As I was dropping Dum-Dum the dog off at the groomers this morning, I was reflecting on how crazy our lives are. I’m guessing many of you have similar life circumstances that if you actually take a second and look at closely seems utterly insane. My wife and I probably spend close to 50 hours a week at work or commuting to/from work (includes lunch, which is usually eaten at desk). The mornings are spent getting us and the kids ready, the after-work time is spent picking up kids from After School program, getting ready for kid activities (this season is soccer, with occasional piano lessons), then home from activities, make dinner, clean up, homework, getting ready for the next day, and try to spend some time as a family. This usually takes us to about 8:30 p.m. when the kids are finally down and we have an hour or more depending on if we’re waking up early. If we are motivated, we can find a way to get exercise in, and for my wife and I to spend time together talking and connecting. Most days I try and make small progress on projects and goals, but sometimes life or wife priorities take precedent.
I still put the pillars for a successful life as a family man as:
- health – eating well, making homemade meals, not crap or fast food
- fitness – working out, however you may define that, helps with feeling good about yourself and has tangible health benefits
- finances – income in minus expenditures minus savings should be positive. This usually necessitates working, and results in a time squeeze noted above, though lowering expenditures can relieve this stress and free up time
- relationships – making time to build, grow, and nurture personal relationships
- finding passion – finding something that calls to you, and making the time to pursue that interest
- children – allowing kids to be kids, but introducing them to various activities and things that can foster creativity, discipline and values.
Balancing all of that on a day to day basis is very challenging. If only I had more time! I have come to realize that time really is the most precious commodity. As such, here are a few things that I think can help reach those core pillars above while saving time.
- Making large batches of food at a time – Having homemade kid lunches, breakfast items and dinners is a high priority for my family. We eat mostly paleo, so fast food and frozen store items rarely work for us. Instead, we make large batches of food that refrigerate, freeze or simply store well and use that to avoid cooking all the time or relying on “bad” food due to convenience. Example – we made a large batch of chili last night (about 4 lbs of meat) that will serve as two family dinners and at least a couple of lunches. Holly has been making large batches of these egg/biscuit things from 12-18 eggs at a time, along with coconut flour. She’ll make different versions, like cheese-jalepeno, or bacon, or apple-cinnamon. These serve as breakfast or lunch. Making pre-made dinners on the weekend, when larger chunks of time can be found, also work. You simply freeze, thaw and reheat. This approach also saves us money.
- Squeezing things in between “dead” times – Your kid has practice, or you have some time dedicated in the day for lunch. Make use of this time for something productive on that list. I’ve seen people go on a run or bring things to work out with while their kid is booked for an hour. My favorite move is working out at lunch while at work (we do have showers, which helps), but if that doesn’t work for you, obtaining more knowledge or insight on a passion by reading a book or doing some workbook exercises is a good use of time rather than simply looking at the latest deadspin article or facebook like everyone else.
- Schedule time for what you prioritize – Feel like you’ve been slacking in the spouse department? Know you need to work on that passion-project? Put it on a mental schedule list and knock it out. It is so easy to lose an hour or more decompressing on your favorite websites or television or Facebook, instead of using it productively. As you are going through the day, mentally say “I’m going to use the time from 8:30 – 10:00 p.m. to work out, or read that book on Photography, or do that genealogy research, or whatever.” If you don’t mentally lock down that activity int hat time slot, you’re likely to fritter it away.
- Involve the kids – this can be involving the kids in your exercise (you run, while they bike; you play soccer together as a team, or make a backyard Ninja Warrior obstacle course), involving the kids in your passion or hobbies (Do you help improve the local park or trail system? Bring them along to learn and help), or involving them in chores like laundry, cooking, making lunches, and cleaning up. Our kids are now old enough (newly minted 7 and 9) so we can assign them a task and know it will get done. If they forget to bring a snack in their lunch, they live with the consequence. Or forgetting to throw their wet clothes in the dryer is a learning experience. This is a good thing to remember, and key part of growing up.
- Get up early – as a non-morning person, it pains me to write that, but my most productive and satisfying times have been when I’ve gone long stretches getting up early and doing a task. Usually, this has been working out, but I’ve also used this early a.m. routine to knock out writing without distractions. This then means establishing a good night-time routine, shutting stuff off, and getting some good shut-eye. If you can get your partner on a similar schedule, there is usually some connection time opportunities with bedtime talk or more. Use the 5:15 a.m. (or whenever) alarm as the motivating force to get your butt into bed by 9:30, and see what happens from there.
You may not be able to do everything everyday, but if you’re generally balancing the key pillars, and using time management strategies to do so, you’re going to make your chances of success and happiness, and of feeling fulfillment and love, more likely. So put phone down, and get to work!