I’ll remember this conversation for the rest of my life. Some conversations are just like that.
It was exactly a week after I made the brave decision to seek better work-life balance, quit my job, work from home and be closer to my kids. I’d just broken the news to my team and work colleagues by email.
People were pretty surprised. A few people weren’t happy about it. But mostly people were supportive and genuinely curious about our plans. And that’s when the most unexpected thing happened.
One of the managers came over obviously wanting to talk to me privately, I suggested we go somewhere quieter, so we headed over to a quiet meeting room with comfy couches. I started to explain about how we bought a business, how it was something we’d always dreamed about. I was almost apologetic, was I letting the team down here?
That’s when he stopped me in my tracks.
I’m really proud of what you’re doing.
He then told me how he’d lost his wife to cancer. His kids were only little. He’d spent the last 10 years raising his kids on his own, working hard to provide for them and missing his wife incredibly.
We started talking in the way men do. Laid back, with an air of cool and confidence. But our guards were way down, and our conversation was laced with emotion. We started to talk about our kids, and about how hard it was to be a Dad in the 21st century. About how much pressure there was on us to parent, perform and provide all at the same time. We spoke about our wives, about life and love, about dreaming great dreams and trying your hardest to fulfil them.
Then he told me to love my children. Not just on the inside, but big, bold, public love. He told me,
never, ever be afraid to love your children openly.
And then he told me to love my wife, and to make the most of every single second with my family. And to give everything I have to my kids, but also to make time for my wife, and to totally love and cherish her. Because time and tide wait for no man. And when they’re gone, they’re totally gone for good, and there is no tomorrow, and you can’t get it back…
I dare say if the conversation had kept going, we both might’ve cried. I certainly swallowed down some big, emotive lumps in my throat. But instead we hugged. A man-hug of course. You know the sort, just a quick slap-on-the-back type of hug; let’s not get carried away here.
One week later I had transitioned from the employed, to the self-employed.
What is work-life balance?
First of all, work-life balance isn’t about packing in your job and working from home. Just because you work from home, doesn’t mean you have work-life balance (in fact, you can easily end up with less balance!).
…managing the juggling act between paid work and the other activities that are important to people… like time with family, participation in community activities, voluntary work, personal development, leisure and recreation.
Apparently we do alright in New Zealand when it comes to work-life balance. The HSBC expat survey has us ranked as third best in the world.
For me personally, work-life balance is very much about working less, and living more. Not that I’m lazy.
I’m certainly an advocate for Tim Ferriss’ The 4 Hour Work Week. But I understand this is more of a mindset than an actual working week.
Still, my working week before I finally quit my job had really gotten out of control. I was regularly working 50 hour weeks, with peeks of 55-60 hours. My commute had become an almost unbearable 2 hours each day.
Pre-children this was fairly doable. But throwing children into the mix really highlighted how little of my life I was actually living, and how much I was dedicating to the workplace.
I’ve certainly experienced some really enlightened managers who knew the importance of life outside of the workplace. But I’ve also seen senior managers so tied to their careers that work-life balance was nothing more to them than an HR policy document.
It’s a shame really because truly flexible work-life balance policies make for happy and productive workers.
When we make time for ourselves, our families, and our communities, really make time to commit ourselves to these other parts of our lives fully, it allows us to grow as people. We develop skills and attributes that make us better versions of us.
And when our workplace not only accepts this, but rather actively encourages it, we want to take these new skills and attributes back to the workplace for the benefit of the organisation. Surely that’s just good business?
The opposite is true too. You can’t become a better person, a better mother or father, or a better lover if you’re working all the time. You can only become a better worker. One part of you is full, but all the other parts of you slowly empty out.
As Daniel Petre puts it in Father Time:
I believe that if you are working much more than forty-five hours a week regularly, you are not looking after your health, you are not being a responsible parent and you’re probably a lousy partner.
So work life balance is really about having a flexible working week, so that you can find the time to invest in all the other parts that make up you.
So if it’s hard to find the time, can we just make time? Well, the answer’s yes. The real trick though is not how much time you have, but rather what you do with that time.
A parent who dedicates every Saturday morning to their kids’ sport, but then spends the whole time surfing the internet on their phone, has made time not for their children, but rather for their own entertainment. That same parent who then checks a few emails on the sidelines too, has now given the time they just made back to their employer!
As daddilife.com says in their epic guide The rise of the modern day Dad, “too often, we think that being physically there for our kids is us ‘being there’ for them. It’s not. To be present, means putting down the phone and really engaging with your kids.”
So remember as you go through this list of how to make more time, to also think about how you’ll spend it. It’s about being present, and fully in the moment, and always striving to be a better you, wherever you choose to show up.
1. Invest time in activities, experiences and entertainment, to create memories, which are like time dividends. These dividends can be used down the track (or remembered), which makes time expand, and our lives feel more fulfilled. Work to earn enough for comfort and happiness, whatever that means to you and your family. But make sure work doesn’t prevent you from spending your hard-earned money making memories.
Money does buy happiness, and memories, as well as comfort and wellbeing. But the returns diminish at a certain point, where more money just becomes a bigger house, a bigger mortgage, and more stuff! As Pat Flynn, a really successful internet entrepreneur says, “I’m not about buying a huge mansion, or really fancy cars. I’m more about the family and making it comfortable at home and going on family trips and creating memories.”
2. Downsize for less house and more time. All our lives we hear about the great Kiwi quarter-acre dream. Over the last generation the yard size has dropped, but the house size has increased. Now the dream is a 200sqm house. You don’t need a 200sqm house, unless you have about 8 children.
This is our family’s current game plan, and many families in New Zealand are making the same brave decision. By moving into a smaller house, or a less desirable suburb, or even out of the cities into a small town, you can significantly reduce your mortgage, and increase your cashflow. This gives you more options about the amount of work you need to do just to pay the bills. If you really want to jump on the downsizing bandwagon, you could go all out, sell up and move into a shipping container, like the Heeringa family did.
3. Plan out how you spend your time. OK, so one of the tips for everything you read online is always to create a plan. But come on, a ‘time’ plan? Well, time is like any sort of energy in life. It expands, and shrinks, and a lot of it can be lost through inefficiency.
The classic time waster of course is TV. Apparently, on average, Kiwis watch more than 3 hours of television per day. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment, it’s one of the 3 things we can invest in to create memories. But 21 hours a week spent indulging in a single form of entertainment, is way over the top. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember what I watched on TV even a week ago!
Elizabeth Fenner on realsimple.com has a simple time management plan. Take out a piece of paper and write down all the activities you wish you could spend more time doing. Then write down all the activities that you actually do, and how long you spend on them. Now it’s just a case of reprioritising.
Fenner suggests giving up what you can, delegating where you can (yes, your 11 year old can unload that dishwasher), outsourcing (for instance getting a housecleaner, who’ll probably do a quicker and better job than you anyway), limiting distractions (‘ahem’ tv) and setting up a new schedule where you include some of the activities from your wish list above.
Stop searching and start listening
At times work-life balance really does feel like searching for El Dorado, the secret city of gold that couldn’t be found. But it seems this way because so many people are searching for something tangible, as if work-life balance was a ‘thing’ that you can acquire.
El Dorado is thought of more as a metaphor by some people, for happiness and success. And work-life balance can be thought of the same way. Rather than always pushing, trying to search for happiness, take some time to stop and listen to your true thoughts, and you’ll discover what balance means for you. Then, you just have to take the steps to get there.
For more time management and life balancing ideas check out some of our other articles, like What’s the rush?, How to be a FUN Mum!, and Are we there yet? A guide to family vision and goals.