(Editor’s Note: This post was written by Kevin Kruse, an entrepreneur and New York Times bestselling author.)
How can so many high achievers consistently leave work in time to be home for dinner with their family?
How was former Campbell Soup CEO, Doug Conant, able to spend 30-minutes a day writing thank you notes, and leave for home at a reasonable time?
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg runs a company worth $230 billion, and she still manages to leave the office at 5:30 every day. How does she do it?
How did President Barack Obama, maintain his commitment to his family that he would have dinner with them every night at 6:30?
Back when I was young and dumb, I worked over 100 hours each week as I fought desperately to lead my fast growing startup. I skipped meals to get a few more things crossed off the to-do list. I slept less in the misguided notion of increasing productivity. And worst of all, I traded precious hours with the family just so I could get a few more things done each week.
It was only after painful failures in both business and my marriage that I was forced to discover three keys to approaching work and life, which oddly increased my results in both domains.
Secret #1: There Will Always Be More To Do
My life literally changed in an instant when I read, Andy Grove’s book, “High Output Management.” The founder and former CEO of Intel described his average day, which included leaving at a reasonable time every single day.
At the time, Grove was leading a giant, fast-growing tech company. There had to be endless fires to put out: decisions about new billion-dollar chip factories, product dumping emergencies from Japanese competitors, partnership meetings with counterparts at Microsoft, Dell and other tech behemoths.
But he always made it home for dinner. Grove revealed his ultimate secret:
My day ends when I’m tired and ready to go home, not when I’m done. I am never done. Like a housewife’s, a manager’s work is never done. There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more than can be done.”
And that is the secret.
There will always be more to do,
and always more than can be done.
This is another one of those simple concepts that, once it truly sinks in, can dramatically change your life.
For too long, I let my to-do list master me. “Sorry, I can’t make it home for dinner because I still have that report to do.” And if I ignored the siren call of the to-do list, I felt stress and guilt choking me as I ate dinner at home.
The hard truth is that there will always be more to do, so it’s up to you to decide – regardless of the to-do list or the fire to put out – how much time you’re willing to invest at work each day.
Secret #2: You Can’t Be Everything To Everyone
Jessica Turner, the author of “The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You,” surveyed more than 2,000 women for her book and, among other things, asked them to describe the hardest part of being a woman.
The common theme: Being everything to everyone. She describes how these multiple roles can become unhealthy.
For women, this ‘disease to please’ can wreak havoc on every area of our lives. We are nurturers by nature. We want to help and love on others. But sometimes our actions are not an outpouring of love but a result of wanting to please someone else.”
This phenomenon is closely related to the disease of perfectionism. It’s dangerous to base our self-worth on what others think of us.
Many people are surprised that I can relate a lot to what Turner is describing in her book. Perhaps it’s because I’m a single dad and accustomed to maintaining a household. Regardless of the reason, I still spend too much time – and more importantly, too much stress – on little things that really don’t matter.
Recently, my financial advisor told me he was going to be in my neighborhood and wanted to stop by my home and give me an update on my money. It was a sign of high service, and I was grateful.
But my mind immediately took off – better brew a pot of coffee; is the fridge stocked with Coke? What if he drinks Diet Coke, do I have any of that? We’ll be meeting in the kitchen – need to clean the kitchen counter. Is he allergic to cats? I should lock them in the basement…
It’s completely ridiculous to think this way about my advisor making a house call. Among the numerous reasons:
- He works for me; he’ll keep working for me if I keep paying him.
- He knows far more important things about me – like my net worth – than my kitchen.
- He knows me personally, and I’m sure judges me by my values, character and actions – not my hospitality skills or the cleanliness of my floor.
It is one thing to be collaborative at work and a helpful friend and family member at home. But it’s another to feel like you have to be perfect.
Once again, we must know when it’s time to say “no” to colleagues and friends alike. We must know that to help others, we must first help ourselves, and that begins with putting limits on the amount of time we give away.
Secret #3: Be Clear On Your Values
They say you can tell what a person truly values by looking at two things: their checkbook and their calendar.
Most people would claim they value their family and friends. Most people would say their goal is to be a great parent. Most people would say their health is important to them.
But our actions reveal the truth.
How often do we say we don’t have time for exercise? How often do we skip time with our kids to work on that important proposal?
The secret is to be crystal clear as possible to what you truly value, and then schedule your time appropriately.
There are no right or wrong answers. Only your answers.
For example, if attending your kids’ sporting events is important to you, to what degree?
- Part of being a good parent is attending all of their games and practices.
- Part of being a good parent is attending at least half of their games.
- Part of being a good parent is attending any games that are on the weekends.
Again, there is no right answer. The key is to know what the right answer is for you, and then let that be your guide.
Becoming a master of your time is a way to master your life.
Eventually, as I mastered these three secrets I was able to grow my company from a million dollars a year in revenue to a million dollars a month, while at the same time reducing my total work time from 100 hours to less than 40.
Will you take the first step? Let your family know you’ll be home for dinner tonight.