This is a common question I get, and while my husband and I certainly don’t claim to have mastered this art, we’ve discovered a few tips along the way that really help. The life of an entrepreneur is often busy and stressful, and the life of a parent is often busy and stressful. Combine the two and you very often have a life that is both doubly busy and stressful.
Yet, we are firm believers that not only do neither of these things have to suffer (family time or business) but in fact they can help each other thrive.
But First, a Story…
In the early days of our business, I promoted a summit and won a ticket to a small and informal mastermind (basically a support & sharing group for entrepreneurs) in California with other business professionals. At that point, the idea of a business trip and meeting other professionals sounded like fun, but I had a 7-month-old baby who needed me every few hours for food. So, we did the logical thing and hopped on a plane with her for the mastermind.
Our plan was that both of us would attend the mastermind and I’d hold the baby in there while she was good or sleeping and take her out if she got fussy.
The problem was, on the first day, the person facilitating the mastermind (not the host) asked us to leave because it was distracting to have her in there… even though she wasn’t being loud.
At first I was mad, realizing that in many (even informal) business settings, babies are frowned upon. Even perfectly quiet sleeping or nursing babies. Of course, it was a private event and they had every right to make this request, but it still hurt that we weren’t able to attend the rest of the event.
The Silver Lining…
In hindsight, being “kicked out” of a mastermind was one of the best things that ever happened for us and our business for two reasons:
- We became determined to win at business in a family-friendly way. This experience made us realize that many people become successful at the expense of family time. But, the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. We resolved after that experience to become even more efficient and successful at business and to do so while keeping family always the first priority.
- We started our own mastermind founded on the idea of family first… and it has been amazing. The second amazing thing that happened as a result of this experience was that we decided to create our own mastermind that didn’t just allow kids, it required them. We formed a group of a handful of families and we now meet twice a year… with our kids. We’ve become lifelong friends and our children have become lifelong friends. And our businesses have all evolved and are thriving over the years of meeting together.
Clarifying the Focus & Priorities
The beauty of that experience was that it helped us clarify our priorities and realize that business was always going to be second priority to family. At the same time, our business was how we were able to feed our family, so it was important too.
We realized that in order to do both, we’d have to be very intentional about focusing on the most effective parts of each.
It helped us narrow down our focus and figure out how to not only balance, but integrate the two.
80/20 Your Life
The first step of figuring out how to balance family life and business life without sacrificing important parts was to take inventory of the most effective and important parts of each. Many times, in business and parenting, we all seem to tread water or exist without any intentionality, just doing things as we’ve always done them.
In any aspect of life, taking stock of the most impactful things we are doing and increasing those while reducing the distractions and unimportant activities will lead to improvement. Tim Ferriss popularized this idea with his book The Four Hour Workweek, but it really applies to all aspects of life: from cleaning to cooking and from business to investing.
If you aren’t familiar with the concept, the idea is that in any given aspect of life, 20% of the input is responsible for 80% of the results… and this seems to work both ways. 20% of customers are responsible for 80% of profits, while an inverse 20% are often responsible for 80% of customer service headaches. Additionally, focusing on the 20% that is successful in any given area and working to duplicate the results of this segment improves the business across the board.
How to Figure out the 80/20 Rule for Your Life
This idea seems easy to apply in most business applications because things like profit, conversions, and clicks are easily trackable and it is easy to find the top 20%. It gets a little tougher in life because, for instance, it is hard to accurately measure the 20% of parenting that makes the biggest impact on our kids, at least in the moment. The results are often clear in 20 years but hard to see at the time.
For family life, this was our process of trying to narrow down the 20%:
- We made a list of clear and measurable skills and experiences we wanted our children to have before leaving home. Then, we worked backward with a timetable of figuring out how to teach or give these skills/experiences in the years they have left at home. This led to some interesting discoveries, including that we wanted to travel a lot more than we had originally planned, and that we needed to create some kind of system of mentoring them in business while they are young. More on this in future posts.
- We looked at family activities that everyone enjoyed and that also had a bonding or teachable aspect and increased these. Family camping trips and extended travel both are great for learning, family bonding, and enjoyment. Movie nights, while fun, aren’t as good. We honed in on family activities that we could do together that everyone enjoyed and doubled down on these. The result? A lot more camping, travel, Jujutsu classes together, baseball games, and helping the kids with entrepreneurial projects they love.
Clear and Measurable Goals
So many times in life, we set goals that are not specific or measurable. This makes them almost impossible to track and to even gauge if we are succeeding or not. In fact, I’d argue that for many families, parenting is the biggest glaring example of this.
We want to raise “good kids” but what does that mean and how do we define “good”?
We want them to be “successful adults” but how do we measure success?
In a world where memorization and traditional school subjects are becoming less important and adaptation and the ability to learn new skills quickly are becoming vital, we felt that it takes much more intentionality to raise great kids.
We created trackable and measurable goals for business and family so that we would be able to hopefully achieve them. We created:
- A detailed list of practical life skills we want our kids to have before leaving home. (still working on these)
- Detailed goals for each business that we wanted to achieve by a certain point. (We accomplished these and are working on the process again with new measurable goals.
This single step can make a person drastically more successful in any aspect of life. When we sit back and evaluate how many things we do a certain way just because we have always done that a certain way, the results can be astounding.
It seems that even when a person is excellent at acting intentionally in one area (like business), he or she has gaping holes in this in other areas of life (parenting, cooking, cleaning, etc.). Acting intentionally in all of these areas has the potential to drastically reduce stress and improve productivity.
At this point, I should mention that we both strive under structure and routine, so this method works really well for our family. If you are a more spontaneous type who despises structure, you may have to adapt.
Reducing Mental Stress with Routine
We’ve found that by having intentional systems for most aspects of life, we could reduce the stress of actually doing them. For instance:
- Meal Planning: Having a strong structure for meal planning that included shopping lists gets rid of the daily mental stress of figuring out what to cook at each meal. It lets us plan ahead and even cook ahead and eat healthier without extra work. This is the way I’m able to cook 3 real food meals a day every day without going crazy.
- Cleaning: Having a structure of when we do laundry, who does each chore and when and how the household gets clean gets rid of the stress of nagging the kids to do their chores and keeps us (the adults) accountable for doing things too.
- Family Time: We are big believers in kids having lots of independent play time and being bored to bring out their creativity. We aren’t the types to entertain our kids all day, but we do have times reserved for family fun activities like swimming, hiking, camping, family game nights, and other activities.
- Email: Email can take over your life if you let it. Heck, it can take over your life if you let it. Conquering email clutter has made the biggest difference in our mental free space and free time. The rules? Check it 1-2 times a day at most, don’t answer emails that don’t need an answer and unsubscribe from everything possible.
Family Breakfast & Dinner Are Non-Negotiable
Again, it is easy to say family time is a priority, but often daily actions don’t reflect this. One easy way we’ve made sure that days start and end with family time is by making breakfast and dinner always family activities. Of course, there are extenuating circumstances that occasionally make this not possible, but when we are home, we eat meals together whenever possible.
Family meals are the perfect time for conversation and we all have to eat anyway, so they are easy to schedule in every day:-)
The Bottom Line
There is no simple checklist for effortlessly balancing family and work, especially when both are growing. Balance is a moving target and getting even remotely close to hitting it requires planning, foresight, and intentional action.
The list above is what worked for our family… what works for yours?