Balancing work and the rest of one’s life

Nov 15, 2004

I was surprised to see in our latest 2004 Principals, Partners & Owners Survey of A/E/P & Environmental Consulting Firms that the balancing of work and personal life issue was barely on the radar screen of concerns for our survey respondents. My anecdotal experience is quite a bit different. I find it to be a big deal. The only explanation I can come up with for our survey results is that perhaps a lot of owners in A/E/P and environmental firms are already doing a pretty good job of it— at least better than folks working in many other professions! To tell the truth, this subject barely crossed my mind from the time I was a kid all the way through to my mid- to late 30’s. Work WAS my hobby. I loved it. The company was so intertwined with my personal life that it not only would have been impossible to separate the two, I never would have wanted to. My co-workers were my best friends. My office was five minutes from where I lived. And my then-wife was doing a great job with my kids. That left me free to concentrate on work without a lot of worries on what was happening back home. Certainly, in retrospect, all wasn’t perfect. In spite of the fact that I never missed a holiday (other than Halloween once, due to a weather-related flight delay), and rarely missed a birthday or other family event, I was a consultant working nationally (and on occasion, internationally). I still had to travel too much and missed spending the time I would like to have spent with my girls when they were younger. In any event, when my ex-wife developed significant physical and mental health and addiction issues, my whole world was turned upside down. My kids needed a parent who was there and who could take care of them— I was the only one capable of doing that. So everything changed— personal life had to come first and work a distinct second. Years later, as painful as the process was to go through, it was probably for the best. As these kinds of things often do, it forced me to reevaluate where I was heading with my life and make some big changes. I ended up with a new wife who is much easier to live with, and my kids are healthier and happier. I developed some new outside interests. And I got to a place where I could be productive at work but not have that work success be the only driver of my self-image. But I was a lucky one. I had the wake-up call that not everyone else is blessed with. So what about those of you who don’t have any health problems or problems with family members that you cannot avoid, whose lives are “normal” and whose life situations enable you to be a workaholic if that is your tendency? What can you do to make sure you have some work-life balance? Here are my thoughts: Get some good people working for you. If you don’t work with people who you can trust to take care of business while you are tending to something else, you will never be able to attend to those other things. I was lucky in that I had super-competent partners and associates who could pick up the slack for me in just about every area when I was not in a position to devote as much time to the office. If you aren’t in a similar position, make getting these people on board a priority. Schedule time away from work. Plan your vacations well in advance. If you don’t, you probably won’t take them. This is critical! And don’t go on separate vacations from your spouse and kids every time, either. I see some guys do this— it’s always amazed me that their spouses tolerate much of it. Develop a personal strategic plan. What do you want to do with the rest of your life? Do you know? Have you committed that plan to writing? What are you doing to advance toward that ultimate goal? If you want to cut back to a lower-cost lifestyle at some point, are you making decisions that are consistent with that, or are you going out and making new long-term financial commitments that will push that lower-cost lifestyle even further out into the future? These and many other questions need to be addressed in your personal strategic plan if you are going to be able to set the stage where you actually can balance work and home life. Don’t schedule every minute. We all need time— unscheduled time— to sit and think, to take a nap, or to do something creative on the spur-of-the-moment. If you schedule every minute of every day— or if you simply overcommit so you have to work— you may go mad. You need time that is not scheduled, and you need to watch making promises to everyone who asks you for something or your time won’t be your own. Hang out with the right people. The right people are those who are balancing their work lives with their home lives right now. They are providing you with a role model. And they are smart people who will confront you honestly if they see you going off course. Just like you advise your teenagers to associate with the smart kids who don’t use drugs, who make good grades, and who are respectful of their parents and others, you need to do the same. Because the wrong friends can suck you down. Workaholics who only value the money that comes from over-working will encourage you to do the same thing. Misery loves company! Originally published 11/15/04

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.