The Successful Consulting Series is a set of articles that are being written to both, help decisions on joining the consulting field and also, help existing consultants in their professional development initiatives. Please visit, “Successful Consulting Series” for a full listing of each part in this series.
Oh man, this is a tough one! A really really tough one, I struggle with this all the time. I am a mom, have 2 kids ages 7 and 4. There is no doubt about me being a working mom, god bless the ones who stay at home but it’s just not me…I am not disciplined enough. I am completely at peace with working, it’s the how much that I always have a struggle. I am driven in my job and career but I also don’t want to be on my deathbed and folks say “well she kept her inbox really clean”. My kids are young and time already screams by, I don’t want to miss out! And it’s not just an issue for moms and dads, anyone with a career has to find balance with work and the things outside of work that are important to them. Consulting gives me everything and then some technically and professionally, but that can make it harder to find balance.
Family balance feel like this?
Good portion of finding balance has to do with setting expectations. If you are independent consultant, that can mean setting proper expectations with your clients or yourself. If you are a consultant who works for a company, set expectations as early as possible. If you know certain priority times you need to be home, get it on the table in the interview. Set boundaries of your priority family time and stick with it. Of course there are emergencies, but keep those priority times sacred and don’t change the expectations of clients/employers. For example, if you always answer your phone while on vacation, why would they ever think twice about calling? Set limits and stick to your guns.
Something else that goes along those same lines is travel. Travel can be extremely varied from consultant to consultant. There are those that travel more than they don’t, there are others who don’t travel at all. If you are independent, you need to determine early on how much travel you are willing to do. Your entire marketing strategy and target clients/projects could be tied to the answer to that question. If you aren’t independent, make sure percentage of travel is agreed upon in interview process. Make sure to include marketing related travel in there as well. SQLSaturdays or other conferences are often used by consultants to build their names. Travel can be extremely expensive, both dollar-wise and emotionally for you and your family.
An additional thing that helps tremendously with balance is flextime. My typical schedule is from 8:30 – 5:00ish. I then go home and spend time with the family until the kids go to bed. Then after they are asleep I am up most nights doing something else for work, whether it’s blogging, client billable time, team management duties, or building presentations. My company is flexible with me though when things come up. Whether one of the kids is sick and home from school or they need taken to gymnastics or any other thing that comes up, they are flexible with me. That helps so much having the ability to do that. There is a trust built with me and my company, they know I’m good for it.
Do you have flexibility in your job?
Make sure to build a good support system. They say it takes a village and they aren’t lying. It’s very easy to run yourself ragged and you need help. I have an amazing husband who goes in to work at a crazy early time so he can pick up the kids from school. I have morning shift with them so I get them fed and off to school. We then have easily accessible grandparents who help tremendously. For those without access to any of those, it may be a combination of great friends, relatives, aftercare programs, and many others.
Another item that helps with logistics is getting a shared family calendar. This can be extremely helpful with keeping good communication going with your support system. There are many out there. I have started to use an app called Cozi. It has a shared calendar and things like journals and lists. The really great thing I like about it is it also can send text message reminders. I use those constantly for things that the kids have going on like when to turn their library books back in or when they have things like show and tell.
It’s easy to get too caught up in work. Finding balance is a constant battle that you will have to fight. I am constantly doing gut checks to make sure I am getting enough time in with my family. Sometimes I creep out of my comfort zone and then make changes. I am also having to gut check whether or not I am running myself too thin. A brain-dead and tired zombie isn’t helpful at home or at work. I typically will get in a few nights in between the late ones where I just crash and fall asleep putting the kids to bed.
Another thing I find I have to do is to make sure I don’t let work creep into my time with my family. I have a tendency to have my nose in my phone a little more than I should and that’s not fair to my family. If the next time you see me, I have a shock collar on that is probably the reason. I love my job and I am passionate at what I do but my family comes first without a doubt. I just have to fight to make sure they feel that from me at all times and are feeling more “You are the Sunshine of My Life” than “Cats in the Cradle”.