Who's running your business (and your life)?

By Sandy Schussel

Sandy Schussel, LLC

Several of my clients this month have been talking about the stress of trying to balance their family lives with their work lives. I write a great deal about fear, but I more rarely snag the opportunity to write about a related, but equally insidious monster: guilt.

Years ago, I was helping a child psychologist who ran a busy private practice, made rounds at a local hospital daily and testified in all sorts of court cases. During one of our conversations, he mentioned that he had five kids.

"Five kids?" I gasped. It seemed to me that this must be a guilt-ridden man whose excessive work with neglected children had to have fueled a certain degree of his own family’s neglect. "How can you possibly manage to give them the time you know they need with a schedule like yours?"

With true calm, the good doctor explained to me that the first appointments he put on his schedule each week were with his family, in blocks of two or three hours each. "I'd like to give them more," he told me, "but I take comfort in the fact that I treat my appointments with them as being my most important."

"I don't allow interruptions — except for dire emergencies — to my family time, just like I don't allow interruptions when I'm working with a patient. When I'm with them, I'm with them 100 percent. I don't feel guilty about not getting work done. When I'm working, I know they're on my schedule, so I don't feel guilty about not being with them."

Like the doctor, most of my clients who struggle to balance family and work time are in practices for themselves. Unlike the doctor, most have somehow chosen to be their own worst possible bosses. These bosses could give them more time with their spouses and children, but they don't.

In his book, "The E-Myth Revisited," Michael Gerber points out that most of us go into our businesses backwards. We don't start by figuring out what kind of life we want — what Gerber calls our "primary aim" — so we are forced to accept whatever life our business or practice pushes us into.

You don’t have to work 70 hours a week to be a successful professional. Thirty-five hours — or even four hours — could get the same results, if you are focused. Fear and guilt can affect this focus. The fear often comes from being overwhelmed by the number of steps we see on the way to the success we picture — from forgetting to focus on just a few steps at a time.
The guilt usually comes from not having clear boundaries set around our family and work time. Here are some ideas to keep things from getting muddled:

1. Decide where you want your practice and your personal affairs to be in the next three years, and write it down in as much detail as you can.

2. Create a master weekly schedule, just as the doctor did, that starts with your family time and time off. Leave open spaces for all of the things that might pop up during the week. Then, put blocks of time into the work portion for: a) the things you need to do on a regular basis, b) three important projects, and c) thinking and planning.

3. Honor your family time as if it were a major professional commitment. Make “appointments” with your spouse and children. When you are on work time be on work time — barring emergencies.

But when you’re with family, be truly with them, so there is no guilt.

You can design your work and professional life around the personal life you want. Before you know it, you’ll be doing the things you need to do and feeling much better about where you are and how you’re spending your time.

If you’re already doing what you love and making separate time for those you love, keep that pesky guilt beast at bay.