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11 Tips for Balancing Work & Family from the “Extremely Productive”

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

Have you ever marveled at the person who seems to get a ton of work done and still has time for family? You know, the person who seems to "have it all.” The person who excels at work and at home and who even has the time to volunteer for their favorite cause.

ways to manage work and family balance work and family productive productivity how-to I’ve often struggled to balance work and family. That’s right. Even those of us dads who have dedicated their careers to family strengthening face the same challenges as any other dad. We have to toe a fine line of hypocrisy. I remember a day in 2007 when my oldest daughter, who was 12 at the time, was struggling emotionally. She was depressed. I returned home after a week-long trip speaking at a conference and training staff of organizations on how to help fathers be better dads. She started to cry after I walked in the door. We went into the backyard and talked for what seemed like a couple of hours. It took a while, but she finally revealed the source of her pain. It was me. I was traveling too much, and she missed me.  

One of the consequences of being an involved dad is that when you’re not around as often, your children miss you. This was a time when I traveled a lot speaking at conferences and training facilitators on our programs and on how to build capacity to effectively serve fathers. I knew that it was hard on my children and my wife, but I didn’t know just how hard it was.

Fortunately, my daughter had the courage to tell me that I needed to be home more, and I listened. I asked her what she thought was a reasonable amount of time for me to be gone. I negotiated for a maximum number of travel days each month based on her input.  

I’m known for being productive. Some people even tell me that I’m “extremely” productive. (I can only hope I’m just as effective.) I rise by 4:30 AM on the weekdays, work out for an hour to an hour and a half, start work by 6:00 AM, and usually get in a 10-hour day. That schedule allows me to care for myself, get a lot of work done, and still have time for family. I’m fortunate in that I work from home. I don’t have to struggle with long commutes that sap personal and family time. The biggest factor, however, in my ability to balance work and family is a flexible employer.  

Working for a flexible employer is one of many tips for balancing work and family offered by Robert C. Pozen in Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours. (Pozen is one of those people who is an answer to the question I posed at the start of this post. I pale in comparison.)

Here are 11 tips for balancing work and family, a combination of those offered by Pozen and offered in NFI’s 24/7 Dad™ program.  

    1. Look for employers that provide flexibility on when and where you work, and that offer paid leave for childbirth and other life events.
    2. Commit every day to leaving work early enough to have dinner or spend time with your family.
    3. Be assertive to obtain more flexibility. Assure your boss that you will get work done even if you take an hour out of the day to take your child to the doctor.
    4. Show your family commitment at work by displaying things like family photos and your children’s artwork. These displays will show your co-workers and boss that you’re committed to family.
    5. Make career decisions as a family. When you have an opportunity to change jobs or move laterally or up in your company or organization, talk with mom and your children (if your children are old enough) about the new commitments that will come with the opportunity, especially if those commitments will affect family time.
    6. Keep family commitments as sacred as work commitments—even more so. Avoid missing a family commitment because something comes up at work. The more often you keep your family commitments, the more likely your co-workers and your boss will be to respect them.
    7. If you and mom both work outside the home and can’t reduce your office hours (e.g. to spend more time with the children), look to friends and family to help out (e.g. watch the children when they come home from school).
    8. When you are with your family, avoid all but the most critical interruptions from work. Most work issues can wait until the next day.
    9. If you must bring work home, create a separate time and place to do the work. Your mind needs to move from you as a professional to you as a family member.
    10. Create a daily block of time for family called “family prime time.” Turn off your mobile devices, computers, and keep work off-limits during this time.
    11. Create and sign a “family contract.” Have your children and mom sign it, too. Put in writing that you’ll balance success at work with success at home. Read this contract at the start of every week to remind you of your commitment.
image: iStockPhoto

How to Make the Most of Working From Home

The following is a post from Matthew Mancino. Matthew writes about parenting at his blog. Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

I'm a dad, entrepreneur, and marketer. I worked at home for years before I had children. When my first child arrived it rocked my world. I took almost 4 years off of work and coasted until I had a better handle on balancing my career and kids. 

Here's my take on how to balance working from home with a busy family life.    

balance work family laptop daughter kids

Even parents who have 9-to-5 jobs can sometimes find themselves bringing work home. For example, my wife works on a few big projects every year and during those times she brings work home.     

During a normal week, my wife will arrive home at 5:30PM. From the moment she walks in the door to the moment the kids are in bed, it's a tornado of playing, eating dinner, and bathing. After all of that's done, I usually have work to do in the evening since I stay at home with the kids and have a small business.    

Tip 1: Divide and Conquer
One vital part of working at home is that my wife and I have the division of labor clearly defined. Also, we are careful (most times) to discuss changes if we deviate from our normal roles.     

For instance, I typically make dinner. If I have a phone call to make during dinner, we'll discuss it in advance so that we can determine a change in responsibilities. Will she be responsible for dinner tonight? Can I prepare dinner but mentally focus on a conference call at the same time?    

Tip 2: Get Alone Daily
Around 8pm, when the kids are down, I am free to do what I need to do. I'll immediately head to our office for my work time. My wife and I have agreed that my uninterrupted work time is after the kids go to bed.    

Tip 3: "No Tech Tuesday"
We balance my busy work at home schedule with our “No Tech Tuesdays” which we also plan in advance. On a “No Tech Tuesday” we'll plan to turn our phones and computers off and sit on the couch to talk or watch a movie together. We've agreed to use this time to re-connect with each other.  

Tip 4: Weekends Require Work
For us the weekends require a little more flexibility. I'm on a masters swim team and after practice my son takes swim lessons from one of my teammates. My wife usually takes the weekend to work on household chores and spending real quality time with the kids. Scheduling our weekends takes a bit more flexibility because I also try get at least 4 hours of work in each day.   

Tip 5: Talk Through the Schedule
Our kids benefit from hearing me and my wife talk until we agree on a win-win work schedule. They get to hear us problem-solve so that we meet our priorities and commitments.  

I believe that, as parents, we should discuss our work with our children. Tell them what you have to accomplish and how you plan to divide your time to meet everyone's needs. I believe that we should also gain our children's agreement whenever possible. I have found that even my two-year-old daughter appreciates it when she has input. I certainly appreciate it when I have her buy-in to an idea.  

I teach this principle to my kids. If they want to watch a show or take a toy from one another, they must have agreement. They aren't allowed to use force to get what they want.  

I've found that the idea of "gaining agreement" has turned into common vocabulary for us (more on common vocabulary on my blog).

Tip 6: Give a Timeline
One last tip that I think helps is giving a child a timeline. For example, saying, "Daddy is going to Starbucks to work for three hours, when I get home we’ll go to the park to play and have fun!" helps them understand the concepts of time, patience, and the concept of work and reward.

Do you ever have to take work home? If so, what helps you manage spending time with family?


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Multitasking: Good or Bad for Busy Dads and Families?

This is a post by Chris Brown, NFI's Executive Vice President.

We’ve known for years now that the “housework divide” between dads and moms has decreased with dads doing more of the workload than ever. This development is good news because NFI’s landmark national study on mothers’ attitudes about fathers and fathering called Mama Says found that moms want dads to help out more around the house. But what do we know about the impact of dads doing more in this world of dual-income families who always seem to be multitasking and on the go?

While this closing of gap seems on the surface to be a great development that should have a positive impact on dads, moms, and kids, a recent study reported in the L.A. Times suggests that this new picture of the dual-income American family isn’t quite as rosy as the data suggest. This two-year study examined 500 working mom-dad families from 8 urban and suburban communities. Researchers found that dads and moms did an equal amount of paid and unpaid work but that moms did more multitasking at home than did dads. Moreover, moms experienced more stress than dads about their perceived lack of attention to their families this multitasking requires. Dads, in fact, received a psychological boost from their ability to handle home and work tasks (super dad) while moms felt guilty about the divided attention this kind of multitasking requires.

What should we make of this data, and how should dads and moms respond in these families? A closer look at the study suggests that moms and dads should multitask together (e.g. wash dishes, do the laundry, take the kids to the grocery store). Dads and moms tended to gravitate to different activities with their kids—a sort of divide and conquer strategy. Dads engaged in more focused, fun, interactive activities with their children while moms focused on more routine childcare tasks and doing more of them at the same time. But when moms and dads worked together around the house it reduced the stress for both parents. It seems that dads should take a step back and ask what more they can do around the home together with moms, right? The article suggests as much, but I’m convinced the problem can't be resolved simply by dads and moms doing more work at home together, although that would certainly help.

I’m convinced that working moms and dads need to reduce multitasking. A recent spate of research suggests that multitasking isn’t all its cracked up to be. We’ve come to believe that multitasking makes us more effective when, in fact, it makes us less effective. It divides and conquers families. We’re much more effective and less stressed when we focus on doing one task at a time and doing it well whether at work or at home. Dads and moms can’t be as present and engaged with their kids and with each other when they multitask. Dads must ask not what more they can do, but what less can they and mom can do individually, together, and with their children.

Dads Playbook Podcast with NFL quarterback, Mark Brunell. Week 1: Work-Family Balance

Welcome to the first installment of our 10-week podcast series, Dads Playbook featuring NFL quarterback, Mark Brunell.

This week, NFI president Roland C. Warren sits down with Mark to talk about the challenge of balancing work and family.

According to NFI’s two national surveys on attitudes about fathering (Pop’s Culture and Mama Says) both moms and dads think that the biggest obstacle to good fathering is “work responsibilities.”

You can imagine that being a professional athlete makes it even harder to be an involved dad year round. But Mark has some great advice to get you started on achieving balance.

Click here to download the podcast on Mark’s game plan for being an All-Star Dad when it comes to work-family balance.

Dad is Carpool King

A recent survey conducted by Chevrolet found that dads are taking a more active role in carpooling their kids to school, extracurricular activities, or daycare – 70% of dads are involved in this responsibility. Unsurprisingly, the survey also found that Dads prefer utility vehicles over minivans, the traditional choice for carpooling, opting for a more masculine / cool vehicle. Dads also value safety, fuel economy, versatility, and passenger capacity as top vehicle features.

At NFI, it’s no surprise to us that Dads are more involved in carpool duties. This is right in line with recent trends showing that Dads are taking more and more hands-on responsibility in caring for their kids and helping around the house. In fact, we’ve blogged about how dads and moms do the same amount of work and how dads are key influencers in family purchase decisions. NFI’s own Vince DiCaro certainly would agree with Chevrolet’s findings because he choose his SUV for the practicality of carrying a car seat, dog, two adults, and lots of equipment.

The fact is, despite record levels of father absence in our country now – 24 million kids or 1 out 3 grow up without their father in the home – when dads are involved, they are more involved than they have ever been in almost every category. Take a look at these statistics (taken from "Marketing to Dads”, August 2010, Mintel.):
  • Dads have tripled the amount of time they spend on child care since 1965.
  • Dads have become key influencers and decision makers in all categories of family purchasing, including groceries, financial investments, child and baby care items, and toys.
  • One-third of men are the primary shopper in the home – in fact, 7 out of 10 disagree that mom does most of the shopping for the kids.
  • Dads are spending a significant amount of time with their children engaging in play, cooking, and planning healthy and educational activities for their families.
Not only is this increased involvement good for kids – research shows that children who grow up with involved fathers fare better on almost all social, economic, educational, and physical measures and are less likely to be involved in crime, get pregnant, experience abuse, or drop out of school – but it’s also good for moms. In Mama Says, NFI’s survey of mothers’ attitudes about fathering, a significant majority of moms said they could balance work and family better if they had more support from dad. Most likely, the extra help with carpooling from dads is a big plus for moms.

Props to Dads for stepping up and adding “taxi driver” to the many hats they already wear. And props to Chevrolet for taking the time to recognize dads’ increased role in taking responsibility for ensuring their kids get to where they need to go safely!

President Obama and Work-Family Balance

Forbes just published an interesting take on President Obama's vacation. Putting politics aside, the article (by Lauren Stiller Rikleen) makes a good point about the importance of dads achieving work-family balance for their children's sakes.



I was struck by how simple yet profound this statement is: "...there are important lessons to be learned here about fatherhood. This is because the president is also the father of 2 young girls, both of whom have expectations about family time during the summer..."



When you think about fatherhood from the perspective of what children need, the story looks a little different. Amazingly, this is something we have to do often here at NFI - remind folks that fatherhood should not be thought about from the perspective of adults, but from that of children.



And when you do that in the context of work-family balance, it is clear that fathers are under a great deal of stress, and the environment needs to change to keep pace with fathers' deep desires to be more engaged in their children's lives.



Hopefully, folks will be able to see this particular lesson from the President's actions.



What do you think we can learn about work-family balance from the President's choice to go on vacation?

Men at Work: Time and Turf Wait for No One

Husbands across the country can celebrate – Time magazine has printed (on its cover no less!) that married men and women do the same amount of work each day! (Chore Wars, 8/8/11)

This assertion is based on new U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data that shows that when you combine paid (your job) and unpaid (child care and housework) work, married moms work only about 20 minutes more per day than married dads do, the smallest difference ever reported (in childless couples, men actually work - paid and unpaid - 8 minutes more per day than women!).

While it has become popular for women to air their grievances about their lazy husbands and for the culture to permit them to do so, I think this data is not surprising to most people (is it?).

As the article points out, when mom comes home and starts her “second shift” of caring for the children, it is because dad is still at work… working.

In other words, just because dad’s “first shift” is longer than mom’s does not mean she is working more. She is working “differently” and, as most people also understand, she is often doing so by choice. As the writer of the story -- a working mom -- points out, she is exhausted by all the work she has to do because she decides to go home earlier than her husband does, and thus is the one who faces the children and messy house first.

But despite this, married dads are putting in 53 minutes per day of child care – three times more than they did in 1965 – while moms put in 70 minutes per day (about the same as they did in 1965).

But enough with the data. What is really going on here? Why do moms still feel overwhelmed?

A few of us at NFI have long asserted that the reason moms feel overwhelmed is that they have a powerful desire to be the lead organizer/scheduler/chauffeur/referee/cook/etc in the home, regardless of how much they work, and they often do so at the expense of dad’s involvement. Sharon Meers, in her book Getting to 50/50, writes extensively about this.

So, while dads have had to make room in the workplace for moms, moms have not been expected to (nor have they often been willing to) make room for dad in the home to the same extent. Clearly, out of necessity, working moms have had to allow dads to get more involved, but the fact that women still feel overwhelmed is a testament to the idea that they sometimes can’t let go of their traditional “dominion” over all things domestic.

So, really, the debate is no longer about time, but about “turf” -- and moms want to retain their “home turf” advantage.

This leaves dads in a “transitional” space in which they are expected to do a little more at home (but not too much!), and still be full partners at work. Thus, we have dads feeling even more work-family conflict than moms do! (see the Time article)

So, while it is helpful to have data that shows that dads are not slackers, we still have a problem to solve: how can we help moms feel more comfortable ceding some of their home turf to dads?

Being There

Hamish McLennan recently stepped down as global chairman and chief executive of Young & Rubicam, a major advertising agency. He talked about why he stepped down in this piece from Bloomberg Businessweek.

One of the key lines from the piece is this: "My daughter is 13, and my son is 11... I don't want them to leave home and say, 'Well, you had a great career, but we don't know you.'"

To say the least, it takes a lot of guts just to realize this, and then it takes even more guts to actually take action on it by leaving a position that was surely earning him a lot of money.

However, McLennan is not alone in how he surely felt before making this brave decision. Research is now showing that fathers feel MORE work-family conflict than mothers do. And most companies still view work-family conflict as an issue they must resolve for women, not for men.

But there are efforts afoot, backed by a diverse set of organizations, to address how these issues deeply affect working fathers. Stay tuned for more on what NFI is doing in this area.

But for now, the best way to learn about this issue is to simply listen to the words of Mr. McLennan, who says at the end of the article, "At 44, I'd rather be known as a good father than a good CEO."

Wise words. In fact, it is probably a good exercise to say to yourself, "I'd rather be known as a good father than a good (fill in the blank)," because whatever you can fill in the blank with is probably less important than being a good dad.

The Thankful Campaign: Thankful for the Example

Author Michael McQueen shared with us what he is thankful for in this guest blog post. Micheal's book, Memento, is a great resource to help fathers pass down their legacy to their children. Learn more about Michael and the Memento story here.

My dad was one of most organized people I have ever met. He started every day with a task list numbered in descending order of importance, along with a carefully orchestrated schedule with hourly breakdowns. As a family of 7, I guess dad needed to be as organized as he was – there was always someone who needed to be dropped off at soccer practice, swimming lessons, or scouts.

What I loved and respected most about my dad though is that in the midst of all this busyness and his drive to make the most of every hour of the day, he was never too busy for me, my brothers, and our mom. Sure, he’d have times of being distracted and ‘unavailable’ like every father (and human being), but when it mattered, he was there – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I am so thankful for the priority he placed on family and the things that mattered.

I am so thankful for the example he set.

He may not be with us any longer, but the example of his lived-out priorities, not the checklist of this accomplishments, is what I remember and am thankful for most.

To join the campaign, visit www.fatherhood.org/thethankfulcampaign or tweet with the hashtag #thanksdad.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of National Fatherhood Initiative.


A Tiger in the Rough

There are at least two myths that are generally accepted as truth within the community of men. The first is amusing. It’s that fantasy football is real. Look, I know some guys who prepare for the “real” fantasy football season with the determination, focus and secrecy of General Eisenhower planning for D-Day.



The second myth is that men have mastered the art of “compartmentalizing” their emotions so that they don’t affect a guy's performance. Well, if you have been following Tiger Woods play recently, this myth is being dispelled before your eyes. Tiger is indeed in a "rough" and it’s going to take more than his trusty sand wedge to get him out of it. Make no mistake that men are “whole” people and what happens in Vegas never stays there. The consequences always follow you home.



That said, I think that the writer of this article makes some valid points when he suggests that Tiger needs to focus more on straightening out his fathering than trying to hit a straighter and longer shot from off the tee. Ironically, fathering is a lot like hitting a tee shot on the PGA tour. There are no mulligans. You only get one chance to get it right.

Choosing Comfort or Courage

One of NFI president Roland C. Warren’s new sayings is, “Every day, a dad must choose between courage and comfort. Because to be comfortable is never courageous, and to be courageous is never comfortable.”

I recently watched a movie that depicted a father’s transition from choosing the comfort of pursuing career success to the courage of being an involved father. Granted, this was an Eddie Murphy film, so it was more hilarious than sentimental, but it had an inspiring message that reflects the tension many dads feel between work and family.

In Imagine That (2009 – Nickelodeon Movies), Eddie Murphy plays Evan, a financial advisor who has had phenomenal success in his career but has been pretty much absent as a father. It’s Evan’s week to have his daughter Olivia, and fulfilling his obligations as a father is an inconvenient hassle that he fears could derail his chance for a promotion - until he discovers that the security blanket that his seven-year-old daughter uses to visit her imaginary princess friends could be the key to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Olivia’s princesses magically share with her accurate predictions about stock futures and investment firm collapses. To get these unconventional insider tips, Evan has to enter Olivia’s imaginary world and, in the process, he fluctuates between genuinely bonding with his daughter and taking advantage of her to promote his career.

Olivia’s mother confronts Evan’s self-centeredness with a line that many dads need to hear: “You have two jobs – and one of them is being a father. She needs to know that you care just as much about that job as you do the other.” Ultimately, Evan realizes that being Olivia’s dad is more important than achieving financial success, even though that means walking away from some great career opportunities.

A couple months ago, I blogged about another father-friendly film that deals with the tension between work and family. The producers of these two films are tapping into a common problem that dads face. In National Fatherhood Initiative’s 2006 study, Pop's Culture: A National Survey of Dads' Attitudes on Fathering, the top obstacle that dads listed to being a good father was "work responsibilities" and #2 was media/pop culture. Given those two stats, and the fact that many media depictions of dads present them as a bumbling idiots, it’s refreshing to see films that portray dads making the courageous – but uncomfortable - choice to put their kids first.

Paternity Leave is Over...

My two weeks of paternity leave are over, so here I am back at the office. As any new dad knows, it is hard to leave the family on that first day. I know my wife still needs a lot of help, and I know I am going to miss the little guy a lot during the day. But I also know that there are bills to be paid, and part of my responsibility as a father is helping to pay those bills - so I am grateful that I have a great job to come back to!

Now begins the "work-family balance" phase of my fatherhood journey. Already in my first day back I have made a few decisions differently than I would have before the baby came - I turned down an opportunity to attend an event on Saturday, and I scheduled an afternoon meeting a little earlier so I can get home on time tomorrow.

Once my wife goes back to work in March/April, then the real work-family balance challenges will start. But it is good to have this warm up period where I can adjust my perspective.

I will close by talking about the two activities that I have found to be most satisfying at this very early stage of the baby's life:

- Reading to him. Sure he can't understand a word I am saying, but the sound of my voice relaxes him after he eats, and he seems to fall asleep faster while listening to my dulcet tones as I read epic fantasy novels aloud. They say it helps his brain develop its "language part" by hearing the rhythm and tone of the language being spoken, so I am all for that!

- Helping him fall asleep. He has started to enjoy lying on my chest to fall asleep. I guess the rhythm of my breathing and the sound of my heartbeat is relaxing. Once he falls asleep, it is fun to turn him over and see how the side of his face is all scrunched up from being pressed against my t-shirt. Very cute.

In closing, here is a moment that my wife captured on camera when the boy and I fell asleep together - like father, like son!

Urban Meyer Learns a Lesson in Work-Family Balance

Anyone who is even a little bit interested in college football has heard of Urban Meyer's unexpected early retirement.

Oh wait, I'm sorry. He's not retiring, just taking an "indefinite leave of absence"...? Apparently Brett Favre Fever is spreading to college football.

At any rate, Meyer stepped down after a health scare, when he awoke with severe chest pains and lost consciousness for a stretch of time. His greuling schedule and relentless efforts were taking their toll.

As Florida fans and tv pundits scrambled to understand the decision, Meyer's 18 year-old daughter immediately celebrated her father's choice. The NY Times quotes her as saying, "I get my daddy back." Wow.

Whether or not Meyer coaches again, he's had to learn a lesson the hard way. Work-family balance is an elusive ideal, hard for any parent to achieve. Let's take a lesson from this football great and aim for excellence on and off the field this year - at work and with family.

Who Really Wants Work-Family Balance?

Even in time of recession, work-family balance is still a popular topic. As is this recent study from the British Equality and Human Rights Commission. They surveyed over 2,200 British fathers about issues related to work, to childcare and household responsibilities, and to differences between mom and dad.

Some of the findings:
  • Fathers do want to spend more time with their children, and want to make their children a priority. 54% of dads with children under the age of 1 year felt that they spend too little time with their child.
  • More mothers (34%) than fathers (23%) believe that child care is the primary responsibility of the mother.
  • There is still a big gap between what flexible working options are available to fathers, and to what extent fathers are actually using those flexible work solutions.
This begs the question - do fathers continue to feel that using flexible work options is potentially damaging to their career? Or are there larger more diverse sets of reasons that fathers don't take the leave available to them?

Work-family "balance" or "choice"?

In this piece from the Wall Street Journal, General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, pulls no punches in telling working moms that if they choose to spend more time with their families, they are likely giving up the highest levels of career advancement. Thus, he says, there is no such thing as work-family balance, only work-family choices.

He makes some valid points, but he takes his argument to an extreme and among the things he leaves out of his analysis is the fact that working fathers are equally susceptible to being “left back” for not being there "in the clutch,” as he puts it.

In fact, working fathers who spend "too much time" with their families may be even more stigmatized than working mothers, as it is less expected of them to leave work early for the ballet recital.

Do you think Welch's views are representative of today's corporate CEOs, or is he part of the old guard, being replaced by a younger generation of corporate leaders who are more attuned to the work-family balance needs of both men and women?

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