How do I balance work, business travel and family life?

I’m glad you asked my opinion on this because I am an expert. I ALWAYS get work-life balance right. Over the last 21 years I have not made a single mistake when it comes to the idea of work-life balance, and I’m probably in line to get a Nobel Prize for this soon because I’m that amazing.

(In case you can’t feel the sarcasm here, I’m obviously joking.)

Like just about everyone else on the planet, I don’t always get the work-life balance thing right.

It’s incredibly hard to master, and I certainly haven’t yet…but I have learned a few things over the years that I want to share with you. These ideas have been learned from 15 years of working for someone else and 6 years working for myself as an entrepreneur.

1. Balance isn’t the goal.

Why? Because perfect balance is a myth. It doesn’t exist.

The reason it doesn’t exist is because every life has seasons. April is challenging for accountants. December is challenging for people who work at churches. The fall is when I speak. The winter is when I write all month long. The summer is when I gain too much weight from cheese consumption.

Almost every profession and life is like this in one way or another, so the idea that work-life balance is this singular thing that can be achieved and maintained all year round is not a reality I believe in.

I spoke once in July and a dozen times in October. Think that affects how much time I spent with my family during those months? Of course it did. Balance would mean I try to speak the same amount of times each month all year long. But the spring and fall are conference season. That would be like an NFL player, yes our body types are similar, saying to his coach, “We play too many games in the fall. Can’t we play one game a month, all year long?”

I didn’t shame myself into feeling guilty in July because I wasn’t working as much. I knew that season was coming in October. Likewise, I’m not going to spend October feeling guilty that I’m not with my family as much. That’s just what happens in October in this season of life, and it’s why we did so much family stuff in July.

Your profession might have a different rhythm or schedule than mine, but don’t shame yourself in a natural season of busyness. Be present when you can be present. Admit the season you’re in and lean into it.

2. I don’t demonize work.

Once in a while I remind my kids that the fun things we do don’t happen without the time I spend working.

When I took my daughter McRae to New York City last year I made it a point to remind her that the reason I was able to be there with her on a Friday afternoon creating fun (expensive) memories was that I was away on business a month earlier.

Did I bring it up several times a day during the trip to beat her over the head with it? No. But I did mention it, just to remind her that work is a part of life, and that it’s a good thing because it makes some amazing experiences possible.

To the best of my abilities, I don’t demonize work in front of my kids. I want them to respect it, and I also want them to realize that because of it, we can make some awesome memories as a family.

It’s crazy that in our “I hate Mondays” culture we criticize our own jobs vocally in front of our kids for 18 years and then act surprised when they don’t like to work in their 20s.

How you talk about your job today impacts how your kids will think about their jobs tomorrow.

Whenever I can, I tie my work into the fun things we get to do in real life as a family.

3. We share calendars.

Like a lot of families these days, we use shared calendars to our advantage in the Acuff household as much as possible. Whether it’s digital or paper, we’ve found that communicating our activities and planning time together leads to less hassle and more awesome.

At any time, my kids can look at our shared Google calendar and say, “Oh dad has a phone call,” or, “Oh dad is out of town that day,” and know that I’m not available. Likewise, I can see when I’m supposed to take someone to swim practice so I don’t double-book myself.

We also use our gigantic Finish Wall Calendar to plot out adventures for the year so we can see how much time we’re spending together as a family during every season. (We plan in dry erase, because life when you’ve got a family is very rarely lived in ink. Something unexpected always happens!)

It kills me that in every other area of our lives we plan when things are going to happen, but when it comes to family time we assume that it will just magically appear like a double rainbow (do we know what it means, yet?). Of course it won’t! We don’t just hope family time happens, we plan it (and track it) strategically on our wall calendar.

(This is my favorite, by the way. I’ve been using it for 9 years. You can get yours here.)

Balancing work life and family life perfectly is a myth. Every profession and every season is different. Lean into the season you’re in, don’t demonize work, and plan your adventures with your family ahead of time.


P.S. The 2020 Finish Wall Calendar features a landscape orientation on one side and portrait on the other, and it’s less than $30! Get yours here.