When it comes to work, I have had to battle some internal conflicts over the years. Early on in my career as a school administrator, and then again in my work in my current position as an ICLE Senior Fellow, I had to be put in place, thankfully, by those who care a great deal about me. In the past, the challenge for me had always been putting too much focus on the job and not enough time and effort on my family or personal well-being. I am going to try to speak about my battles with the work-life balance and attempt to offer up some sound advice for all of us that, at times, can be consumed with professional work. My perspective always comes back to some sage advice that my mother gave my wife and me when we became parents, “You never get this time back so make the most of it.”
The work-life balance as I see it can be broken down into three main categories: professional, family, and personal. The first two types are self-explanatory. Personal takes into account your lifestyle, health, friends, and anything else that contributes to your well-being. When the demands of our jobs are factored in, finding a balance between these areas can pose quite the challenge. Add the pressure that we all put on ourselves to perform at a high level and what results are a hole that at times is difficult to get out of.
When it comes to my professional work, I allocate my time each day to ensure tasks get done. Yes, I am a list guy. For the most part, I write out all tasks that have to be completed the night before. I did this as a principal and still to this day embrace this practice. Having a schedule and sticking to it helped me be more productive. It forced me to prioritize specific tasks while delegating others that had no real impact on student learning. However, I am not a slave to my list. Things beyond my control can and do come up. That's where flexibility and patience come into play. Both attributes are instrumental in helping us achieve professional success, but also in achieving a positive balance in life.
Let me share an example of what this looked like. As high school principal, I conducted 2-3 unannounced observations a day. The week before I would not only schedule these on my calendar, but I would also set time aside to write each up the same day so that I could conduct the post-conference with the teachers the very next day. I not only committed to this schedule but also made it known to my secretary that I shouldn’t be bothered unless necessary. Some might think this is extreme, but this practice helped me to focus on getting my work done at school so that I could enjoy priceless time with my family at home each evening. The work-life balance starts here. I chose not to bring work home, period. Sometimes I would stay a bit later to get things done, but the weekends were off limits. That was family time.
Social media posed another challenge to the balance. Twitter was a considerable time zap early on, and then the use of other tools began to take a negative toll on my time. Once I got that under control my travel began to turn the tables in the wrong direction. In both cases, my fantastic wife took the initiative to explain how each was negatively impacting our family. As my father always says, “There is nothing more important in life than family.” Never take for granted what you have right in front of you. Social media has had such an incredible impact on my professional and personal life as well as many of you that are reading this post. The key here is not to let it drive a wedge between those who depend on us the most – our family.
When it comes to social media and writing in general, I put time aside when I am either on the road or when my wife and kids are at school. This small shift has had a magical effect. When they are home, I am more present, both physically and emotionally. We also commit to at least two family trips a year. As far as travel is concerned, ICLE has been amazing, as they have encouraged me to scale back to achieve this balance. I can’t explain how awesome it is to work for a company who actively promotes attaining and maintaining a work-life balance. This has enabled me to be home more during the workweek and work towards eliminating weekend travel. As a cheer dad, this is crucial in the eyes of my daughter as all of her competitions are on weekends.
So, what about the personal component of the work-life balance? Here is where all of us need to be a bit selfish. Our well-being is not only good for us on a personal level, but it has positive impacts on our professional work and family life. As a high school principal, I had a lengthy commute from Staten Island, NY to New Milford, NJ. Each morning I had to drive through the gauntlet, which was my term for the journey that took me over the Goethals Bridge and then through a good stretch of the NJ Turnpike. If I didn’t leave early enough, I would be stuck in traffic for hours. Thus, I left my house each morning at 5:15 AM.
Why that early you might ask? This is where I began to add some balance to one of the three categories above. On a personal level, I had to make the time to work out in the morning or else it just wouldn’t happen. I would leave at this time to not only get my workout in but to also open the fitness center at 6:00 AM for students that wanted the same opportunity. Having a routine was nice. With my crazy travel schedule, it is more difficult to be consistent. My rule of thumb now is a minimum of four days working out each week. If I do not achieve this, then I attempt to deprive myself of something I have grown to enjoy as of late – craft beer.
Equally as important in the personal balance category is trying to eat healthily. As a principal, I had a fairly strict eating regime that was consistent. Now that has all changed when I am not home. I am genetically prone to high cholesterol and am currently on a statin to control it. With this condition life on the road becomes even more of a challenge because it is virtually impossible to eat the way I want. Just look at the calorie counts of many salads, and you know exactly what I am talking about. Every change matters, no matter how small. For me I get my salad dressing on the side, avoid fried foods and desserts, and eat smaller meals throughout the day.
I really could go on and on about my ideas on achieving a balance, but that is not the reason for this post. My hope is if you are dealing with some of the struggles that I have encountered this post might help you get a better handle on finding a balance that works for you, work, and your family. Below is some general advice that applies to the three main categories outlined in this post:
- Don’t let work get in the way of what’s most important – your family and personal well-being. Establish a schedule that works for you and be “present” during family time.
- Take care of yourself! Try to make some small shifts to your diet and make the time to exercise a couple of times per week. Go to the doctor and get a check-up regularly.
- Scale back on the social media time. I am one of the biggest proponents of PLN’s and engaging in chats is excellent for our professional growth. However, making the time for real, face-to-face conversations with our family over a meal is crucial to the balance.
- Get outside! Walks with the dog, family, or just on your own to reflect can be invigorating.
- Make time for your friends and neighbors in your immediate area. I have been doing this more and more when I am at home thanks to the push from my wife.
- Find or resurrect a hobby.
I hope you all will consider sharing how you go about achieving a balance in your life as well as some of the challenges you face. Achieving a balance all comes down to the fact that we care for those who we love, depend on, work with, and who depend on us. When it is all said and done, I want to succeed on a professional level, but achieving success as a dad, husband, and friend in the eyes of those I care about is what truly matters.
Source: A Principal's Reflections
I am a Senior Fellow and Thought Leader on Digital Leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE).