The Life Balancing Act – 6 Ways to Keep Your Priorities in Focus

“Who is writing you now?” my 6 year old asks me as I pull out my BlackBerry in the middle of our game of catch on the weekend.  “You’re always on that thing!” — and that’s when I know I’ve crossed the line, again

Finding the right balance between work and family for me, as with many entrepreneurs I know, has been and continues to be a challenge.  Unlike many of the young wippersnappers who are making waves in the tech startup world in their late teens and early 20’s with no families or ties (I applaud them for starting young!) – I made my “jump” later in my career at the age of 34.  By that time, I had been married for 10 years with four wonderful young children.  Finding the right “life balance” has been one of my greatest challenges of my tech startup career.  The lure and excitement of the tech startup “game” is hard for me to ignore – it never really leaves my mind.  When you play in this space, that is just part of the game – turning off your focus on your company, customers, and partners is hard if not impossible to do.

Sadly, at times, I catch myself envying those who have all the time in the world to dedicate to their companies and startup initiatives.  But I’ve come to recognize that their priorities in life are much different than mine, and that’s ok.  My personal goals involve launching and successfully running tech startup companies, but they also include being a great husband and dad.  As they say, when lying on your death bed no one every says “I wished I’d worked more”.  I’ve had the good fortune of having several great mentors who have provided words of wisdom about managing both life at work as well as at home.  As one said to me, “If your home life is falling apart, chances are your business is too”.  Another told me a story of a friend of his who exited his company with a payout over $80 million who, in the process of growing that company, had gotten divorced and now never sees his kids and is a miserable, rich man.  Money isn’t everything, family is.

My family keeps me grounded and helps me (more like forces me!) to maintain my life balance and priorities.  They support me entirely in my personal business goals, but they also remind me when I’m crossing the line and have lost focus on what truly is important in my life – them.  These are some of the lessons I’ve learned that help me maintain my priorities in life:

  1. Listen to your family – they will tell you when you are crossing the line, don’t ignore their words or feelings.
  2. Treat your family like valued partners – You need them to succeed – treat them like the valued partners they are.  As I’m often reminded by my wife, you work hard to maintain good business relations, you have to do the same at home.
  3. Take Vacation – I still get a kick out of listening to entrepreneurs brag about their long work hours with no time off.  That’s not my goal (if it was I would still be working for someone else).  To stay connected to my wife and kids, I take vacation – every entrepreneur should.  Take pride in achieving balance, not in overworking.
  4. Be with them when you are with them – there is always time to focus on work, but when you are with your family, live in the moment with them.
  5. Get that they may not “get” it – I used to get frustrated when I felt like my family didn’t get why I was working so hard.  Not everyone understands the pressures and drive of entrepreneurship – and that’s ok.  What they DO understand is what it takes for you to be a good husband and father – let them remind you of that.
  6. Keep your Priorities in Check – easier said than done, but to me, this is key.  From family photos on my desk, walks with my wife, to playing with my kids – take moments in your day or week to keep your priorities in check.
Life is short, don’t lose focus of what is truly important to you.  At the end of the day, I plan to have many companies.  I only have ONE family.  When its all said and done, it’s more important to me to be a great husband and dad than a successful businessman.  My goal, however, is to achieve both – which can only happen with the right balance of family and business.
What are your thoughts?  How do you stay focused on being a great entrepreneur and parent/spouse?
Follow me on Twitter (@tburke_quark) for more on innovation, tech startups and entrepreneurship – thanks!
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