I arrived a few minutes late to meet my friend for a scheduled dinner to catch up. After we settled in to our booth my friend asks “how are things going?” Still feeling a bit rushed, I tried to take a breath and responded with my standard, short, auto pilot response “things are good man, busy, but good. You?” My friend smiled, as if to communicate that he could read through my bullsh*t. He responded, “you know, when I was scheduling this dinner with your assistant, she provided me with a list of several dates and times that you were available to meet within a 2 week period. There were several weeknights available on her list. When do you spend time with your family during the week?” That question smacked me right between my eyes like a ton of bricks. Startled and feeling caught off guard, I shamefully replied “I spend time with my family when I don’t have work and dinners like tonight scheduled.” As soon as those words left my mouth, I felt horrible. Still slightly smirking, my friend sat quietly as if he was giving me the time to digest what I had just said and figured out on my own what was wrong with my answer. Then he simply said “you should reflect on that.” To be honest, I didn’t need time to reflect anything. The problem was very clear to me. I wasn’t living my priorities. I couldn’t keep saying that my family was my #1 priority and then live a schedule that had them somewhere down a list below other less important things.
I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 23 years old, ten years before I got married and started my family. For the decade prior to getting married, my business was my #1 priority and my entire life and schedule was driven by the needs of my business. You learn early on as an entrepreneur that to accomplish all the things that need to get done to grow your business, you must master and “live” your calendar. All your ‘To Dos’ must be scheduled and time must be blocked for all of your activity. As the demands on your time get greater and greater, you eventually hire an assistant to help you schedule your work life in an attempt to be more efficient, cram more in and ensure that you are focusing your valuable time on your highest pay off activities. Until that dinner, I felt I was winning the calendar game. I was living my calendar and my business was growing. Life was good. So why did I feel horrible and like a complete failure that night at dinner? This eureka moment improved my family life forever!
Because my #1 priority had changed after I got married and started having kids, but my calendar hadn’t.
I was living my calendar but my calendar only had my work life in it. My assistant was only scheduling work items in my calendar, not family stuff. Therefore, the only time I was spending time with my family was when there wasn’t something scheduled for work on my calendar. My family was getting the scraps of time after my work obligations and business needs. But what about my family’s needs?
If you’re an entrepreneur or busy professional, I bet you have heard this question hundreds of times from your spouse, kids or loved ones.
What about us? When are you going to prioritize us? Why is the business always more important?
The typical entrepreneur’s answer is, “You are important. You are my priority. You are the reason I work so hard. I want to provide the very best for our family.” All our families hear is “blah, blah, blah blah.” And they are right. Having a work-life balance is a fallacy for most of us because we attempt to cram our family and personal time into our lives in real time, which doesn’t ever work. To truly achieve a healthy balance, we need to have much longer visibility into our calendar. We have to get ahead of our busy schedules and the only way to do that is to plan and book things further in advance. The hack to this problem was so simple. I just had to schedule my family time into my calendar and protect that time with the same firmness as I did my work meetings.
This is when I created my 4-1-1. I sat down and came up with the amount of time during the week which would provide me the quality moments with my family I felt was necessary to be a great husband and great father. I love using acronyms to help remember things and in this case I felt I needed a systemized way to execute my plan. 411 is a slang term that is used for “information or the truth” so I felt it was a perfect way to craft a weekly formula that would deliver me the family life I desired. This is how my formula breaks down: The 4 stands for the 4 nights a week I was going to be home by 6:30pm to be with my family, play games with my kids, read them their bed time story and tuck them in to bed (i.e. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday). The first 1 stands for the date day/night I would spend with my wife, which would be every single Saturday afternoon and night. The second 1 stands for the one hour of quality time I would spend with each child in a given week (It doesn’t have to be 60 minutes of consecutive time with each. Just the sum of 60 minutes with each child every week). I knew that if I could accomplish this, I would be living my priorities and feeling great.
So, the very next morning after the dinner with my friend, I walked into my office and sat down with my assistant. I gave her the instruction to add my 4-1-1 formula into my calendar as a never ending occurrence in my schedule. Next I went home and shared my new found revelation with my wife. She was happy with the news but as with most of my “resolutions” she wanted to see if it would stick. Needless to say, it did stick and it has been a game changer for my marriage and my family. I also noticed something magical happen with my family once I put my 4-1-1 into action. My family’s expectations of their time with me changed in alignment with this new defined schedule. Instead of anxiously expecting me to be home every night and then getting upset when I had a work event or dinner planned, they seem to have subconsciously adjusted to the 4-1-1 schedule and not fussing when I wasn’t home on Tuesday and Thursday nights if I had work functions or other things going on. My kids also stopped expecting to spend time with me on Saturday afternoons and nights because they learned that that was “Daddy and Mommy’s time.” The lesson here was that loved ones get upset when they feel that “their” time is being taken by something else, anything else. Once you clearly define when their time will be during the week and they can trust that they can count on you sticking to it, the resentment and anger evaporates. It’s amazing.
This worked so well that I took what I had learned with my weekly 4-1-1 to the next level. I wanted to continue communicating and living my priorities with my family so I decided to create a ritual with my wife that we would do our family’s annual calendaring together every year on or around New Year’s Eve. So the last Saturday of the year we book a date at a local spa, get a couples massage and then pull out the following year’s calendar and go through it week by week and block time for all of our family plans. Family and “no kids” vacations, birthday celebrations, anniversary, Mother and Father’s Days, Holiday breaks, etc. We go through everything and it is the first thing that gets added to our calendars. Then, on the first work day of the New Year, I give my assistant all of our notes and dates so that she can add them to my calendar. This helps us follow through on our “family first” motto. All my work and social events now play a secondary role in my life. My priorities are in proper order.
So what is your 4-1-1? Obviously, yours doesn’t have to be the same formula as mine. Yours could be 3-2-2 or any other combination that works for you and your family. The key to living your priorities is to schedule your priorities in your calendar and live it habitually. The longer visibility you have on your calendar, the easier it is to implement and be successful at it. Am I perfect? Of course not. There are times that I have to shift my “family time” around to accommodate, but it happens rarely. My mantra has become “It’s not about perfection. It’s about progress in the right direction.”
If you are seeking a healthier balance with your family and your demanding work schedule, I encourage you to test my 4-1-1 concept. I am confident you won’t regret it!