Tell me if this sounds familiar.
After a hard day’s work, you get home late in the evening. It’s past bedtime, but you’ve had a really successful day. Your boss is proud of you, but your wife is pissed. Working hard at your job has cost you at home, so now it’s time to make it up to your partner.
What can you do? Spend extra time with your kids, by skipping out on the office regularly? That can put you in trouble with your boss. Even if your family appreciates the extra time spent with them, spending too much time with them (because you’re unemployed) doesn’t help anyone.
(Unless you’re a SAHD, you lucky gent. Then your work is ALL at home, and you have a whole different set of problems.)
Let’s say you strike the perfect balance between work and family, spending all of your waking time between the two.
Where does that leave you?
Dashing from the office to the house and back again, with no time to do the things that make you (as an individual) feel fulfilled and happy – that’s a recipe for burnout.
Too much focus on any one of these areas is not balanced.
You need time for Work, Family, AND Play in your life.
You can’t focus all your time on any of these 3 areas exclusively, but you need all three of them, working together.
- If your Play interferes with your Work or your Family, it doesn’t matter how much it rejuvenates you.
- If your Work keeps you away from your Family 65 hours a week, it doesn’t matter how much money you make.
- If your Family requires all your time and attention, you could be very fulfilled and responsible and miserable.
The real problem is with our brains. We aren’t actually that good at multitasking (says science), and it turns out we can only really do one thing at a time. Since you need all 3 of these areas of your life, Work, Family, and Play, you need to schedule and partition plenty of time for each, every day.
Take Time For Family, Work and Play Every Day
To make sure you are tending to all 3 of these pillars of your life, make sure some of your time is spent on your Family, Work, and Play…every day.
Below I’ve listed 10 ways you can balance each of these 3 areas in your life.
Making The Most Of Family Time
1. Eat together once a day
Share a daily meal with your family.
There will be exceptions now and again, but they should be rare. If you’ve gone through the whole day without eating with your family, make an extra effort to eat dinner (or a late night snack) together as a group.
“Studies indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading,” says Dr. Anne K. Fishel, co-founder of The Family Dinner Project, “and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents. What else can families do that takes only about an hour a day and packs such a punch?”
2. Family night once a week
Make a regular family ritual.
Pick a weeknight that is just for the family, and do something fun that you all like to do together!
Game night at home, or a movie night for older kids, can give a rhythm to the week that ensures the space for the family to breathe together. Anything that needs to be said, or done, can come out during family night, when everybody gets together. Your family is important enough to merit a weeknight out of your life, right?
3. Cook breakfast on the weekend
Be the family chef.
Especially if you work a 9-5 job, you need a break for the weekends when you can just be with your kids, as their Dad and nothing else. A family feast is a wonderful way to do this.
I find that cooking breakfast is a good way to reconnect with the refrigerator that I’ve only seen in passing during the week, and to cook the kids some of my favorite foods. Unfortunately, now they hate omelettes, since it’s my favorite breakfast food and I really overdid it.
4. Plan a weekly date with each child
Dedicate special time to each one of your kids, individually.
Go on an adventure together, even if it’s just for half an hour. It matters to them. If you haven’t done something with one of your children for a while, ask yourself, “What could I do with this kid that would be fun for both of us?”
It doesn’t even matter what you do. Getting exclusive ‘Daddy time’ is special to your kids, and it will make you special to them. Listen to Nigel Marsh describe how his son had ‘the best day of his life’ in his TED talk.
5. Leave work at work, whenever you can.
Don’t bring the office home with you.
Even if you work out of your home office, don’t work during family time. When it’s time to be with the family, don’t be working. If you try to do them both at the same time, you will do them both, badly.
6. Optimize your chores
Be smart about your housework.
Participating in a household takes a lot of work. There is plenty to do, and you do a lot of it. The more you can do to take care of your home, the better life your family lives.
Is there a chore that takes too much of your time, or puts you in a bad mood? Fix it. Make it easier, hire it out, or find a way to do it better. (The Dad Balance Workbook has a few tricks on improving your chores.)
7. Just Say Yes
Respond to every question positively.
Whenever your kids ask you a question, Just Say Yes. For anything. Just Say Yes, first, and then modify.
- “Yes, let’s talk about that.”
- “Yes, I can see that’s important to you.”
- Even, “Yes, maybe.”
If you don’t start your response with “No,” then they won’t feel blocked.
8. Embrace imperfection.
Let the little things go.
If someone in your family does something wrong, and does it wrong all the time, you can always fight it, or you can just love that about them.
“The little things are exactly that. Little,” says Rosanna Casper. “Someone cutting in line or answering their phone in the middle of a movie can be particularly infuriating, but it’s not a big deal.” If you don’t make it into a big deal, then it doesn’t need to be one.
9. Celebrate each other.
Be the family cheerleader.
Your family is your team, and they count on you to cheer them on.
When you talk to your kids and your partner, really describe what you like about them. Applaud them when they deserve it (and even when they don’t), and be the biggest fan you can. Compliment your kids. Compliment your wife. Make everyone think you really like them.
10. Combine or eliminate your errands
Do more in the same time.
When you have to run out to the store, bring a list of everything you need to do while you’re out.
This means you need some way of organizing the errands you have to do, like the Remember the Milk app or the Getting Things Done system. Have a mechanism in place for collecting the ideas as you think of them, and when you are at the store, get everything you need to get.
“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” – David Allen
Balancing Work And Life
11. Work all the time you are at work.
Make every moment count.
Get everything done you need to get done, while you’re supposed to be doing it. Be a grown-up about managing your time.
If you waste your work time, you will resent your family time, because you didn’t get enough work done.
12. Get defensive about your time.
Say no to unimportant things.
Your time is really valuable – if you’re not with your family, and you’re not even getting playtime, then anything you do is keeping you away from the things you love the most. Don’t waste your time on things that don’t matter.
13. Commute when you’re done.
Transition between your roles.
It takes time to transition from working to playing, and especially to move from working time to family time. Plan your transition well, so you can be in the right mental space for what you’re doing next.
Have a cocktail, or a commute, or an exercise session, to separate your working time from your family time. Having a little buffer, where you can process your day, helps you put it down.
14. Take micro breaks.
Step all the way out of the zone.
Set a timer for 50 minutes or 2 hours and every time it goes off, give yourself a minute or three.
Stretch, breathe deep, get a glass of water, or do twenty pushups – just don’t get so trapped in what you’re doing that you calcify. Every year your body is getting older, so give it some love.
15. Clarify your priorities.
Know what you want and follow the path to get there.
Prioritize your week and your day and your life. Knowing what’s important to you will give you guidelines you can use in every decision you make. Define your most important priorities in life for right now, write them down, and make decisions based on how close the outcome gets you.
16. Follow the 80/20 Rule.
Do more of what matters.
Also known as Pareto’s Principle, you are probably getting 80% of the results from 20% of the effort. Figure out what that 20% is, and do that 80% of the time.
17. Eliminate anything that wastes your time.
Refuse to waste a moment (unless you actively decide to waste it).
Whether it’s checking Facebook, walking to the water cooler, driving for lunch, or sitting in a meeting you don’t ever participate in, if there is something that is consistently wasting your time, find a way to stop doing it.
18. Do what you do best, not what you don’t.
Be clear about your strengths, and play to those strengths.
Defer or delegate work that you don’t do well (or work you simply don’t like to do) to other people.
19. Don’t get aggravated.
It’s your choice.
No matter what – or who – you have to deal with as part of your job, whether or not you get upset is entirely up to you.
Especially if you know something irritating is likely to happen, you can plan your reaction in advance. Plan around aggravation, and you will protect your emotional state.
20. Don’t sacrifice for work regularly.
You are not your job.
Sometimes you need to give up time with your family, or time for yourself, in order to meet your work obligations. That’s fine, occasionally. But if it becomes a regular requirement, your work will always throw you off-balance.
“Take care of yourself: When you don’t sleep, eat crap, don’t exercise, and are living off adrenaline for too long, your performance suffers. Your decisions suffer. Your company suffers. Love those close to you: Failure of your company is not failure in life. Failure in your relationship is.” — Ev Williams, founder of Twitter
Play Time Is An Important Part of Fatherhood
21. Plan your play time.
Your play is what helps you to rise.
Play is the key to your vitality, to your enjoyment of life. Dedicate enough time to it every week, every month, or every day, to stay rejuvenated. If it’s not on the calendar, you haven’t committed to it, and you need to commit to your own rejuvenation. Your family needs you to do it, so you can bring the best Daddy home for them.
22. Do what you love to do.
Make your time count.
When you have the time to spend on yourself, don’t waste it on something you don’t really enjoy.
23. Make part of your home a personal sanctuary.
Claim your own space.
Whether it’s your garage, your back porch, a corner of your bedroom, or a comfy chair in the main room, find a space in your house to claim for your own. Have what you need to relax easy at hand, so you can step in and let go.
24. Get plenty of sleep.
If you don’t make your sleep a priority, you will always be short on sleep.
There is so much to do as a Dad, and a limited time to do it. Like exercise and nutrition, your sleep can be an overriding factor in how well (or how poorly) you are doing in your life.
25. Don’t be selfish with your vices.
You-time should not drain we-time.
Your vices are part of your Play, and a part of what helps you indulge in your enjoyment of life.
But when your vice begins to affect your Work and your Family, it is no longer helping you balance; instead of helping you to rise, selfish vices cause your balance to wobble dangerously.
26. Wake up early and take care of yourself.
How you spend your morning sets the tone for your whole day.
If you’re sleeping as late as you possibly can, just to rush through the groggiest time of your day, you’re wasting the kind of man you could be becoming. Set yourself up with a powerful morning, and be willing to sacrifice late night Netflix to be a productive person.
27. Have fun with your partner.
Dating gets better after marriage, if you’re doing it right.
Dedicate some of your play time to your partner, and spend time enjoying each other’s company. That’s why you got together, right? Enjoy each other as friends, as lovers, as people – not just as co-parents.
28. Have fun with your friends.
Every Dad needs buddies.
You need other grown-ups that you can do fun stuff with. We are social creatures, and spending all of your time with only miniature, socially immature people that still find fart jokes hilarious can take its toll on you.
Make sure you have at least one buddy you can call out of the blue to do something fun, and if you don’t have one, find one.
29. Find something physical that you enjoy, and do it regularly.
Your body is your temple.
The older you get, the more important your mobility becomes to your longevity and happiness; having a physical activity you enjoy will ensure you stay active as you age.
If you’ve ever been athletic, what made you feel confident and empowered? Do that.
If you’re not athletic, try some new sports, or movements, or dances, or games, and find a way to play with your body.
30. Be creative.
Make something you like.
Whether or not you are artistic or talented, there is some hobby or activity that includes creation as one of the core components. Being able to spend your play time making something, and look upon it and declare, “I made this,” will keep your mood and confidence elevated.
“The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it.” – Richard Bach
How Are You Doing, Dad?
Rate yourself on a scale of 1-10.
- How satisfied are you with the time you spend at Work?
- How satisfied are you with the time you spend with your Family?
- How satisfied are you with the time you spend at Play?
Write down three numbers. Just give yourself a quick rating, right now, from 1-10.
Done that? Good.
Next, I want you to write a one-sentence answer to this question. Ask this question for any area of your life you rated at 8 or below:
What would I have to do to make this a 10?
You already know the answer, but sometimes writing it out helps you to verbalize it, acknowledge it, and make a plan of action to achieve it.
Dig Deeper – Fix Your Work-Life Balance
Download the Dad Balance Workbook. These 10 worksheets are designed to give you specific tactics to improve your life at Work, your time with your Family, and the rejuvenating Play that gives you the energy to do both of the others well.
All you have to do is subscribe to my newsletter, and I’ll send you the Dad Balance Workbook right away.