I’ve had quite a few occasions to talk about times where I’ve had to do some major self-reflection on my career choice to go into consulting. There was that one time that my son imitated me by grabbing my carry-on suitcase and bee-lining for the front door (here’s the proof). Sidenote: isn’t great how you can always trust your kids to hold up a distortion-free mirror with a reflection of ALL of your behaviors.
And there was this other time when my daughter told me she was so glad I came over…when all I did was come home…from yet another work trip. It was almost enough to make me quit management consulting.
I got called out again the week before last. That Monday, my kids were out of school and the client was closed for MLK day (even though the firm wasn’t), and I thought it’d be cool to be home, even if that meant I wasn’t fully off the clock. I had a couple of internal conference calls in the morning and one call in the early evening. Nothing too crazy.
Once I finished the last call, I went downstairs to gauge the hunger levels of the kids to make sure I wasn’t on the verge of a mutiny. Much to my surprise, everything looked relatively in order. Little did I know, my son had a grievance he wanted to air with me. He me a hug, looked me in my eye, and asked me straight up, “Why aren’t you ever on vacation with us?”
I said, “what are you talking about? I’m home with you right now…”
He answered, “but you’re always on the phone!”
It caught me totally off guard. I thought I had done pretty well – especially lately – but after giving it a little thought, I realized I missed a few key things on this day that I need to keep in mind.
You should too.
Boundaries are important for everyone
I knew this was true when my kids were younger but thought it less relevant as the kids got older. I was right about that part. The part that I have been missing on is setting the expectations of what’s a real home day vs a work at home day. That doesn’t mean they like home work days but they are old enough to understand what that means and be happy when we eat lunch together or take a break to check on how they’re doing.
Letting your team know up-front that you’re not working or taking calls prevents the awkward situations where they’re calling you and apologizing for calling but you’re kind of working so they shouldn’t be apologizing but you’re kind of not working, which makes everything feel a little bit rushed…
Physical presence doesn’t mean you’re actually there
My kids being able to see me and not having me interact with them might be worse than not being there at all. It’s like a weird taunting sort of thing that creates more frustration than anything.
While it looks a little different, the same thing applies in the workplace. If you’re multi-tasking during a meeting, texting or tweeting, or reading the comments on posts about our newly inaugurated loose-cannon of a commander-in-chief, you’re not in the moment. You’re going to get less out of the conversation – possibly missing an opportunity to build on a relationship – which hurts you. And you’re almost guaranteed to unnecessarily have someone repeat themselves, which is just plain annoying.
The secret? Do the thing you’re doing before moving onto the next thing. Sounds simple, right? I know it’s easier said than done. I’m guilty of not always giving 100% attention myself but I’m working on it. On one hand, it seems unreasonable to expect anything else, given the whole world seems to be focused on doing more with less, being more agile, and aggressively setting and chasing deadlines.
Knowing how your time is spent can keep work from creeping too much into your home life
In management consulting, bringing structure to the unstructured is core to the job. Applying that mindset to your personal life may help you operate more efficiently and get more time doing the things you want and get more enjoyment out of that time while you’re doing those things. To combat the war for your time, get religious about having objectives for each interaction and anything outside of that needs to get shut down and saved for a separate conversation. So many meetings get sidetracked by other topics. Granted, they may be equally important, but it’s not their time.
I’ll relate this back to life as a parent again. Whenever I’m home, I do bedtime with the kids, and I almost always do it separately. That time with each kid is special, and I wouldn’t trade either of them for anything but they have to respect the dedicated time for each. Otherwise, the system doesn’t work.
You need to be honest with yourself about urgency
Let’s be real. You’re probably not as important as you think you are. And that task you’re working on late into the night most likely isn’t going to be looked at before lunch the next day. Block your calendar for the morning, maybe skip the extended morning coffee stroll, be focused and do what you need to do then.
Nobody at work will know the difference but you’ll notice a world of difference at home. In the end, I know kids at his age are a “what have you done for me lately” mindset, but this 30-second encounter was a good reminder to focus on always improving at home as much as I do on the job.
I hope you do the same.