The Key to Whatever Work Life Balance I Possess is Right Here!

by Chrysula on December 2, 2009 in planning,sharing,story-telling,training,work life balance

I am a Planning Geek

There is an opinion that planning creates restrictions.  Reduces fluidity, spontaneity.  I firmly hold the opposite view. Like budgets, I find planning empowering.  Planning gives you a framework, a methodology, an approach.  The mistake people make, myself sometimes included, is that the plan becomes the end game.  My mantra is: the plan is subject to change without notice, but you’ve got to have one.

After multiple requests, here’s the one planning tool that has literally changed my life and my relationships.  With some tweaking, it can be applied to an individual just as easily as a couple or household.  This is what works for us.   I’d love your thoughts on what you do.

Sunday Night Family Council

My husband and I created a mission statement several years ago. Nice, right?  You put down some inspiring words on a piece of paper.  Maybe even frame it and put it on a wall or a drawer?  And that’s that.  We wanted something more dynamic and meaningful.  So we started the Sunday Night Family Council.

Here’s the agenda that works for us:

1.    Mission statement
2.    Goals
3.    Focus and priorities for the week
4.    Calendar
5.    Entertainment
6.    Date night
7.    Children and extended family
8.    Budgets and finance

An agenda helps me make sure we hit all the important points.  It is usually a far more fluid conversation than such a list might suggest.  But we have found it important to have this framework.  We read our mission statement to remind ourselves of our ‘big picture’.  Then we review the top two or three family goals and key personal goals.  We do these two agenda items first, to make sure that before we dive into the minutia of weekly planning, we have reminded ourselves of who we are, what we are striving for and who we want to become.

Focus and priorities, calendar and entertaining are intertwined and often end up merging as one discussion.  But all three elements are important for us.   We include our professional and personal roles in this part of the conversation.  I want to know what his big issues are for work that week, so I can be more empathic and in tune with his needs (sometimes that works).  And he wants to know what I am working on as well as what my top items are for household management and of course the children so that he can support me and more easily slot into the family rhythms.  My husband is extremely proactive and involved in kids and home management, which I recognize is not the case for all.  The calendar is detailed for the week as well as highlights for the coming month.  Actions are translated into to-do’s or calendar items and recorded on the spot.

Date night is critical.  Time to smell the flowers.  If you are on your own, set aside a date night with yourself each week.  For rest, pampering, relaxation and dreaming.  For couples or singles with children, dates take planning – the babysitter, the location, the budget.  Often date night for us is dinner together at home once the children are in bed and a movie or something.  But we try to make sure that one night a week we are “off” and just focused on each other.  It doesn’t always happen, especially because a large portion of my work happens at night.  But it would happen even less if we didn’t schedule it.

Have you ever fought over child-rearing issues?  Or some conflict within your extended family? This is the place to talk about any concerns we have with our children.  “I didn’t really like how you handled “x” with our daughter and this is why.” or  “I’ve been trying “y” and it’s really working.” Not when you are both in front of the child and undermining each other with your issues.  We have a looooong way to go in this area, but it is helping our parenting to be more aligned and less contentious.  We’ve even found ourselves slipping in some praise, “You handled that tantrum with Fred beautifully.”

We remind each other whose birthdays are coming up and download information about siblings, parents, nieces and nephews to each other.  It is a chance to note, “Annie needs a phone call, Auntie Mame told me she’s having a really hard time” – you get the gist.  One of our goals is to be more connected to our young adult and teenage nieces and nephews and this is helping us to do that.

Finally, the financial review: I am a firm believer in the adage that if you can’t talk about money and sex with your beloved (or be honest about those things with yourself), you’re on the path to trouble.  Here’s where talking about money at least, becomes routine and comfortable.  You are accountable to each other.  There are seasons where we’ve tracked all spending and updated each other in this meeting.  Other times it’s just a general “this is where we are on the budget” kind of a conversation.  We also identify big items coming up, holidays, special events, unexpected expenses and figure out together what has to be shuffled around.  It’s easy to get caught up in the minutia here.  The details are important, but make sure you also take time to get above the subsistence of the budget and talk about goals like special trips, giving and the big dreams.

Planning Gives You the Freedom to Fly

As you approach the week, there is perspective, knowledge and empowerment.  If you’re planning with your spouse, then you’ve got a powerful tool in keeping your marriage strong.  Our Sunday night planning has opened the door to some incredible conversations about what is important to us.   More significantly, it has helped us truly understand what is important to each other.   When I’ve enacted variations of this process on my own at different seasons in my life, it’s helped me stay focused and behave more authentically (at least more than I would have without it).

I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, consultant, adviser, coach, teacher and sometimes even my very best super-self.  Evaluating the priorities and planning helps me make sure all of those elements are being touched on – different roles get the focus at varying times.  But none of my roles are completely forgotten.  This framework helps me cast aside the guilt and know that at least one thing is being done in each of the most important areas.

Work.  Life.  Balance.  It’s a conscious choice.  And a never ending work in progress.

These are the things that are important to me and my family.  What’s your secret?  What works in your household?   What are your priorities?  I am hungry to learn from you.

Photo “Planner” – iStockphoto.com, “Dandelion Toes – Chrysula Winegar”

{ 6 comments }

jolet December 2, 2009 at 11:25 pm

Chrysula – this is my first visit to you blog and I just love it. Thanks for sharing.

Erika W. December 3, 2009 at 9:14 am

Great post! I am a planning geek too and although I'm not currently married, these are some great ideas to keep for the future. Thank you!

wendyhcd December 3, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Chrysula, your thoughts have inspired me. The mission statement and goals sound incredibly grounding. And I agree about talking about money and sex with your partner. Here's how B and I manage our finances together:
B created an Excel spreadsheet to track our expenses. We keep it simple: making almost all of our purchases with credit cards (which we pay off every month) so we can use our statements to track our spending. We don't track what we spend with cash, unless it's a large amount, and just enter it as cash in the budget. That way we don't have to keep notes or receipts when using cash. We just track ATM withdrawls. We refer to/update the spreadsheet every week or so throughout the month to make sure we're making our goals for saving and staying within categories for spending, etc. We keep this stress-free too: as long as we're "in the black" overall and are saving, we don't fret about going over in any category. And when we vacation or know we have something big coming up (like the holidays), we create a mini-budget together–often just in our heads–and monitor our spending that way. This usually alleviates any conflict or tension we might otherwise have about how much to spend/do on trips, special occasions, etc. Hope this was helpful!

Juliet December 5, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Luckily for me as an 'in the moment' kind of thinker, my husband Matt
has a wise, long, veiw. Not long after Emma was born, Matt insisted
that we have a day each week to go out together, so we started paying
my mum to come and look after Em for a six hour chunk on a Friday –
paid because it's a lot to ask for free, and she had just retired, so
we knew she would value the money. Also, and more importantly she gets guarenteed
quality time with Em, weekly give or take.

At first I felt quite guilty about this, we already have a relatively
relaxed tempo – one child, both working part time. I didn't really
feel 'entitled'.

Anyway, I agreed to the arrangement, and now can completely see the
wisdom. We talk over things (like yesterday we need to prepare ourselves
for an important Special Needs review for Emma on Monday). Sometimes
we spend most of the time unsticking ourselves from some emotional
tangle. Sometimes we read books, papers, mags, watch films, do
Christmas shopping, that kind of thing.

The thing that really hit me was Matt's recent observation that by the
time Em's 20, we'll have put in hundreds if not thousands of hours on time together.

This is obviously a very personalised solution to the question of
balance, only possible due to a particular set of factors. But life
carries on a-pace, and will not carve out the time we need, so we need
to find some way to carve that suits us.

If I were not married to a long term thinker, I would spend everything
I had right now – literally and metaphorically – and those non-vocal
areas of life, those areas not clamouring for attention would start to
crumble under my unattentive eye.

Let's take care of our foundations, folks.

Urban Tangerine December 6, 2009 at 5:11 pm

We're learning that having a plan and a planning time is liberating. We don't have to wonder if and when something will be addressed. It's a conversation about how and when we can accomplish what is important to us. A budget of money, time or space shouldn't be about what we can't do or have, but how to make it happen.

We basically follow Chrysula's format and my favorite part is briefly evaluating the previous week and recognizing where we've succeeded.

Diana Windley September 1, 2010 at 11:15 am

Achieving work-life balance is the holy grail for working moms. Thanks for your insights and suggestions.

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