Balance Your Work and Life With Small Changes


What do you have in common with Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg, and Richard Branson?

We all have 24 hours in a day to get what we need to get done.

You can assume some of your time in a day includes sleeping, eating, personal hygiene (a must), working and personal time. These three top executives have found ways to balance their lives and schedules while running major corporations. Most of us aren’t executives, but we are still busy people trying to find a balance.

A few years ago my wife was hospitalized because she was carrying twins, which is considered a high risk pregnancy. She spent six weeks in the hospital and another two weeks at home on bed rest. The twins arrived early, one spent four weeks and the other seven weeks getting around the clock care at the hospital’s neo-natal intensive care unit. Once they were strong enough to come home, reality set in. The focus switched from praying they would be healthy to ensuring they continue to get bigger and stronger. The care was no longer handled by the experienced and caring staff at the NICU, but by two new overwhelmed parents.

There was a lot of excitement because they were finally coming home. Our families and friends converged to see the tiny, but adorable twins. The excitement gradually declined and the new reality set it. We now had to do everything for ourselves. Our families went back home and friends went back to their lives; everything now rests on our shoulders. It was an adjustment I knew was coming, but I didn’t have the slightest idea what would happen. We were working professionals with few responsibilities outside of work. We could go on trips and buy anything we wanted, whenever we wanted. My wife had it all planned out in her head, but I took a little bit more to adjust to the new life. My initial thought was “what do I do now?” It was a huge change that I was unprepared to handle. I was now responsible for two tiny babies, my wife – my new family. Holy (expletive)!

After only taking minimal time off, I went back to work. We planned ahead by saving our money so my wife could stay home while worked, something I am extremely grateful we were able to do. My work schedule was four, 10 hour days with an hour drive one way. I also serve in the National Guard one weekend a month with two weeks plus additional time to prepare. At the time both roles were very demanding. In addition to work, time gets eaten up quickly when doing routine activities like shopping, house maintenance and maybe a run or a workout. Add time to care for the twins, who conspired against us by not sleeping, and now you find yourself in a time deficit. Eventually this took its toll on me and I was sinking quickly. Something had to change or it would end up bad either personally or professionally. Or does it? I (barely) survived through it without totally sinking and want to share my experiences on how I used a life raft to get to shore. I was extremely lucky to have some flexibility in my career. Here are the rules I adopted to stay afloat:

  • Family first – non-negotiable. Everything would be designed to maximize time with them ensuring their needs are met.
  • Get sleep anywhere, anytime…if possible. To function.
  • Get some form of exercise and some adult socialization. To stay sane.
  • Work is a must but there were a few things I could do to make it easier on myself. To maintain my career.
    • Concentrate on just a few tasks and not overload work.
    • Delegate more work to subordinates and trust them.
    • Find efficiency in everything I did and how I lead my team.
    • Change my work schedule to maximize time or find an alternate work site if possible.
    • Take advantage of the agency policy to allow an hour of physical training.
    • Don’t take on extra assignments just to get brownie points.
    • Look for another job closer to home.
  • Request a change in my military assignment at the time to reduce my workload.
  • Be extremely picky about what social events I could attend. I can’t do them all now.

Having a family is hard, having twins multiplies the difficulty level, but people make it work. Initially, it was one of the hardest adjustments to my life I have ever made in my life. Make smart, strategic, purposeful decisions to balance life, family, and work. It is a huge balancing act that takes some time to fully adjust. It will never be perfect and understand good enough may be the best answer sometimes. Use your time wisely before something crashes and it will be you. Your first priority is your family and do whatever you can to take care of them.

Matt Nowak is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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A relatable post and useful tips! It’s easy to get caught up in everyday life and neglect things like sleep and exercise, but these are so important, as is putting family first. Thanks for the ideas on tweaking your work schedule to better manage our professional and personal lives, Matt!