Making Time for Your Family
Ed Eubanks Jr - Jan. 2006
"Do you ever rest?" a board member from the school where I work asked me the other day. "Do you spend time with your family?"
I assured her that I do, on both counts, and though I appreciated her concern, it was not warranted.
I can understand why she would feel compelled to ask - I work 50-60 hour weeks regularly for this small private school, and even more than that recently, as the school has gone through some changes.
On top of this, I am about to finish a graduate seminary degree for which I have taken 105 credit-hours, and I'm currently enrolled in the last few of these classes. In short, I've been working 70-80 hour weeks for more than four years, so my colleague's questions were legitimate ones.
The other side of the coin shows a different picture. Marcie and I have had many happy memories in our marriage over those four years. Both of our children were born during our seminary years, and I have a deeply intimate relationship with both.
My work allows Marcie to stay at home with our children full-time, and most days I share a meal with all of my family. My family life is more than intact - it is healthy and thriving.
How have I managed this? What's the secret (or secrets) to maintaining a work and school schedule that is beyond full while keeping my family life strong?
Some of my seminary classmates have asked me these very questions, but my answers are not only relevant to graduate students. They are for anyone whose work schedule keeps them busy beyond the traditional 40 hour week.
I offer here the big ideas - the kernels of my methodology for preserving my marriage and family.
Hobbies Are the First to Go
I'm an avid hobbyist - at least I used to be.
Prior to graduate school, I considered myself to be a duck hunter, fly fisherman, photographer, and woodworker. Needless to say, the description of "avid" doesn't apply quite so fully lately: I simply couldn't keep all of these up while working as much as I do. In fact, I haven't been hunting since spring of 2001, I've only been fishing twice in the past four years, and 75% of my tools are in another state. (I do have a darkroom in my basement, however.)
But this is important - I've dropped these hobbies on purpose. I haven't dropped all of them entirely, but my decision to bring my family to grad school and to work at the same time was simultaneously a decision to pursue my hobbies less.
This seems to be a common starting point for those who choose to prioritize their families. At some point they have sacrificed something they genuinely enjoy for the sake of a greater, more substantial joy.
I know a man who was a scratch golfer in college but gave his clubs away on the day his first child was born for the same reason. Good call.
Turn Hobbies Into Opportunities
Ironically, my next tip is to do more of your hobbies. In this case, however, it's the hobbies that can serve an especially productive end. Do you have a hobby that can earn you some needed extra income? One that will allow you to accomplish important actions or goals in a different (and maybe better) way? How about one that could become a family-wide enjoyment?
That is the hobby to pursue.
My father was a very busy man and also an avid hobbyist. He found ways to include me in every hobby he pursued, and his hobbies became a vehicle for family life, not a hindrance to it. Whether he took me hunting, gathered my sister and I into his darkroom, or took the whole family out on our sailboat, his hobbyist nature allowed us some great family memories.
During graduate school, I've taken my photography hobby and turned it into a money-maker by shooting weddings for classmates. This has been a great way to have fun with one of my favorite hobbies while also bringing in a paycheck.
Also, I've actually taken up golf! I've found that several of the people that I need to spend time in extended discussions with are golfers, so getting out on the golf course allows us the opportunity for a (sometimes) relaxing activity while talking through important plans or ideas. It also allows them to prioritize their families, so everyone is better off.
Sacrifice Sleep to Work After Hours
As I write this, it is 1 a.m. My wife, whose days are focused on nurturing our active children, has been in bed for several hours, but I elected to tuck her in and then get some work done. This is a fairly common practice at our house.
There will always be times that you have to bring your work home with you; no matter what you do, something will demand more time of you than you want to put in at your desk. But just because you bring work home doesn't mean that you're destined to neglect your family that evening.
Chances are the work you brought home ceased to be so time-sensitive after 5 p.m., so let it rest until later. Enjoy the early evening with your wife and kids, and come back to your work after the children are asleep and your wife is watching Letterman.
You may find a hidden benefit in this principle: You actually work better by doing it later. If you give your mind and body a rest, even for a couple of hours, it will pay dividends in the end. You'll approach your tasks refreshed - and sometimes with a fresh perspective.
You'll probably finish it faster as a result.
Leave It in the Car
When you work as much as I do, it can be tempting to bring work home even when you don't have to. I think, "Maybe Marcie will want to do some chores, work on a project, or read by herself, and I'll have a chance to catch up on something that I've been neglecting." Noble though this approach may be, Marcie gets tired of me sitting in the den with work in my lap all the time. There has to be a time for work to stop.
To solve this dilemma, I've started leaving my briefcase, files, or anything else that I brought home from work in the trunk of my car. If a great opportunity for some extra productivity presents itself, I can easily grab what I need and bring it inside. On the other hand, in the absence of an obvious glut of time to get more done, I'm not tempted or distracted by the things that would keep me from my family. Out of sight, out of mind.
These are a few of the major ideas that govern my busyness, productivity, and investment in family life. Go ahead - give them a try. Start them all at once, or dribble them into your routine little by little until they are second-nature.
In time, you'll find that you have more time for the people you care about the most. And that's what counts.
(Check the next issue for part 2, where I'll offer five more principles for prioritizing your family.)