Clear your calendar for family time

The people who matter the most

The end of the year is almost upon us and it’s a good time to prioritize those closest to you. However, it can be difficult with any work schedule, especially around the holidays. Here are three tips to make sure the people closest to you come first with the family time they deserve.

Schedule your family time

Let’s say you just finished lunch and it’s 1 p.m. If you give yourself four hours to complete a project by 5 p.m., it’s probably going to take you the whole time to complete it. But if you were leaving for vacation starting at 3 p.m., you’d figure out a way to complete the same project in half the time.

Tim Ferriss discusses this in his book, The Four Hour Work Week. As stated by Parkinson’s Law, we fill the time we allow ourselves to complete a given task. Ferriss suggests combatting this law by focusing on only the important and shortening the time you give to a particular task.

In other words, set boundaries on your time.

 

I approach this two ways:

  1. Schedule time off in advance. As a general rule, I don’t work weekends and I don’t expect my team to either. We plan extended weekends and vacations in advance as well.
  2. Have set end times to your work day. My work day typically ends at 5 p.m. Sometimes I work late or wrap up early, but 5 p.m. is usually when I stop.

Why is this important? It forces me to get work done in reasonable timeframes (no more personal scope creep) and it means more family time. They know in advance what to expect and we avoid the unnecessary stress of guessing when I’m done with work.

Here is the reality: your work will never be done.

I was a teacher for seven years and it didn’t matter if I worked 40-hour weeks or 70-hour weeks; I could always work more. The same is true for owning and running a business. I could easily work all of the time and never be finished. Instead, I decide when I’m finished. The result? Everything that needs to get done, still gets done and I spend more time with the people I love.

Prioritize and focus

Allowing yourself less time to work requires that you’re more intentional about the remaining time. It requires you to prioritize and focus on your most important task.

How do you know the important task? Gary Keller and Jay Papasan define it in their book, The One Thing, as the Focusing Question. What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

Focus on the one task that will make the next task easier to accomplish and so on.

 

For example, I recently revisited our agency’s business plan and value proposition. The next logical step was to update our site copy and services to match our plan and value proposition. Doing those two tasks made it easier for me to help our sales person refine our prospecting emails. The list goes on.

It works for your personal time, too. For example, if I help my wife with dinner or my son with homework, maybe we’ll have time to go out for ice cream as a family afterwards.

Avoid interruptions

You can’t get meaningful things done if you’re constantly being interrupted. You can’t give your full attention to your spouse/kids/friend if your phone keeps beeping and buzzing at you. Here are a few basics principles I follow to defend my time from interruptions:

Turn off notifications.

Every single app is vying for your attention. They scream “Look at me!” and “Respond to this!” constantly if we let them. Turn off every single notification that isn’t completely necessary and check them when you find it appropriate.

Avoid social media.

Social media and similar digital playgrounds are a time suck. Often the simple act of accepting a friend request quickly devolves into joining heated political arguments or catching up on the latest viral videos.

It’s like when you space out while driving. One minute you’re leaving home and the next minute you’re wondering how the heck did I get here? My advice: only view social media and the similar when you have true downtime. You may even want to set an alarm to remind you to turn it off.

Batch email.

I previously heard email described as everyone else’s to-do list and priorities for you. Limit the amount of times you visit your inbox and set up auto-responders. I like accomplishing at least one important task before checking email in the morning. I won’t check email at night (especially right before bed) because I won’t be able to do anything about it until the next day anyway.

Family Time Email Overload
Email overload!
Photo: Wiertz Sébastien via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-ND

I think it’s important to handle Slack in a similar way. Being the “new email,” Slack can also become a pit of gif conversations and other people’s to-dos. I avoid this by planning times to check in with my team and batching it similarly to how I handle email.

Ask people to respect your time.

It’s important for you to communicate your priority with others and for them to respect it. This was a challenge for me when I started working from home. At first, my wife would randomly ask me to do a favor or my kids would run into my office wanting to talk to me about something. It still happens sometimes but they’ve learned when Daddy’s working, he’s working. It’s tough at first but now they know when I have time to complete my work, I’ll be available for family time.

Interruptions kill your workflow and they are rude to others.

 

Make it a point to avoid them at all costs.

So what’s the end result?

Family Time Jeff Large
Jeff and his family spending time together at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

I want to be present to who I’m with and what I’m doing.

When I’m working, it deserves my full attention. Projects get all of my effort. Clients get all of my attention. Coworkers get all of my support.

When I’m playing with my kids or having coffee with my wife, they are my priority. I want them to know I am listening, that I care, and that I’m present.

We can be fully present to the people we’re with and tasks at hand when we schedule our time, focus on the important, and avoid interruptions.

Your work is important but it’s not your end goal. It’s usually a means to the end. It’s the people in your life who matter the most. Make time for family time.

Image by: katgrigg Flickr via Compfight cc

Jeff Large
Jeff regularly shares his insights through blogging, podcasting and public speaking. Outside of work, Jeff spends most of his time with his wife and kids, volunteering with his church community, and playing board games with friends. Find him online at JeffLarge.com.