I was working in my office one night when my 12-year-old daughter came in and sat on the floor beside my desk. I continued to work until I could no longer ignore her stare.
“Hey, sweetheart,” I said. “What do you want?”
“Can you play a game with me?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said as I turned back to my computer. “But not now. Later.” My daughter sighed and got up to leave. As she walked away, I turned around to ask her what was wrong. “You always say later,” she said. “But later never happens.”
Her words cut me to the core. At that moment, I realized that I needed to figure out how to better manage my home and work life. I run my own business from my home. Although I’ve always longed for the flexibility of being my own boss, I never realized how difficult it would be.
The first thing I had to do was learn to manage my time. When I worked a traditional 9-to-5 job, the parameters were clear. I woke up at the same time every day, clocked in, did my job, and punched out. This was my schedule for 20 years. Work was work and home was home. Now the lines are blurred.
When I first started working at home, my work hours were out of sync with my home life. Some days I would sleep until 10 AM and some nights I would work until three in the morning. I stopped celebrating Fridays, because weekends were also workdays. My hectic work schedule caused me to miss out on family gatherings, meals, and game time with my kids. I finally had to forced myself to establish some legitimate work hours.
Now I begin my work day right after my kids leave for school and finish when the last child returns home, around 4:30pm. I allow myself a few more hours of work after the kids go to bed. Since I’ve implemented my schedule, my home life has improved significantly. I’m less stressed and more productive.
The next thing I had to do was manage my family and friends. With my work schedule clearly defined, I had to protect it. When you work at home, people believe that you’re free to run their errands or chat on the phone all day. I had to say “no” to several requests before people realized that I was serious about my work hours. I let my family know that I still loved them, but I needed to have enough time to finish my work during the day so I would have the time and energy to spend with them later.
The final thing I had to do was manage myself. I can easily get sucked into my work for hours and disregard all of the rules I set up for myself. Since the episode with my daughter, I’ve learned to focus on what’s really important. Now, when my 5-year old son asks me to play Uno with him or my 9-year old son brings in a Lego set for me to help him work on, I leave my work and spend time with them. Sometimes I have my kids do their homework in my office so I can be near them. I also have dinner with my family every night.
These changes allowed me carve out more time to connect with my wife, too. I admit that I was neglecting her needs in favor of the business. I’ve gotten much better at planning quiet time with her. We may go out on a date or simply sit on the couch at night drinking tea, chatting about our lives or watching a movie.
I enjoy working at home, but I have to make sure that I keep my life balanced by taking care of my health, spending time with my family, and hanging out with my friends. After all, these are the things that make life worth living.
Frederick J. Goodall is the blogger behind Mocha Dad, where he writes about being father to three wonderful children and wife to an amazing woman. He lives in Houston, Texas.