*This post was written for and originally appeared on the City Dads Group blog. You can find it here. *
The stress and commotion of the workplace can attach to you like a leech. By the time you get home from another long workday, any desire you had to do anything with your family can suddenly become the lowest of priorities. You kick your feet up and reach for the remote, but …
You know dang well that your kid and family need you. They want you to play, help with things around the house, and plan for the future.
But you are just so exhausted.
So how does one find the “life” in work-life balance?
I’ve been on a constant search for that during the past few years. I look to determine what I can do to light a flame, get a second (or third) wind, and make myself more emotionally available to my wife and daughter. One of the major changes I made was to start working from home, but that’s not an option for everyone. As such, I’ve gathered the best advice I have heard or received that has allowed me to be a better partner, father, and person by achieving work-life balance:
Seek flexible work-life schedules
Work-life balance starts at the workplace. In the same way a good employee should be loyal, take on tough assignments and make decisions that are good for the company, a good employer should do the same for a valued employee.
Don’t be afraid to ask your employer for arrangements that make things easier for you. Can you work from home one day a week? Could you leave early on certain days to pick the kids up from school? You’ll be surprised at how many companies are willing to do this to keep their best people. All you have to do is ask.
If you feel this may come with repercussions from your peers or bosses, think about your role as a father. You probably already have the mindset that you need to provide for your family, so use that. Realize that your responsibility is to provide in all ways — not just financially, but also with time. Pressure your employers to value you or find a company that will. The ThirdPath Institute helps people do just this and can be a great work-life resource to tap into.
Structure life as you do work
I better understood what needed to be done around my home by organizing tasks in the same way I did at the office. My job uses several productivity tools and programs to track what needs to be done. We decided to adopt one for our home! We use Trello to create and update our to-do lists in the same way that I do for work.
This helps you can start treating home tasks as extensions of your job because, ultimately, your day job is only one to fulfill your responsibilities as a father. It’s going to feel good to get items off your checklist and doing it in an environment that you understand will help you achieve those quicker.
Dress for success
For work, you gotta dress for the part, right? Do the same at home. For me, if I dress too comfortably, I equate it to relaxation and I don’t want to do anything. My daughter, just as any toddler, requires a lot of energy, so the best way to dress to keep up with her is by throwing on my running shoes and workout clothes. Wearing my running shoes just psychologically makes me more agile and keeps me from just laying around.
Learn, obey your sleep patterns
What really helped me use my time more efficiently was understanding my sleep patterns, particularly when it’s impossible to get a full eight hours of sleep.
Basically, a sleep cycle lasts 90 minutes and goes through five different stages. Within those stages, there are shallow/light periods of sleep and deep/heavy ones. The secret is waking up when you’re in light, shallow sleep. If you do, you won’t feel so groggy and you’ll wake up in a much better mood. This means you can feel more refreshed even when waking up earlier if you do it while you’re in a light sleep period. You can use that to extra time for either yourself or to get things done so you have less to do later.
A bunch of fancy tools can help you map your sleep cycles, many found within fitness wearables. If you want to use any of these, an app called Sleep Time can help you via your smartphone.
Once you figure out your optimal sleep times, you can make it a routine to go to sleep and wake at the same time. I use a light-emitting alarm clock that mimics the sun rising over a 30 minute period. It allows me to naturally wake up during light sleep without those obnoxious alarm clock sounds that pierce right through your soul.
Cleanse from time-drainers
This one is hard because it takes sacrifice. If your family struggles for time with you, then time-drainers shouldn’t be given any priority. I’m talking about TV, sports, video games, Netflix, social media … you know, those things that suck up your time but you always somehow make excuses for.
You don’t have to stop these things altogether, but you should really focus on decreasing your time with them. We think these are things make us who we are, but as soon as you get rid of them you’ll realize how much you don’t need really need them. I have a hard time with binge-watching TV shows. Whenever I get started, it’s hard for me to stop so I try my best to avoid getting sucked into a new one.
Don’t be discouraged if you fall into a wave-like pattern of alternating good and bad periods. The important thing is recognizing the valleys and then trying to correct the course.
Give time to yourself
Finally, carve out “me” time where you can. This could be going to the gym or a taking a break to consciously enjoy a time-drainer. Talk to your partner so they understand you need to occasionally decompress, but limit these breaks so they happen either when your time isn’t needed by your family/job (such as early in the morning before work), or perhaps on certain days you feel like you may need them most (Monday Night Football, anyone?). Setting up this time will keep you also looking out for yourself and I assume can do well for mental health.
Try these work-life balance tips out and see if they work for you. Be that super dad you know you’re capable of being and make time work in your favor.