In January 2017, I decided I would leave my job at a Boston-based management consulting firm to start a company in the small, northern California city of Redding that I had moved to six months earlier. I wanted to invest in Redding's economy by creating jobs so that others in the area didn't have to work remotely as I had been doing.
Seven months later, I started Zarvana, a company that helps professionals become more productive and effective by developing research-backed habits. At the same time, my wife and I were raising our 4-year old and 2-year old and I was about to start the second year of a 20-hour per week ministry school. Life was full.
Before starting this entrepreneurial journey, I made a commitment to myself that I wouldn't let any area of life suffer. As many entrepreneurs have found, family is the easiest to let slide. In business, you have goals, deadlines, and stakeholders who won't let you off the hook. Discipline is required, while family life tends to play by a different set of much less formal rules.
Four months in, my wife found out she was pregnant with our third. She suffered from a severe form of pregnancy sickness that limited her ability to perform normal household duties, further adding to my responsibilities. During her sickest months of the pregnancy, we kicked off pilots with three high-profile clients.
To do all things well, I needed to apply principles that had helped me be productive in business to my personal life:
Track sustainability goals
In business, you set and track progress toward goals because decades of research confirm the impact. Measuring key business metrics enables you to manage them and ensure strong performance. Yet, few do the same for their sustainability and their personal lives.
Two sustainability goals I currently track are spending enough time with my family and getting enough sleep. To keep track of these, I categorize how I spend every 30-minute interval of every day. For the time, I've decided to allocate at least 20 percent of my time to my family, given that work and sleep combined take up about 60 percent of the week and mundane but necessary tasks like washing dishes take up another five to 10 percent of the week. I also use this system to ensure my average sleep per night stays above 6.5 hours, a threshold I've learned has important ramifications for my health.
Schedule personal priorities
In business, most people let their calendars guide them through the day. Calendars act as commitment devices, increasing the likelihood you'll do what you said you would do. Yet, most take a less formal approach to their personal lives.
When I'm at my best, I make and schedule commitments in my personal life to ensure they happen. I take my wife on pre-arranged 'date nights.' When I can, I sign up right away for volunteer opportunities at my daughters' schools. I make it a point of putting evening and weekend events on my calendar as soon as I learn about them.
Create space for connection
While advance scheduling has its place, a lot of business happens outside of planned meetings. On average, managers spend 10 to 20 percent of their time in ad hoc meetings. Steve Jobs designed the Apple and Pixar campuses to increase how often people would bump into each other because accidental engagements foster connection and collaboration.
To create space for connection, I almost always clean up after dinner so that I'm in the kitchen with my wife. Once we've cleaned up, I linger in the kitchen for a little while even when I have to return to work. The lingering can last just minutes or fill the rest of the evening, helping us stay connected and handle family business.
Starting a business is hard. Raising a healthy family is also hard. Sometimes you'll be left with too little willpower to pull off as disciplined an approach as described here. I know I am at times. In those cases, dust yourself off and go do them the next day. Imperfect execution is better than a laissez-faire approach to doing all aspects of life well.