Work vs. family life

Aug 22, 1994

I don’t think anyone who knows me or reads my stuff is confused about where I stand on at least one subject— how many hours a professional in this business should work each week. There’s just no way you can do it in 40. You probably can’t even do it in 50. If, as an architect, engineer, or environmental consultant, you really want to be successful, it’ll probably take closer to 55 or even 60 hours per week, week in and week out, at work. The problem is that if you start with 168 total available hours in a week, then deduct 55 for work, 10 for commuting (5 round trips of 30 minutes each), and 49 for sleeping (7 hrs. per night 7 nights a week), you’ve only got 54 hours left. Then if you travel out of town, or work more than 55 hours per week, or have a commute longer than 30 minutes each day, that 55 can easily be whittled down to 25 or less hours available each week to do something other than work or sleep. With this kind of schedule, how can you have any kind of personal life (which for most us means “family life”)? Here are my thoughts: Talk about your work. There’s nothing worse than the stoic who comes home from the office each day and refuses to talk about what’s going on at work with his spouse or the rest of the family. It’s downright crazy, and I can’t imagine a more sure-fire recipe for creating a family that won’t understand why you work so much. Get your spouse and other family members out to see the work of your firm. Excitement is contagious. Maybe if your family sees that you really are doing something worthwhile with all of these hours, they’ll better understand why you are doing it. Take Sunday rides out to project sites and explain what’s going on or why particular things are being built a certain way. Sell the benefits of your long hours. Hopefully, you are working like you are for a reason, to accomplish some goal. The hard work is either paying off already or probably will at some point in the future. Get everyone behind you by explaining what that payoff means to them as individual family members. Don’t assume they have the same understanding that you do of what it takes to get ahead in this business. Don’t assume they even know what degree of success is possible in this business. Use your free time wisely. I know lots of people who are successful in their careers but blow it at home. They do it by going golfing every weekend (without their spouse, significant other, or kids), spending every Sunday in front of the T.V. watching sports, going on vacations with their friends instead of their family, or getting so absorbed in some hobby that virtually all of their free time is consumed by it. If you want to have close relationships with certain people, you have to spend time with them. Use your work time wisely. Are you really working all of those hours, or are you working 45 and screwing around for 10 each week? Too many people in the A/E and environmental consulting business use work as their social gathering spot. As a result, they put in a lot of hours, but have little output to show for it. Use all of your vacation time each year. Our own research tells us that most firm principals do not use the vacation time they earn. I used to pride myself in not taking vacations, too. But I have learned. Take vacations that bring you together, versus those that drive you apart. Instead of Disney World, one of my clients took a trip across the country in a new Saab convertible, camping out with his teenage daughter. Another takes his family to a remote ranch in Idaho every year, a place with no T.V. and very little to do. Last summer, I spent two weeks in a motor home travelling around northern California, something I can attest certainly breeds togetherness! Don’t work at home. With so little time at home, don’t make that worthless to your personal life by working there, too. Work at work, and spend time with your family when you are at home. Move closer to work. Why do some people want to live so far from work? Maybe a trade-off from a big house to a smaller one, or going from a big yard to a postage stamp lot, would be worth it if you had more time with your family. Think about it. One thing’s for sure— this business can consume you. There’s always more work to be done. And no matter how successful you are, or how much money you make, you only have so much time. Use it wisely to build a satisfying career and a satisfying personal life. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Originally published August 22, 1994

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