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3 Ways to Stay Family-Focused in the Face of a Demanding Career

A winning work-life balance is often seen as a lofty dream, but with some applied structure and discipline, it's not just possible, but instrumental in becoming your best self.

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It frequently seems that being successful in business means all of your time, patience and focus must be applied. After spending many years in the corporate world, some of them as a single dad coaching two kids in soccer, I learned that balancing career aspirations and family is a truly large task — difficult, but not impossible. Of course, who you are in business is an important aspect of who you are as a whole person, but it’s not the only or most important one. For maximum growth, fun and success in your career, family and individual life, a healthy balance of all three is essential. When you dedicate focused time to each, you prevent burnout, better regulate emotional responses and build and maintain strong relationships.

Here’s how I do it.

1. Keep things separate

I use “boxes” to organize my schedule — one for my entrepreneurial life, one for family and another just for me, and any events scheduled into each day go into one or another. In doing this, I set limits on where I want my focus to go at any given time so that it stays where it belongs.

Scheduling in these boxes also makes sure events don’t overlap. A bad day at work needs to stay in its box, and so off the soccer field when I coach (which goes into the family box: time dedicated to my kids and the team). Even if the house was burning down, I’d try to keep focus on supporting kids with the positive feedback and energy that they need. This can be a tough and delicate balance — ensuring that both are given appropriate attention.

Related: We Need to Reimagine a More Family-Friendly Workplace

2. Manage one thing at a time

It’s important to be upfront with everyone involved about what time is dedicated to which box, and stick to it. Being an entrepreneur is not a 9-to-5, clock-in and clock-out life, after all: It could easily take all your time and creativity if you let it. At a certain executive level, and definitely as an entrepreneur, free time never happens unless you make it happen. So, for example, I may get phone calls from my partners over the weekends, but manage my responses to them based on those box categories. If on a dinner date with my wife, I will ignore a call and send a quick text explaining that I’m in my personal time and not available. It’s hugely helpful, though, to let everyone involved know your time commitments, then manage each based on a sense of balance.

3. A break can be the best medicine

Burnout among entrepreneurs is wildly common, and so breaks are vital self-care needed to inspire energy and creativity. Plus, I come up with some of the best ideas or savviest moves while on vacation — relaxed and away from the office environment. When you allow yourself a total change from the demand to be creative, you leave room inside yourself to do just that.

As you learn to manage these separate and balanced life boxes, you’ll likely find that you jump to fewer conclusions and analyze emotions before letting them take over decisions. In the past, my first thought after something bad happened would be to scream at the person responsible (even if I never actually did it). Over time, I learned to take a step back and react with control — wait a day to think about a situation before responding to it. Most times when I follow through on that 24-hour rule, I realize that the problem was less serious than I thought, which makes it easier to talk things out and move past the situation with more positive results. Managing emotions this way has improved all my relationships – from employees and business partners to my wife and kids.

Related: Growing Pains: How to Turn Hard Times Into Periods of Immense Personal Growth

The busy life of business pulls you in many different directions, but defining and committing to your personal and business missions separately and in a balanced way lets you handle it exponentially better. Strong family connections can give you emotional stability when business gets hectic, and prioritizing personal time forces you to take a break from an often exhausting work schedule. Balancing these elements teaches you to be more present, nurture stronger relationships and to see the bigger picture. The joy you feel with your family revitalizes a passion for business and prioritizing each element of your life allows for the greatest levels of success in each.

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