Alexandra Levit is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a career expert who knows a thing or two about balancing work and parenting. If you've resolved to spend more time with your family this year, she's got six helpful suggestions.
My first child, Jonah, was born two weeks before a book launch, and he changed all my workaholic priorities. I still log 40 hours a week, but I'm there for a third of my son's waking hours by adapting these strategies.
Photo by jonathanjonl.
To say those early weeks were chaotic would be an understatement. I'd do phone interviews while nursing, type blog posts in the paediatrician's waiting room, and answer readers' comments with a stack of laundry on my lap. I was accustomed to working as many hours as I wanted to, but I realised that if I wanted to sustain my career's momentum and still be an attentive mother, I needed some new ideas. Here are six of them that have worked for me:
Choose webinars over in-person training and meetings
Webinars allow for presentation-style communication from an individual speaker to an audience, with polling, Q&A sessions and everything else you'd normally do in-person. The major benefit, though, is avoiding the two days spent trekking through airports on both ends of a conference. That's a major win if you're a working parent. Services like Cisco's WebEx don't require any special software or hardware, either. All you have to do is launch your web browser from your home office and you can attend or deliver real-time training, seminars and presentations.
Rearrange your schedule to start late and stay late
You'd be surprised, but most managers don't necessarily care when you do your work from day to day, as long as it gets done. You might ask for an arrangement in which you start later, so that you can see your kids off to daycare or school, and return to work from your home office after they've gone to bed. Since my son was born, I've gotten my best work done after 8pm, after he's down for the night.
Combine business travel with holidays
Most working parents view business travel as yet another duty that shaves away family time. At the same time, work itself keeps us from taking the time to jet off with the kids for some getaway fun. The next time you have to fly or drive somewhere far for your job, stop and think. Even if it's not the perfect getaway spot, is there enough to do that your spouse and kids could join you there for a long weekend? When it comes to taking time off, the perfect holiday can easily become the enemy of the really good mini-escape.
Ask for household help instead of gifts
My relatives are always asking us what they can get us for birthdays and holidays, and I'm usually at a loss. After all, my son can only play with so many toys, and anything he really needs, we've probably already purchased. So they end up sending money, which just drops unceremoniously into the bank account. The next time someone asks you about a gift, suggest a housekeeping gift certificate. Instead of spending hours at home cleaning and organising, you can devote them to quality time with your family.
Empower other employees with valuable responsibilities
It's difficult to transition from being a team of one to a team of several, especially if you're a new manager. But even though you might think you can do a task better yourself, if you don't want your family time to suffer, you must get into the habit of delegating assignments. To baby-step into doing this effectively, cherry-pick one of your tasks to delegate, based on your employee's knowledge, skills, and willingness. Clearly state the expectations and requirements of the project, explain why the task is important, and emphasise what your employee will get out of it. Follow up regularly to monitor progress, even if it means checking in by phone while at the park or the museum. It's a lot less stressful than putting off plans to do it yourself, and you'll eventually get into the habit of doing it, and doing it well.
Involve your children in your work
Despite your best efforts, you may find that your work time — along with the assorted "take just a minute" interruptions — cuts into your family time more than you would like, so you may need to get creative to ensure your children don't feel neglected. One manufacturing employee I know brings her kids to the office and lets them create artwork for the break room. A business owner I met last year has his kids and their friends participate in focus groups and brainstorming sessions for new products. The more you involve them directly, the less they will feel like your work is taking you away from them. Photo by Amit Chattopadhyay.
Alexandra Levit is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the author of the new book "New Job, New You: A Guide to Reinventing Yourself in a Bright New Career." If you're struggling with what to do with your career in the New Year, check out NewJobNewYou.com for free guidance and resources.