When I was CEO of Restaurants on the Run, I tried to balance my career and my home life. Looking back on it, and at my life today, I don’t think there is such a thing as “work-life balance.” It’s more like work-life integration.
Trust me, as a CEO or an entrepreneur there are going to be times when you’re going to put more time into work, or more time into your personal life. Pressing issues can happen on either side, shifting your attention back and forth. The key is to know in advance that those times are going to push you out of balance, and that you need to plan for them, be conscious of upcoming issues, and realize when you have to go overboard on one or the other.
A thought leader whom I greatly respect, Verne Harnish, often says, “Habitual ritual creates flexible freedom.” The more scheduled and habit-following you are in your business, the more flexibility and freedom it will give you. You put in a little bit of constraint, and you get a whole lot of release.
It’s about integrating those issues ahead of time, being ready for them, and being prepared to shift back and forth responsibly. The best thing you can do to keep things steady is to be honest about your commitments, and schedule your time as early as possible – then keep to that schedule. Scheduling your time is like making a promise, to your company and to your family and friends. It says, “I’m making time for you. I’m fulfilling my obligations.” But you can’t keep a schedule if you don’t set one, and you can’t set a schedule if you don’t critically decide ahead of time what’s most important – your personal Vital Few.
At the beginning of every year, schedule your family’s vacations. Decide the dates, what time you’ll require, and put them in your calendar. That way, you can plan around them. You don’t have to worry about finding the time, or skipping some work event; you don’t have to worry about them. Create that personal time, and keep it sacred.
It’s equally important to define your day-to-day habits. Do you have a morning routine with your family? If you work at night, do you have a late-afternoon or evening routine that allows you to stop working from 5-8 in order to spend time with your partner or your family? You need to create a day to day routine that you can stick to, one that integrates your business and personal needs and establishes clear boundaries for both.
Alongside that, you have to recognize that your unscheduled time is occasionally going to lean more toward one side or the other. That’s all right, so long as you are honest with yourself, your family, and your executive team. If you have a major personal obligation coming up when you’ll be touring colleges with your daughter, you have to let your executive team know, so they can plan around it. If you need to work late for a few weeks to do some major technology integration, and be honest with your family about the time you’ll have to sacrifice, and how long it will take. Then stick to that. You’d be amazed at the difference it’ll make in your life.