I'm excited to share a guest post by Leo Babauta, father of six and author of the inspiring productivity blog, Zen Habits. His simple-yet-powerful tips always remind me that slowing down — not cramming more in — is a busy parent's best shot at balance. Leo doesn't "do" productivity so he can crow about how much more he gets done in a day than everyone else. He does it so he can spend time on the important things in his life. Bravo. — Asha
"Your children need your presence more than your presents." - Jesse Jackson
On my blog, Zen Habits, readers often ask me how I can make time 6 kids and still do the things I do — publish a Top 50 blog (along with a new one for writers), write prolifically for other blogs, write a book (to be published later this year), exercise, and until recently, hold down a day job. The short answer: Of all the things I do, spending time with my wife and kids comes first.
I can't really put it more simply than that. We make sure to spend time together in the evenings. Weekends are for family only, and more specifically, we spend every Sunday together as a family (it's our "Family Day") and don't allow other plans to infringe on that time. My time with my kids is the most important time in my life. We enjoy reading together, watching movies, playing sports, watching sunsets. I make time for soccer practice and games all day Saturday. We go to church on Sundays. Then at various times there's also school meetings, choir practice, dance classes, and family gatherings.
So how do I manage to make time for all of that on top of the piles of work I do? The answer boils down to two interrelated words: priorities and simplicity. I make priorities in my life, and simplify everything by eliminating all that isn't a priority. I keep my life simple so that I may have time for the important things: my writing, my wife, and my kids. Here's how I do it.
- Make the kids your priority. I have a habit I've developed in my years of simplifying: I define the 4-5 things in my life that I love to do the most. I call this the Short List. For me, that's spending time with family, writing, reading, and running. That's the whole list. My wife and kids (family) are at the top of the list. Everything that's not on that list — sorry, can't do it. If you make your kids your top priority, and make sure your schedule and actions reflect that, there's no reason not to have time for them. The key is to also be able to do the other things you love.
- Edit your commitments. When things begin to get complicated, I make a list of all my commitments — soccer coach, freelance writer, blogger, dad, husband, any civic groups, online groups, etc. Then I identify which ones are my priority, and I eliminate the rest. That allows me to free up time for the priorities.
- Do less. This goes along with the commitments, but it takes it to a rubber-meets-the-road level as well — during my day, I've learned to do fewer tasks, and take on fewer projects, than ever before. I stick to three important projects at a time, and try to accomplish three important tasks at a time.
- Focus on the biggest impact. If I'm doing less, doesn't that mean I accomplish less? Not in my book. By focusing on things with the most long-term impact (as opposed to those with the most urgency), I can ensure that my time is well spent. I do less but get big things done. It's how I've been able to build a successful blog — I ignore the little things that can take up all my time, and focus just on the ones that will have the most impact on my blog readership. Just great content, no SEO, for example.
- Cut out distractions. All the little distractions in life keep us from achieving our dreams, or keep us from spending time with our families. Turn off email except for certain predetermined times of the day. Same thing with instant messaging. Same thing with phones. Same thing with coworkers and meetings. These things interrupt us from doing the important things, and as a result, get us stressed without allowing us to accomplish things.
- Work early in the morning. I love early mornings. I've slowly begun waking earlier until now I wake at 4:00 a.m. This allows me to do some writing while the kids are sleeping or exercise without sacrificing time with the family. And it's quiet, me-only time. It's how I was able to blog, have a full-time job (which I recently quit) and still have time for the kids.
- Get the important stuff done first. As I said, I focus on three important tasks each day — and I do those before anything else. I don't allow the little stuff to push the big stuff back. Get at least one of your important tasks done before checking email.
- Batch the smaller stuff. There will always be small stuff you have to do, as a matter of routine. But instead of spreading those throughout the day, and letting them push back the big stuff, I put them at the end of the day and do them all at once. I do all my calls at once, do my email twice a day, do smaller administrative stuff at once.
- Schedule kids-only time first. For me, my schedule starts with blocks of time just for family. Work-free zones, if you will. That's evening time (anytime after 5 p.m.) and weekends. I don't work at all during those times (except email). Also any time I need to be there for the kids, whether for school or sickness or whatever. Once you've got those zones blocked off, use the rest for getting your important work done — block it off so that you get what you need done in the time available.
- Learn to say no. This is one of the most important tips on this list. You can have all the plans to spend time with your kids in the world … but if something pressing comes up, or someone asks you to do something, and you say yes … those plans just went down the drain. You have to learn to set those boundaries, to tell people, "Sorry, can't, that's my family time." That might mean passing up some opportunities. That might mean you aren't as popular at work as you'd like. But for me, that's a small price to pay for the joy of being with my wife and kids.