This article was originally published on ChuckFried.com
I’ve always enjoyed writing. From my days in college when I successfully lobbied for an independent study course on advanced fiction writing, to the non-fiction I tend to write about today, it serves as an escape. A cathartic break from my sometimes crazy days.
During those crazy days, I am running a business - a successful IT consulting and staffing company, supporting mostly mid-market and large customers running IBM software. I am usually flying somewhere; attending a conference, meeting with a partner firm, visiting a customer, or putting out fires in the office. Days are hectic.
It’s always been this way, though. My wife runs a social services/child welfare agency. Oh, on top of that, we also have two dogs. Small dogs, so that probably counts as something like four big dogs (if you factor in their attitude).
Oh, and we have kids. Ten kids. Yeah, so things can be busy.
In the interest of full disclosure, most of our ‘kids’ aren’t really kids any longer. Most are in their 20’s. Our oldest is a year away from turning 30 and our youngest are turning 17 this year. Most aren’t at home any longer as a result, but still…lots of kids…
So what’s it like running a business, being a dad, and still having something of a personal life with hobbies, interests, and alone time? It’s chaotic, but thrilling, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Here are some lessons learned along the way… You can call it my personal path to sanity (or success), if you will. Though, I do believe it’s a journey, not a destination. Although I can always see it in the distance, true sanity can never be achieved, at least not if you have 10 kids!
I digress. Lets get to that list!
1. Get up early
Get up early… Really early. My alarm usually sounds around 5am, though I’m usually up already. It's the quietest and most productive time of the day. Get things done early morning, whether they be for professional you or personal you, before the hustle and bustle of your day starts, and (more importantly) before your kids and spouse wake up!
2. Go to bed early
Nothing good ever happens after 10 pm. Nothing. Sorry nightlife, you’re not for me. Going to bed early makes rising early easier. Sure - it means I watch one less show or cut my nightly reading short but, the earlier I sleep, the earlier I rise. My day starts off on the right, productive foot.
3. Find at least one hobby, Netflix show, or something to do regularly with your spouse
It gives you something to look forward to and helps to maintain a common reference point between the always important, and never-ending parenting conversations. My wife and I have always made it a point to have a weekly date night. Beyond those childless date nights, we prioritize spending time together throughout the week to catch up on our favorite TV show. We’ll even read together (though separate books in completely different genres). Reading counts, too.
4. Make your kids live somewhere near you
We failed at this one (one of our sons lives in Europe) but, it’s a good idea if you don’t want to go broke with airfare. And, if you fail like I’ve failed, make it a point to travel (as often as financially possible) to visit!
5. Get a pet, or two
No human will ever be as excited to see me come home as our little dogs are, even if I’ve only just returned from a brief, 10 minute errand. Oh, yeah, and they can be pretty cute too. With most of the kids gone, I don’t like to consider myself an almost empty nester… we always have our dogs.
6. Have a good support team to lean on at the office
I get to hand pick mine, so I’ve been very fortunate, but it’s hugely important to have a team you can delegate to, especially when traveling overseas to visit previously referenced child and their family.
7. Hire slow, fire fast
Enough said. Trust your gut. If it feels right, it is. If it feels wrong, it is. Don’t overthink it. Much like in parenting, your gut is almost always right.
8. Fail fast, try again
This rings true for most things in life. Fail quickly, learn from your mistakes, and repeat as often as you can. In personal matters and in running the business.
9. Read like your life depends on it
I am always in the middle of at least TWO books, typically one non-fiction and one fiction. It doesn’t matter how crazy the days get, reading keeps me sane. Ask me, and I’ll gladly share my reading list!
10. Use some form of automated data backup service
You computer WILL fail you at some point, and it will be when it’s totally inconvenient. Plan for it.
11. Keep your inbox clean and your laptop/desktop almost as clean
Between the family and the constant work involved in running a business, my inbox can become quite clogged. So, to keep organized (for the disorganized) I have sub folders, and categories for everything. I try to end each day with UNDER 50 emails in my inbox (I receive over 400 emails a day mind you, this is no small task). I also rarely have a full desktop of files and folders, and NEVER have more than a few windows open in my browser.
12. Make health & fitness a priority
I’m a foodie, but also an avid workout fiend. I run, bike and swim daily (not each activity every day but at least one of those every day). If I binge eat – and I do sometimes binge – I just add miles to the run, ride or swim the next day.
13. Travel often
Life is the stuff that happens to us while we are waiting for life to happen. Enjoy each day. Find a way to make travel part of your life. Learn a new language, visit different places and cultures. Get out of your comfort zone.
14. Unplug for at least a part of each day
I don’t sleep with my phone on. If I’m unplugged, you can’t reach me, allowing me to be more present and in the moment.
15. Make time to be with family
Make it a priority. When your friends move away, or aren’t around, family always is. Love them or tolerate them, they will always be there for you, and will always be family.
16. Teach yourself a musical instrument, or get better at one if you already play
I am trying to make time to learn to play the guitar. It’s a struggle, but it is a goal. I will get this done. I won’t be the best, but I will accomplish it.
17. Keep a journal
I use day one. It’s not perfect, and far from a diary, but beyond allowing me to look up notes I took when talking to a customer, it’s a gathering place for my thoughts, some of which will be come blog posts like this ones, others will never see the light of day. It’s a good habit to pick up.
18. Live life like you are always being recorded or monitored (because you probably are, especially if you are a dad or a boss)
This one might seem odd, but more times than I can recall, it’s kept me from saying something stupid, doing something stupider, or just hurting someone’s feelings. Pretend a camera is always on you, and that your every action will be scrutinized one day, and you’ll be amazed how easy it is to always do the right thing.
19. Find a mentor, or be a mentor (but probably both)
Help others reach their goal. Nurturing young talent is a reward unlike any other. I was asked once (and accepted) to be a pacer in a half marathon, and that simple act of running a race and helping others to hit their goal time was one of the most rewarding running experiences I have had in a lifetime of runs.
20. Set goals.
A goal or target with no timeline is just a dream. Start small. Call a customer a day, or 5…or better yet, pick a big, fat, hairy goal, or BFHG as we call them, and break it down into attainable pieces, and go for it!