A few weeks ago, my wife Rachel and I took four of our daughters trick-or-treating. I'd put in a full day at the office, including our annual after-hours Halloween party, so I was feeling bushed. The girls, of course, were feeling just the opposite, their energy increasing with each new addition to their loot bags.
As we walked along in the cool night air, pushing our way through hordes of costumed munchkins, noting which houses had their lights on and which did not, making sure to say thank you when rewarded with a treat, hiding our disappointment from the cheapskates who offered a trick instead, it occurred to me that life was pretty good.
I don't take these moments for granted. Juggling business and family is damn difficult. They have a symbiotic relationship--if you neglect one at the expense of the other, the neglected one tends to suffer.
Thanks to a couple decades of practicing this delicate balancing act, I've learned four fundamental truths:
1. Establish boundaries both at work and at home.
Your family needs to know what to expect regarding your job. They can deal with the travel and long hours, but only if you explain why they're necessary and set clear boundaries.
The same goes for your colleagues, who should learn the score about your family commitments. My team understands that when I'm home, and my kids are awake, I'm not going to answer their calls. Ditto text messages and emails--short of an emergency, I'm off the grid.
On the flip side, my family gives me all the space I need when I'm at work. It's a beautiful arrangement, provided I'm consistent and fair to both sides.
2. Take regular vacations with your family.
My family and I are religious about our vacations. Sometimes the kids are included, and sometimes it's just Rachel and me, but whatever the dynamics involved, we make sure that we regularly get away to focus solely on each other.
Rachel and I did some calculations about this a few weeks ago. We estimated that in 19 years of marriage, we've spent at least a full year alone together in various spots around the world. Our girls don't begrudge us this time--they realize that a happy family requires happy parents.
Even when we're on vacation, there are moments when I have to sneak away and touch bases with my team. Keeping track of important developments requires my full attention, but my family's on board with it because we've agreed on it beforehand.
3. Focus on your partner, but leave time for yourself, too.
I figure I work about 65 hours a week on average. I travel about two days out of each week, and on those days I really hustle so as to have more free time with my family when I return.
For example, Rachel and I have two date nights a week. We eat at our favorite restaurants, talk, relax, and become the same two people who took a chance on each other once upon a time in Idaho.
On top of that, that I devote at least 25 hours a week to the girls. I'm still spending more hours at the office than I am at home, obviously, but it's kosher because the business is what pays the bills and allows us to save money for college.
Last but not least, if you want to keep your sanity, set aside some hours exclusively for yourself. Focus on exercise, massage, reading, or a television show that allows you to unwind and get out of your head for a while. If you want to really check out, take one vacation a year that's just for you, and pack it with as much activity as possible.
Owning a business is almost like a second marriage. You're going to spend as much or more time with it as you do your partner and children. It's imperative, therefore, that the time spent with the latter is quality time--100%, no ifs, ands or buts.
The crucial thing, when it comes to family and work, is that there's deep cooperation on both sides. Set clear boundaries and stick to them, and both of your families will flourish.