Let’s be honest. There was a time in Australia when men weren’t expected to do anything but function as their family’s primary breadwinner. We’d come home to freshly-prepared meals, a clean home, and kinds who had their homework done and were ready to settle in for the evening. Unfortunately, we enjoyed all of those things at the expense of the overloaded and often underappreciated women in our lives.
Now that we live in a more equitable world, we know just what they were going through. Handling housework, child-rearing, and countless other everyday tasks that keep family life running smoothly are exceptionally difficult. The challenges are constant. The pressure is unrelenting.
The point is, busy dads now know what it’s like to try to balance a million and one of life’s stresses without crashing and burning. The good news is that there are some tried-and-true methods to doing so that you can use to handle whatever life has to throw at you and still maintain a healthy work/life balance. Here’s how you can do it, distilled down to a few simple steps.
Set The Right Work Boundaries
If you’re planning to try to stay in control of the pressures of your everyday life, the first thing you’re going to need to do is set appropriate boundaries. Start by letting the people you work with know exactly when, how, and why you’ll be available to them outside of normal work hours. For example, make it clear to your job that they should leave you a voicemail if something important needs your urgent attention, and that you’ll answer when time permits.
Make sure everyone understands that the definition of ‘urgent’ in this case is something like ‘the office is on fire and you have the key to the room with the fire extinguisher’. Always make it a point to not respond to any request that doesn’t reach that threshold, and eventually, everyone will understand the clear boundary you’ve set. Doing this will allow you to give your family your undivided attention when you’re at home.
Enlist Your Family’s Help
In many cases, seeing to your family’s needs can seem like a full-time job all on its own. That feeling is magnified when the people closest to you don’t seem to understand that they’re often working against you. I’m not talking about when your 5-year old empties their toy chest onto the floor right after you’ve put everything away. Instead, I’m referring to the times when your family members end up adding unexpected things to your to-do list and eating away at what little downtime you have.
To combat that, enlist their help in your quest to stay in control of your free time. Set aside a specific amount of time when you’re not at work to deal with everything your family needs from you. Call it a ‘family time budget‘. Let everyone know that you’re happy to devote your free time to what’s needed of you, but that there’s a limit. First, include all of the must-do’s into your time budget. Then add-in other tasks in descending order of importance. Make sure the whole family’s involved in the process so they can see exactly how their needs affect your time. That will go a long way toward getting everyone on your side in the battle to get everything done with a minimum of stress.
One of the ways that many of us try to maximise the time we do have is to focus on multiple tasks at once. As much as we all believe we’re good at multitasking, the evidence continues to mount that we’re all living in a collective delusion. In reality, we’d do a whole lot better if we gave up on the practice. The best part? If you’ve already done the first two steps mentioned here, you should be in a great position to do that.
Make every effort to respect your own boundaries and get through your daily tasks by focusing on them one at a time. Believe it or not, you’ll get more done that way. How much more? Scientific studies have indicated that humans are 40% more productive when we don’t try to multitask. That means you’ll reclaim almost half of your day by just keeping focused on one thing at a time. That increase in productivity will also work to lower your overall time burdens and make more time for everything else you want to get done.
Move Past Yesterday, Plan for Tomorrow
The last and most important step on the path to handling whatever comes with aplomb is to live in the now. If you stop to think about it, most of your stress likely comes in one of two forms: anxiety about things that have already happened, and anxiety over what you believe might be coming in the future. It’s one of the reasons that many busy dads fall victim to the Sunday night blues in anticipation of the coming week.
To overcome that pitfall, make sure to do what’s on your agenda today and only carry the lessons of yesterday—not the events that happened themselves—forward into the future. That’s all you really need to do to prepare for tomorrow and stay on the right track. Mastering this way of thinking is difficult, but you’ll find it to be one of the best stress-reduction techniques you’ll ever encounter.
Remember to Reward Yourself
If you manage to put all of the preceding tips into action, you should feel much less put-upon by the pressures of your everyday life. Your work will stay at work except in the most important circumstances, your family will be helping you to manage your downtime without overloading you, and you’ll be getting all of the things you need to do finished without pulling your hair out in the process.
It’s important to remember, though, that what you’re doing is no small feat. For that reason (and for the sake of your own sanity), make sure to reward yourself every now and then by reserving some of your own time to do whatever you love. If that means spending an afternoon fishing, do it. If it means some time alone reading a good book, do that. Whatever makes you feel good. With everything you’re juggling, you’re sure to deserve a break, and you should take them whenever you can.