I used to accept meetings at the bequest and convenience of others, then arrange my other errands and obligations around that. About a decade ago, I realized that my work day started around 8 am and usually ended past midnight, with two breaks of a couple of hours in between. I barely spent any quality time with the Kid. I hated it. I felt like a caged hamster in a spinning wheel.
At that point, I made some major changes that helped. Lately I’ve been straying from those rules, so, for my own benefit and maybe yours, let’s go over them:
1. I don’t check my phone for the first 2 hours after I wake up.
I mostly work from home. Even when I had a separate office and assistant holding up the fort there though, I used to check my phone as soon as I opened my eyes and before I even got out of bed.
Email first, then Twitter, and if those didn’t already have me too busy with responding and reading about global tragedies and geopolitical issues, I’d move on to Facebook.
I’d spend the morning staring at my phone as I made breakfast, brewed my first cup of coffee, and saw the Kid off to school.
In 2011, I broke that tremendously bad habit overnight. Sure, my phone is still next to me on the nightstand. Allegedly, I’m some sort of communications expert, so I do get the odd phone call in the middle of the night about a PR crisis that needs to be handled immediately.
But I’m not a cardiothoracic surgeon on call in an ER. No lives depend on whether or not I answer a call or show up at a meeting. My kids and their future, however, do depend on whether or not mom is around.
So the first two hours of every day are family time. If there’s an emergency, someone will call. If they sent a text, IM or email, it obviously wasn’t an emergency. The world will continue to spin without me, while I enjoy my morning coffee and talk to my kids about their plans for the day.
2. Supper is served at the table, every evening, no exceptions.
And I mean no exceptions. If I have a previous engagement planned for the evening, whether it’s a date or a business dinner, I let the kids know and we have supper a little earlier so I can make both. If I’m out of town on a business trip, I ask the nanny to make sure the kids have supper at the dinner table and I call around that time to talk to them.
As unconventional as my parenting methods may be, I’m a stickler for some basic traditions. Supper time is one of them. This is the time we use to talk about what’s new, get to know each other as we grow and develop, discuss the Kid’s future or global politics and current events. We’re still mulling through Brexit, the US election, and the rise of right-wing extremism in Europe these days. Which is why we don’t need our phones at the table or the TV on. It’s been a busy news cycle and we have plenty to talk about.
When possible, we also cook together or have friends over for supper or drinks in the evening. It’s called socialization. You should try it sometime.
3. I don’t send out emails after 6 p.m..
Mornings and evenings used to be my emailing rush hours. And I mean hours. Unless you’re in a similar line of business or working with international clients and a distributed team, you can’t even begin to imagine the amount of emails in my inbox daily. I could easily spend my entire work day just handling the emails.
But I don’t and here’s how. I still mostly respond to emails in the evenings, usually after dinner or just before bedtime. But I save them in my drafts, then give them another look and send them out in the morning, over my second cup of coffee. It does wonders for my schedule.
4. I schedule personal time the same way I schedule business time.
The Kid was 10 when he asked me why I “lie to people”. Lying is the ultimate offense in our household and I try to lead by example, so I was more than puzzled by his question. We were out on the lake that afternoon and he heard me take a call and say that I was in a meeting and ask if we could book another time to talk.
I explained to the Kid that I hadn’t lied and that I was in a meeting – with my son. In my world, a meeting or errand means I am busy with a prior scheduled event and you can’t have my full, or sometimes even partial, attention right now. Let’s book a time when I am able to give you my undivided attention.
Our families and friends are priorities. We should treat them and schedule them as such, as long as we don’t use them as an excuse to flake out at work.
So I book my personal time like I do my professional obligations. Which is why I am never “too busy” for coffee with a friend. My time is mine and I will do as I please with it, unless you’re paying me for my time. Then we can discuss options. You still don’t own my time, however. You’re just renting it.
That being said, I have strayed from these rules just a bit. And they haven’t been enough. In this whole change of lifestyle thing, I’m enforcing the existing rules and adding new ones.
5. I don’t take unscheduled phone calls or meetings without an itinerary.
You heard me. Unless it’s from one of my team, a paying client or my immediate family, I will not pick up the phone if that phone call is unannounced. No more “quick questions” or “‘sups”.
Have a quick question I can help with? Email me to schedule a call. And, btw, my consulting rate is 200 bucks an hour. Make sure your question is worth it.
Want a meeting with me? Not a problem. I always have time for productive meetings that lead to results. Email me with a description of exactly what you’d like to talk about and we can book a live meeting or a Skype call within the next 48 hours. But, 9 times out of 10, I’m betting we can resolve whatever it is in four emails or less. Try me.
And last, but not least…
6. I’m giving myself a strict bedtime.
I’d love to be wrong on this one, but I’m getting too old for the whole working until 3 a.m. thing. Entrepreneurs these days seem to thrive on the whole sleep deprived, working hard, I’m-such-hot-shit-because-I’m-a-leader bs. I can’t do it anymore. I’ve paid my entrepreneurial dues and I’m done with that.
The truth is, entrepreneurs in the past didn’t work that way. They were diligent, well-organized, and early risers. I come from a long line of those. My great-grandfather owned and ran several businesses, including a trading post, a general store, and a spa at the turn of the last century. He got up before dawn and went to bed right after sunset. He made sure to get a good night’s sleep, because he knew he had seven children, a wife, dozens of employees, and hundreds of customers who depended on him to be there the next day.
My grandfather owned a bakery and made sure he got there before anyone else did. He took pride in his work and none of his employees ever got their hands on his recipes. He’d mix the batter and make the dough for all of his products before anyone else even came in to work. Then he’d let his employees do the rest and go home for a nap around mid-day. He’d spend afternoons at home with his family and the occasional evening in the local pub with friends. The man got shit done and had time for everything.
It’s taken me a while to learn but I want to be their kind of cool. Old-school cool. Not this “I’m so busy and successful that I don’t have time to sleep” being peddled as cool.
Sleep deprivation doesn’t make you badass. It makes you look immature and incompetent. I can’t even.