6:02 a.m.: The morning alarm goes off at the Jones household. No, not an alarm clock, or even my mobile. It’s the sound of our 5 month old Naomi stirring in her cot. My wife and I open our eyes and stare at each other. One quick game of “rock, paper, scissors” later and I am downstairs in the kitchen, making up a bottle.
7:10 a.m.: Baby has been fed and our twins are sitting around kitchen table eating cereal and sliced apples. My wife is upstairs with our middle child (four kids in all – just to complete the picture) helping him get dressed for nursery. I’m sitting on the sofa with my iPad, checking e-mail and sipping my morning coffee. A little hectic, but pretty much the routine in many households, I would imagine.
8:12 a.m.: Sitting in traffic on my way to work. I worked from home yesterday because one of my sons had a doctor’s appointment I wanted to be there for. So today, I want to be in the office to attend some meetings in person. It’s raining cats and dogs and there’s bumper to bumper traffic. My Satnav isn’t showing any faster alternative routes —and unlike the real Jack Bauer, I don’t have Chloe O’Brien on speed dial to help me navigate through morning jams. So I call one of my colleagues from work who’s dealing with the same commute and we discuss a change management issue that’s popped up recently. 40 minutes later, I’m parking my car and we’ve come to a consensus on how to move forward. I hang up the phone and walk into our building.
12:27 p.m.: After back to back meetings, including my weekly staff meeting, I’m drinking a protein shake for lunch and working on an expense report from last week’s sales trip. It was hard being away from my family for two days but it’s part of the job. The day I got back I took a few hours off in morning so I could do the school run and catch up with everything at home. That’s become my routine whenever I’ve been away for more than two days. I look up at the clock and realise I have three minutes before I need to jump on a call with a client. It will be a busy afternoon ahead.
4:00 p.m.: I’ve had back-to-back meetings since lunch, but I got a lot of walking in. I make it a point of scheduling meetings in conference rooms that aren’t right outside my office so it forces me to get up, walk around, and interact with people outside of my team. It’s easy to get too reliant on instant messaging, e-mail, texting, etc. They’re great tools that can make life easier, but are NOT a replacement for a meaningful conversation. Talking with people is important.
5:20 p.m.: My line manager asks me if I want to grab a drink with him. After the client call we just had I am ready, willing, and able — but I only have time for a quick drink. We head to the local pub and talk shop for exactly 6 minutes. The rest of the conversation has nothing to do with work. It’s about family, weekend plans, films, exercising — it’s nice to switch gears. 30 minutes later, I wish him a good evening and head to my car.
5:57 p.m.: I’m in my car and the traffic is not too bad, so it should take me about 25 minutes to get home. Perfect. Three minutes later, my phone rings and I pick up on my hands-free set. It’s a member of my team who works in Scotland. She and I plan our weekly call for this time because she usually works later and is still at the office. I am in the car driving home for at least the next half hour, so it is perfect for both of us. We speak uninterrupted for 24 minutes (I had to put her on hold really quickly so I could dash in to the take-away place near home and pick up the dinner).
9:57 p.m.: Kids are asleep, baby is asleep. The last few hours included a quick run on the treadmill, dinner with the family, reading with my daughter, and a game of Mario Kart with my sons. Now my wife and I are catching up during commercial breaks of favourite programmes we’ve recorded. She falls asleep halfway through the second show. I pull out my laptop to check e-mail, but there’s nothing that can’t wait until the morning so I pick up the book I’ve been reading from my bedside table and turn to the last chapter. Right on cue, the baby starts to cry. Rock, Paper, Scissors…DANG! “I am terrible at this game,” I say to myself as I get out of bed and head downstairs to go make up another a bottle…
What I learned from setting priorities from the hit show 24
What I have just described is a typical day for me, and an example of how I strive for balance. To me, work/family balance is not about getting extra time away from work to get your hair cut or go to the gym. Conversely, it is not about giving up aspects of your personal life for the sake of work. It is about prioritisation and discipline. Priorities are dynamic. They can change weekly, daily, hourly, and or even within minutes depending on a number of circumstances. To find balance, we need to be constantly evaluating our priorities.
Earlier in my career, I felt much like Jack Bauer from the hit TV show 24. I was always trying to “beat the clock” because I felt that time was going to run out on me. However as my career progressed and my family grew, I started to think about things differently. My Outlook calendar became a reflection of my priorities – not the other way around. I started to focus on what was important, not just on what needed to get done.
I readily admit that I have an incredibly supportive wife, amazing colleagues, and extraordinary staff. I arrange my time and theirs the best I can in order to get things done. Do I get it right all the time? No, of course I don’t. But that’s the point. I know I will have days when things don’t go how I want and that the unexpected will occur from time to time. Knowing that allows me to account for it in my planning.
At the end of the day, maybe I’m not Jack Bauer. I’ve never saved the world (although I would like to), I can’t speed dial the President (or even the Prime Minister!) from my iPhone, and don’t have unlimited access to major government secrets. I don’t engage in high speed chases (even roller coasters make me dizzy!), and the only scar I have is from my appendix being removed 8 years ago.
But I do know what it is like to be up against a clock, with the pressure of balancing competing priorities and fulfilling a number of different obligations. I will go out on a limb and say that you probably do too. It’s how we handle it that allows us to find the best balance.
That, and learning how to finally win at Rock, Paper, Scissors…