- The beginning
It’s amazing to me people are willing to work so hard so that one day they can have more time with their family at the actual expense of their family.”
– Richie Norton
This area includes all the time you spend with your loved ones.
The family usually takes up a lot of space in our lives. At different stages, the engagement varies and depends heavily on your role: if you are a child, brother/sister, partner, have children, grandchildren, care for older parents or grandparents, etc. Each role requires a specific amount of time, attention, and involvement. This part of life usually dominates among others and requires much more creativity, adaptation, flexibility, and adaptability to accommodate all the obligations around the clock. Especially if you have children or are responsible for the care of other family members.
Family life and what happens in it can affect us positively or negatively and hinder our productivity, ability to work, relationships with our colleagues, physical and emotional health, and other areas of life. Unlike other areas of life, you can’t detach yourself from this one, even when you’d like to. In happiness or misery (especially misery) – family needs your attention every day. So naturally, when worries, pressure, and stress arise, or something is not going as planned, it can impact all other areas of life. For this reason, it is crucial to notice the first signs indicating that it’s time to stop and take the time to take care of your family life.
Here are some signals that call your attention to family life:
You don’t want to go home. Even after a long workday, the mere idea of having to go home makes you feel bad. Being home and caring for the household and family doesn’t bring joy or satisfaction.
You work longer hours than you need to. For particularly busy people, work can become an escape plan from issues related to children, household chores, domestic concerns, relationships, etc. You may be avoiding going home on time and justifying it by having a lot of work. Despite that, longer work hours and working overtime can often leave less energy to take care of issues that still require your attention and involvement at home.
You feel psychologically and emotionally tired. It interferes with your focus, concentration, and productivity.
You can’t step away from family-related issues at work. It’s normal that if something important happens in your family, you can’t easily detach yourself from it and leave all your thoughts, feelings, and emotions at home while you’re working. Still, if this is all you think and talk about, or you can’t stop sharing all the details and asking every person you meet for advice, it can be a sign that it’s time to stop and finally take care of family matters.
It’s important that when you notice the first signals, you focus on finding the solutions to the problem, rather than treating the symptoms. For example, you’re constantly late to dinner with your family. This strains your relationship with your significant other. You feel stressed because you know that another argument awaits if you come home late again. In this situation, it’s vital to understand where the real problem lies and what is just a symptom of it. Being late is probably just a symptom, and the real problem is why you are late. Ask yourself what’s going on: Is it because you don’t calculate the time it takes to come home during traffic hours? Or do you feel the need to work longer because you don’t have time to do all the tasks during the day? Does your manager or colleagues expect you to work overtime? Or are the issues at home stressful? Only by identifying the real problem will you be able to find the right solutions.
Where do I start?
Ask yourself a few questions: am I capable of being present with my loved ones? Am I attentive, and do I support my family as much as I can? Do I pay my full attention and time when I’m with family without thinking about other issues and jobs? Yes, or no? If not, why, and what is truly bothering me?
How to find more time?
If you want to find more time, you need to actively look for it. Start by setting clear boundaries between work and private life. If you wish for meaningful quality time with people close to you, start by defining what your time with your significant other/family should look like and deliberately pursue it.
Living in a couple
Daily routines, work, events, and challenges in other areas of our lives undoubtedly affect our relationship with our significant other. Healthy relationships improve not only emotional wellbeing but physical health, too. Whether you have children or not, you have to make an effort to maintain a vibrant, trusting, secure, open, and reciprocal relationship. Psychologist Bill Mitchell gives 10 tips in his book Time to Breathe on how to foster vitality in a romantic relationship.
- Take some time for just the two of you. It may seem like obvious advice, but life fills every minute, hour, and day, so the time you’re about to make for each other never comes. Until you intentionally allocate a time slot, there is a good chance that time will never come. So, plan to go on dates at least once a week, go to bed together, have lunch or dinner together, or have a getaway for the weekend from time to time (without children, if you have them), etc.
- Put your phones aside when you’re communicating.
- Laugh together. Be curious, talk, and joke around. Don’t lose your playfulness and genuine interest in each other – the stories each one tells, the ideas you care about, etc. Laughing together supports vitality, closeness, and positive energy in the relationship.
- Be conscious of the mood you bring home. Simply by asking yourself what mood you’re in when stepping through the doorstep, you might change it for the better. And if at times you come home in a bad mood, be honest with your significant other about how you feel. Take time for your emotional health and switch off from worries at work. Try taking a hot shower, practicing breathing exercises, being still for a few minutes, and reflecting. You can close your workday while still at work by taking some time to assess your daily achievements, challenges, and plans for the next day. This will help you unload your working energy to not bring it home. Also, think about what’s waiting for you at home, use your time on your way home to listen to music/podcasts, read a book, and stroll around.
- Enjoy the simple pleasures. Diversify your routine with pleasant experiences. What do you like? Sports, exhibitions, cultural events, cinema, cooking together, visiting new places, walking in nature? Add this to the 168 hours of the week.
- Maintain physical contact. Touch, massage, hug, kiss, and have sex regularly. Physical contact also enhances emotional connection and wellbeing.
- Talk about your problems (immediately after they occur).
- Criticise the person’s actions and behaviours, not the person. Learn to accept and consider legitimate criticism. Especially if it’s about what matters to the person you love.
- Be attentive and support each other.
- Express your gratitude and show that you appreciate your significant other. Let go of all the bad experiences and memories and don’t use them to criticise or argue. Instead, tell them what you value your loved one for, what you appreciate about them, etc.
- Strategize and consult each other. To share work at home equally, you need to discuss career expectations and opportunities, desires and dreams, potential challenges, how you can best support each other, and make work-life balance as easy as possible. Set up specific steps you can take to make it easier for both. It’s normal that if you’re at different stages of your career, you need different kinds of support. You must hear each other’s expectations and needs and discuss them as a team.
Living with children
With the arrival of children, domestic work and chores increase constantly. If, before having children, it seemed like you never had enough time for everything you want to make time for, with children this feeling might become constant. Unless you are very organised and successful at planning and balancing out other areas of your life, you must pay attention to your health, sleep, and other activities that help you regain energy and create nurturing relationships with your loved ones.
Plan your family time. Both your time for family and your family’s time with you. You can designate a time slot in the week when you’re sitting down to plan what your upcoming seven days will look like. It could be on a Sunday evening. Do it with your significant other and note everything down in a virtual calendar or a sheet of paper. Both people planning (or more if you include other family members) should have access to this plan. Put down activities such as time for yourself (if you plan to simply read a book, watch a movie, walk in nature, etc.). If you don’t make time for this activity on your calendar, other activities will likely take up that time during the week.
This exercise is especially useful when: (a) you want to share family and household work with your significant other equally (decide who is doing what, who is responsible for which household duties); (b) when you want to develop or strengthen one of the areas of life. For example, spending more time with your family, getting better sleep, taking better care of your physical health, etc. When the plans are written down, you have nothing left to hide behind – you have to do it.
Plan your resources. Start your day with a reflection on which things are the biggest challenges, and how you can overcome them with the resources you have: planning and organising your time and tasks, asking for help from other people, redistributing work between family members, etc.
Consult with your family. Talk openly to your family about your personal and professional needs. If you prioritise work right now, your family needs to be aware of that and collaborate with you. Explain to your children why what you do matters and why you do it. If they know why this is important, they are likely to be more lenient about spending less time together. Thus, there will be less tension and misunderstanding.
Spend quality time together. Whether you have 10 minutes or an entire evening, if you spend time together, make sure it’s quality time, and your full attention is on your family. At the time, do not check your emails or scroll online. It’s better to have less time together, but with your complete commitment to being present, interested in somebody else, and paying all your attention to what you’re doing.
Keep your promises. If you promised to have dinner together, do so. Sometimes agreements can be revoked, but if it becomes repetitive, the family, and especially the children, may no longer believe in you and trust you.
Make friends with your children. Be interested in your children’s interests, stories, concerns and challenges, and other issues that matter to them. Who are their friends, what are their dreams and desires, what do they like and dislike, which things are going well at school, and which aren’t? Talk and spend time with your children – be a part of their universe. Don’t let your work and other day-to-day concerns interfere with staying in touch with your children. Create your own rituals and traditions to spend time together. Maybe you and your son/daughter can go on a hike and sleepover in a tent? Go to the cinema once a month? Go to a cafe on Sundays to eat ice cream? Spend your time on activities that strengthen your friendship.
Set up a family studio. Agree on having some time of silence and concentration every workday night when each family member would complete their daily tasks. Children could do their homework or work on other school projects, and parents would be able to concentrate on work assignments or other intellectual activities. Ideally, you can all sit down at one table or be in the same room. Set a specific time after which the whole family can move on to doing recreational activities. This exercise will help improve the skills of the entire family to plan and use time in a targeted and effective way.
Manage your household efficiently. We often spend a lot of time doing domestic chores that we could automate, share, organise better, etc. Maybe sometimes, instead of cooking at home, you can order dinner or eat outside the house (thus, shooting two birds with one stone – spending quality time with the family and taking a break from cooking). Instead of going to the store, you can buy groceries online. Instead of cleaning the house every day, you can spend more time on it during the weekend or hire external help. Instead of washing dishes by hand, buy a dishwasher. If it sounds like a luxury purchase, think about how much time you spend washing the dishes, especially with young children, and estimate how much more time you could spend on other activities that enrich you rather than weary you. Maybe the investment is worth it? Give up the things that waste your time. Spend the saved time on activities you really enjoy or rest.
Eat together. With no TV or phones. Strengthen your connection and get to know of each other better instead of being on social media.
Spend time on your hobbies every day. Spend at least 15 minutes every day on something you consider a relaxing activity: reading, meditation, driving, talking to a friend, taking a hot bath, or exercising. Just enjoy yourself without the feeling that it needs to be done. Turn these 15 minutes into a daily practice that is just for you.
Communicate your personal needs clearly at work. Since the work environment, as is the case in society, is dominated by the view that women to care of housework, those men who seek to have an equal share of work at home must put in the effort to change these norms in their workplace as well. If you need to leave work earlier for family reasons, don’t hide it. Your behaviour may also encourage other colleagues to communicate openly about their family and personal life needs.
Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids (Daisy Dowling, 2021). A detailed study on balancing parenthood and work encompassing every stage of child development (including pregnancy) and career stages. A very practical and far-reaching book that deals with topics such as proper use of resources available (external help, time, finances), adopting flexible work arrangements, talking to children about work, meeting children’s needs while working, taking care of your own needs (health, nutrition, energy, and emotions), raising children as a single parent, sharing childcare with your partner, etc. This is probably one of the best books out there on family-work balance.
Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (Eve Rodsky, 2021). The author started this book as a personal project on equal partnership when raising children. “Tired of being the main parent responsible for all aspects of her busy household, Eve Rodsky counted up all the unpaid, invisible work she was doing for her family — and then sent that list to her husband, asking for things to change. His response was… underwhelming. Rodsky realized that simply identifying the issue of unequal labour on the home front wasn’t enough: She needed a solution to this universal problem. The result is a time- and anxiety-saving system that offers couples a completely new way to divvy up domestic responsibilities and live in a partnership that compliments each person in the couple.” The book offers a detailed discussion of all the tasks related to family life and offers accessible ways to divide them among the couple.
The Home Stretch (Sally Howard, 2020). A book on the unequal share of housework between men and women. Howard combines history, scholarly research, and practical insights with journalistic and academic approaches. Full of valuable insights to rethink why inequality between women and men persists and how to move towards a fairer division of responsibilities.
Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-Control, and My Other Experiments in Everyday Life (Gretchen Rubin, 2013). The author tries various experiments over a couple of months to make her home a safe, pleasant, and comfortable space for everyone in the household. The book discusses family, marriage, raising children, time management, and tidying up. Each month she chose a new topic with concrete resolutions and ideas, including all members of the family in her experiments.
The Work-Life Balance Myth (David J. McNeff, 2021). We all have seven slices to our lives: family, professional sphere, personal life, physical fitness, intellectual activity, emotions, and spirituality. All of these are equally important when addressing balance and inner harmony in our lives. The author gives advice on finding this harmony by reviewing each of the slices separately and analysing examples from his clients’ lives. David J. McNeff also provides practical tips on listening to your personal needs, reducing stress, and overcoming work-life balance challenges.
Work-Life Balance (Harvard Business Review Guides, 2019). A collection of articles and essays on work-life balance. It encompasses topics such as time management habits and techniques, setting boundaries between different areas of life, learning to not work overtime and respect your time for rest, using flexible work forms and other measures, strengthening social bonds with your loved ones, self-care, and taking take for yourself.
Win at Work and Succeed at Life: 5 Principles to Free Yourself from the Cult of Overwork (Michael Hyatt and Megan Hyatt Miller, 2021). The authors give 5 principles to achieving work-life balance without stress. Their findings are backed by scholarly research from organizational science and psychology and illustrated with case studies from their clients’ lives. In the book, Michael Hyatt and Megan Hyatt Miller discuss how to avoid burn-out and exhaustion, rethink work and productivity, and slow down and reclaim a fulfilled life.
Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life (Steward D. Friedman, 2014). The author of the book presents work-life balance as complementarity between different spheres of life with four main areas: work, home, time for yourself, and community. In the book, you will find plenty of practical tips on balancing and combining them all to lead a fulfilled life.