, so they don’t feel like your lowest priority or worse, suddenly abandoned. And LISTEN to hear what they tell you, too — if your spouse, your friends, or your children start complaining — or tell you straight out that you’re working too much — listen to them. They’re generally going to be a better judge of your behavior, in this regard, than you are.

10. Be honest with yourself.

This is the hardest one, but also the most necessary. Part of your weekly review should be to ask yourself “Am I happy with the results?” And to follow up by looking at how well you’re doing on balancing everything. Be honest — this is your life.


Cary | Raleigh | Research Triangle Park | Greensboro | North Carolina
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