I remember when my wife and I found out she was pregnant for our first child, the sudden rush of excitement and jubilation was quickly replaced with anxiety about how exactly I’d make this happen. I was working long hours at the office and would soon be working full-time on a 12-month election campaign. When, exactly, would I have time to be a husband and father when I was regularly clocking 80 to 100-hour weeks?
It wouldn’t take long for my poor wife to find out I didn’t have the time. Shortly after our son was born, the campaign got into full swing and I was working 120-hour weeks. It’s safe to say, I was an absentee father for our son’s first year. The day after election day, we packed up the car and moved to Ottawa where I began my next gig as a political staffer on the Hill. As you know, the political staffer role doesn’t quite rank up there in the “family-friendly” category.
Oh, and just as we were moving into our new home, my wife gave me some wonderful news: she was pregnant for our second child. I got the same rush of excitement and jubilation as I had 19 months before, and then the anxiety kicked in. This time, it was worse. So far, I had proven unable to be there for my wife or our first son. What had started out as a fear last time, had since become reality. I’d have to change something if I had any hope of being there for my family.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a self-loathing blog post. I’m just providing a bit of context for how I got to this point: where I’m surprisingly able to manage my time such that I’m somehow more efficient at the office, and more importantly, there for my family.
It hindsight, it seems so simple. I didn’t see it before, but I was actually awful at managing my time. Not to sure why that was — perhaps my personal obligations were lighter before we had kids — if I worked late nights, my wife and I would adapt. We’d have a later meal, or we’d go out for dinner. Often, she was out late freelancing as a musician; I didn’t always have an incentive to rush home. Of course, with two kids in the picture, my responsibilities have since grown: I have to make it a habit — a routine — of coming home at a reasonable hour, and on a regular basis. Oh, and I no longer have the luxury of going into work on weekends to catch up on work and compensate for my procrastination during the week. Weekends are when I catch up with the boys and (hopefully) give my wife much deserved “me-time.”
To my pleasant surprise, and despite the occasional international trip for work, I’ve found a way to make this happen. (Lest I neglect to point out the obvious: my wife is amazing. Without her, there’s no way I could do the work I do).
So, if you’re a new dad, or just got the news you’ll become one soon,, here are some tips I wish I had adopted much earlier in fatherhood:
1. Going out after work should be the exception, not the rule
This probably sounds ridiculously obvious to most, but it wasn’t for me. Going out used to be the rule. Industry events, political events, networking opportunities, galas, new business development, late nights at the office…being home during the week before 9pm was a rare thing. Now, I limit myself to one night per week. If there is more than one event that week, I have to pick one. Sometimes I go two or three weeks without going out, but by allowing myself one night per week, I can plan accordingly. This makes the planning for the whole family much, much easier.
2. Block off weekends for your family
Again, another one that is probably an obvious to the seasoned parent. I used to fill up my weekend time catching up with friends, often by entertaining in our humble condo. That meant an early rise to the St. Lawrence Market to get first dibs at fresh produce, meat and fish; followed by an entire day cooking; and then hosting dinner into the wee hours of the morning. We’d recover on Sunday at a local coffee shop, I’d go to the office to catch up on work and that was a great weekend.
Not any more.
It’s amazing how much free time you get when you’re not busy planning a dinner-party. That’s not to say our weekends are a walk in the park, but because I block it off as family time, I’m mentally prepared to be a dad on weekends. I go with the flow. Whatever works for the family, works for me.
3. Make time for your spouse/partner and for yourself.
Family time is great, but we all need alone time. I’ll speak for my wife, but come the weekend, after a full week of being with two boys under three, she needs to get out of the house for her own sanity. It’s most deserved. I have always needed some solitude time to recharge my batteries.
We’ve come up with a routine that seems to work most weekends. One Saturday, I take care of the kids for the whole morning (say 9am to noon or so) and then we’ll swap in the afternoon. The parent who leaves the house has 3 hours to do whatever they want. We typically work out and read books. Sundays are left to be 100% family time. The following Saturday the other parent gets morning duty and vice versa. It’s a nice way to start your weekend and to recharge your batteries. And it’s a must.
4. Embrace the necessary evil: technology
My wife will likely disagree with me on this one, but mobile devices have actually proven to be a godsend in my ability to be a parent. It gives me the freedom to work away from my desk, which means more time at home. Yes, it means I’m frequently looking at the blackberry to check on emails, but it also means I don’t have to go into the office on weekends or evenings. I can take the boys for a walk to the park, take a quick scroll through emails to stay in the loop, slip it back in my pocket and carry on. That’s much, much less intrusive that driving to the office to do that work.
5. Make every minute at the office count
This is probably the toughest item on this list. Tough because it’s hard to do and tough because it’s tough to admit you’re probably wasting more time than you think. If you treat every single minute of your work day as precious time, it’s amazing how much you can get done. Your mind turns on this overdrive mode and you find yourself cranking out the work. You’ll catch yourself wanting to check in on Facebook or watch a YouTube video when you could otherwise be getting something productive done.
At first, it’s exhausting. Forcing yourself to focus on the task at hand every time your mind wanders is draining at first. And it takes a lot of discipline. But once you start treating every minute of your day like every one of those sixty seconds counts, you start realizing just how much time you have in a day to get work done.
And you’ll find yourself changing your routine to maximize your time. I now eat at my desk. I takes me 10 minutes to eat lunch, rather than the 30-60 I used to spend during my lunch hours. It also means I socialize a lot less. This part is an unfortunate casualty of course, especially when you have amazing colleagues like I do. But if I’m going to make it home at a reasonable hour, I need to maximize every single minute.
And there are other side effects. You’ll soon find yourself short tempered when sitting in meetings that are a waste of time, or when a meeting that should take 10 minutes drags on for 60. You’ll catch yourself cutting people off, rushing them through their thoughts and sometimes closing off discussion just for the sake of expediting the damn meeting.
If you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that the meeting will drag on, you might start multiple-tasking during the meeting. It’s effective most of the time. But that one time you miss something is the one time you wish you had paid greater attention. I’m embarrassed to admit it’s happened to me more than once.