All working moms and dads (especially the moms) find work/life balance difficult throughout the year. Summer break, however, presents an extra challenge. The kids are at home and need extra supervision, parking them in front of a screen isn't a healthy option, and meanwhile, the demands of work continue apace.
I know this from personal experience, since I have a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old who are both extremely active, just got out of school and already pretty much driving me crazy, which is why I'm not just going to post this column but follow some of its advice.
Here, in their own words is how seven high-successful entrepreneur moms and dads cope with craziness of the summer break:
1. Create some slack time by working harder before summer starts.
"I like to take a big trip each summer, and, although I love what I do, the extra motivation to work hard knowing that it means a better vacation is on the horizon really helps me hyper prioritize and execute. I also put in the extra time ahead of a trip to align and delegate tasks to draw focus to areas of the business in which I have a reduced role while I am away." -- Allison Rapaport, CEO of Every Mother
My comment: I've been doing this since 2007, which is when I started this blog. About two months before I go on vacation, I put in some extra time to write and queue up enough posts so that I don't have to think about work when I should be focusing on my family.
2. Trade your workout time for family time.
"Over the summer I forgo some of my regular workout routines in lieu of active family time. When planning vacations I always make sure to take into account the other team members, but it helps that I work with my family (my sister, Shel). My sister and I will travel with our kids, who are all best friends, so we can work together on the plane, beach or hiking through tropical rainforests. Shel and I spend 75% of our time talking about business. One of my favorite places/times to work are when I’m on the plane because I can get a solid 4-6 hours of work done with no interruptions or distractions. In order to balance running a company and spending time with my family I don’t work a typical 9-5 day. I will work around my day. For example, if I take a two hour hike with my two boys in the morning, I’ll work through lunch or after dinner to catch up. I always find time to get the job done without sacrificing time with my family." Danielle Dietz-LiVolsi, founder and CEO of NuttZo
My comment: Although Danielle is obviously a special case (since she works with her sister), her idea of swapping workout time for family time makes sense for just about anyone. Ditto with working on a plane or public transportation. It astounds me that people who have a choice choose to commute to work in an automobile. What a waste!
3. Set and respect some reasonable boundaries.
"It wasn’t until after I had my second child I realized how fast time was going. I didn’t want to look back in regret feeling I wasn’t fully present. As a business leader it’s not realistic to check out 100%. However, I’ve learned if I set boundaries for myself, family time out of the office is much more enjoyable for everyone. Example, on vacation, I schedule activities in the morning with the expectation I will be checking in with work while the kids are napping after lunch. This allows me to direct my focus to my children, knowing work can wait until nap time. I communicate this expectation to my colleagues, so our family time is not being interrupted." Shannon Bickel, Director of Marketing at Regalo Baby
My comment: If you've got the power to both set and respect boundaries, great. Unfortunately, it's difficult to set boundaries if your boss doesn't respect them. It's a real shame but our current workplace culture often expects people to put in long hours. People brag about how many hours they work, as if working long hours isn't a sign of inefficiency and poor planning.
4. Force yourself to actually take some time off.
"Balancing summer with work and taking time off has always been a challenge and has only gotten harder as my kids are getting older. But one of the best things we’ve done in recent years is to write down bucket lists for each kid at the beginning of the summer and then be deliberate about planning our activities and trips around these bucket lists ahead of time. That way your summer doesn’t just come and go and you didn’t do what you hoped. The other thing you have to do is simply force yourself to take enough time off to make sure you get enough time with your kids. Four years ago we went to Europe for a month. That was tough, but everyone at work covered and it was fine. This year we are going back to Europe, this time for 2.5 weeks. Just force yourself to do it. You can always get more time in the office after summer is over, but time with your kids is limited so you have to make sure you take advantage of it while you have it."-- Joel Clark, Co-founder and CEO of Kodiak Cakes
My comment: it's interesting that these successful entrepreneurs seem to believe that time is a zero-sum game and that family time can only be at the expense of your productivity at work. That's not the case, though. If you ignore your family and don't take any down time, you WILL start making dumb mistakes and you WILL have health problems. Furthermore, if you ignore your family in favor of work, eventually your family will explode into a huge and unexpected problem (usually divorce and/or addiction) that will massively affect your ability to work. So Joel is dead right here that you must FORCE yourself to take time off. Failure to do so is undisciplined, unwise and ultimately counterproductive.
5. Put your own electronics away.
"I love the summer because with the longer days, I feel I can maximize the time I spend with my family. A few ways I do this is to make sure I put my phone and laptop away so that I can be present. We also take advantage of the great weather and enjoy outdoor evening activities together. In addition when I plan a vacation, we use it as an opportunity to decompress from the craziness of work and school. While the summer may be a very busy time for the business, it’s really important that we protect those vacations. Lastly, I encourage my team to leave work early on Fridays in the summer to enjoy that extra time with their families and I make sure I lead by example by doing the same!" -- Apu Mody, CEO of Lenny & Larry's
My comment: I personally struggle with this, big time. I think the key is to put your electronics where it's very inconvenient to fetch them… like in the trunk of your car. Then leave your keys in the attic. There are also apps that allow you to limit the time you spend on your devices. But there's no question about it; you've got to lead by example. "Do as I say, not as I do" never works.
6. Don't demand perfection from yourself.
"Having a balanced work and personal life is like a person walking a tight rope; the goal is to avoid falling off the rope and in order to do that, you have to continuously shift from one side to the other. Being a husband, father and small business owner, summertime can be tough. With my family life, I work hard to stay tuned in and present and rely on them to communicate to me if I am falling short in some areas. I also try to spend as much time with my family as possible since the kids are out of school for the summer. At work, I make sure that my employees get everything they need from me during business hours; whether its advice, a signature, or a hand hauling sacks of coffee, I do my best to be available to everyone and I make it a point to let them know that I am NEVER too busy for them. Once you understand that the goal is not perfect weight distribution, rather it is continuously shifting to ensure you don’t fall off the tightrope, you can start to understand when one area of your life needs more attention than the other."-- Mike McKim, Founder and CEO of Cuvée Coffee
My comment: Entrepreneurs tend to be detail-oriented and massively committed to doing things "just so." That's not always the best attitude to have when you're trying to achieve a difficult balance. Beating yourself up because you can't do everything will just make you miserable, as well as everyone else around you.
7. Don't let "working long hours" become part of your personality.
To get the most out of your summer both at work and at home with the kids, it’s important to build on a foundation of strong work-life balance throughout the year. My employees understand that during the year I leave work early to pick up my kids from school, which I love. In the summer, I sometimes need to rely on my family to achieve balance, which is totally fine. It’s okay to ask for help. For a week each summer my kids head to my folks house in Milwaukee and it's what they look forward to every year! It’s become a fun tradition and it certainly helps me as a working dad keep some balance."--Ryan Farr, CEO of 4505 Meats
My comment: Again, when you're the CEO, you have more of a choice about when you work. I mean, are Ryan's employees going to say: "No, you can't go pick up your kids!" Not gonna happen. That being said, there are plenty of people who work long hours not because they'll get fired if they don't but because they've made overwork a part of their personal identity. Look, working long hours may be necessary sometimes but it's not something to be proud of. Being unable to disconnect is a character flaw that needs correcting.