If you don't recognize your children because you spend too much time in the office, or that new road bike is gathering dust in your garage, 2014 may be the time to resolve to tune up your work-life balance. We asked five business owners who are also parents how they juggle their work responsibilities with family time, personal interests and volunteer work.
Enterpreneurs have a special challenge, a Small Business Adminstration expert says — they're never off the clock and they typically have to put in long hours, at least in the first few years. So if they can do it, there's hope for everyone. One local business owner gets up at 4 a.m. to work out. Another has given up golfing so he can take his kids to soccer.
The common theme? It comes down to priorities and planning, not to mention a supportive spouse.
It was 1978, and Linda Lovgren had a choice. She was a 29-year-old marketing professional with a 16-month-old son and a daughter on the way, when the opportunity arose to take some of her clients and go out on her own, opening her own firm.
She didn't know exactly how it would work but listened to her husband, who said, “If you don't try, you'll always wonder how it would have turned out.”
So she set up a home office, hired an intern from Creighton University and a nanny, and went to work.
Today her son is a physician, her daughter is an artist, both are married with children and Lovgren's business is thriving with clients including the Omaha Storm Chasers, Lexus of Omaha and the City of Omaha.
Balancing work with her personal life has evolved through the phases of her children's lives, Lovgren said.
When her children were younger, priorities included their school activities. Balancing clients' needs with her children's needs sometimes meant working into the evening to catch up on a project. Today, she can be more spontaneous, with more time fly fishing and for dinners out with her husband, who is retired from Mutual of Omaha. Focusing on a few priorities has meant not feeling like she was missing out.
“I've never felt like I had to postpone anything,” she said. “We just decided what the priorities were, and that's what we did.”
Lovgren has also served on numerous boards of directors, including the Nebraska State Fair, Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and Nebraska Methodist College. But she's also said “no” to requests to serve.
“I try to decide which boards meant the most to me. It's not only bringing your expertise to the board. You have to have a passion for the organization itself.”
Standing on the sidelines at his children's soccer games, Shawn Williams has heard other parents sharing stories of how they juggle work and life, successfully or not.
After seven years as the owner of the BounceU children's party venue, Williams said he prides himself on having developed a good balance, though it wasn't that way in the beginning.
When he first left his corporate accounting career to buy the BounceU franchise, he was at work almost every weekend, all day long. He has since shifted from hiring mostly college-age employees to hiring more expensive, but more mature, workers, including 30-something mothers who are not only reliable but also are his target customer demographic.
“You have to hire and train and have confidence that they can run the ship when you're not there,” he said.
Now, he works 40 to 50 hours a week and even took off five days around Christmas. In addition to work and children's sporting and school activities, he volunteers with TeamMates, his church, the Rotary Club of Omaha-Millard and on the board of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
Williams has three children, ages 3, 7 and 17, and said he his wife, Cindy, a full-time accountant, are “organized people — probably to an extreme,” planning activities on a big calendar at their home. They view parenting as a team approach, and Williams said family is his top priority.
“I'd golf every day if I could, but I simply don't have time,” he said. “In the grand scheme of things, not golfing is not much of a sacrifice.”
Everything has a color in Lesley Brandt's Outlook calendar: Green means professional, family is in red. Volunteer work is in yellow, work events are in black, and exercise is in gray.
That kind of organization, combined with constant communication with her staff and husband and dedication to her priorities, help the co-owner of the event planning firm to juggle activities at work and home.
Brandt and her husband, J.J. Crouse, who works in technology sales, have sons ages 6 and 8. In what Brandt calls a fast-paced, “snippet world,” she tries to spend quality time with her boys, even if there isn't much time. She and Crouse fine-tune their schedules and also lean on family to make sure everything fits even though they don't have 9-to-5 jobs.
She's in bed by 9 p.m. when possible and her alarm is set for 4 a.m. so she has time to exercise, and even her coffee pot is on a timer, ready to brew. Putting everything on her iPad eliminates paper and clutter. Meals are planned out on the weekends, since there's no time to shop during the week.
Some of their chores run along traditional gender roles — “Winterizing the snowblower — I have no idea,” while she pays the bills — and mostly they just each pick up what needs to be done. He unloads the dishwasher, she folds clothes. He gets the boys ready in the morning, and she drives them to school.
Planning means less spontaneity but also more efficiency. Brandt says her family is doing its own thing according to its own priorities, and she says no to things that don't match her goals. Those priorities evolve with changing family and work needs as her boys and her business grow.
“This whole work-life balance thing, it's just a journey,” Brandt said.
Fred and Melanie Clark don't have to go far to check in on each other's schedules — their offices are right next to each other at Clark Creative Group, their design, marketing and public relations firm. The parents of 16-year-old triplets who are juniors at Westside High School constantly talk back and forth about work and family schedules and say it's sometimes hard to distinguish between “work” and “life” — and that's OK.
“When you own your own business and you're also married, everything blends together,” Fred Clark said. “I love to work and it's always been a big priority in my life to do something that I enjoy. In my mind it's all wrapped into one lifestyle: work and family life and nonprofit groups, all.”
Fred advises setting priorities and Melanie says she tries to use her time well.
'“I try to make it count and then move on to the next thing, and try to make that count,” she said.
She and Fred are “roadies and benefactors” of their teens' rock band.
“The kids are going to be seniors next year. I'm really trying to live in the moment and I'm not missing anything they're doing.”
When the kids were young, she worked part time and had a part-time nanny. Today, the teenagers can get themselves around, but the family still lives by a “regimented” schedule, with Fred and Melanie getting up early to exercise and put dinner in the Crock-Pot.
They try to extend their idea of a flexible workplace to their employees and, as a result, have little turnover.
“As we went through it,” Melanie said, “we realized how difficult it is to put in 50 hours a week and also be a good parent and be present for your kids.”