By Colby Reade, APR
The Hoffman Agency, Portland-Vancouver
Just a few weeks ago, my wife gave birth to our first child, a beautiful little girl. Of course, this new arrival has meant that the last few months at our house have been a whirlwind of excitement, nerves and planning, planning, planning.
Like most modern new fathers, I feel a strong pull between my personal and professional lives. I want to be Super Dad, letting my wife sleep while I tackle late night feedings and diaper changes. But I also want to be a Super Account Manager, supporting my team and delivering gold standard work on behalf of my clients.
While life as Daddy, Husband and Employee has been a challenge, I have actually found a few strategies that have made the massive transition fairly smooth. What’s more, I found that these have actually increased my overall productivity, and I believe they can be helpful for any working professional — new parent or not.
Rethink Your To-Do List
I planned to take a couple of weeks off once my little bundle of joy arrived, but we knew that could technically happen anytime within about a five-week window. Wanting to leave my team fully prepared for my exit, I began to keep an extended to-do list. Rather than just tracking my task list for the next day or two, I built out a running list of every work stream in the hopper, what immediate actions were on tap and what the next steps would be. That way, when I needed to log off, I could easily hit send on an email, and the team could move forward in my absence.
Not only is this super helpful if you have time off on the horizon, but I have found it’s incredibly helpful to have on hand for ANY unforeseen moment when you need to step away from the office — for example if you get hit with the flu. Keeping this robust action list up-to-date takes about 15 minutes a day to update, but has a huge payoff in keeping your team moving when you are away.
If you were to wake up with food poisoning tomorrow and had to be offline for two or three days, do you know who on your team would keep work moving forward? It’s easy to preach delegation in today’s work force, but you can’t hand off everything. And sometimes you find yourself as the only person on your team with knowledge of where a work stream sits.
As my wife and I got closer to delivery, I made a point of looping in a colleague to every one-off conversation I was having. While no one wants more email (and 95 percent of the time there was no action for that person), that visibility was ultimately invaluable. When my paternity leave kicked in, I was able to seamlessly hand off work streams without having to burn time getting colleagues up to speed.
As an added benefit, providing this visibility is a great way to cross-train team members and get junior staff familiar with higher-level activity so they can grow their careers and take on more responsibility. Now that I’m back in action, I am always thinking about who on my team would be a smart backup for any work stream on my plate.
Work-Life Balance is Possible:
Despite all the debate about whether work-life balance can be achieved, I firmly believe it exists. You just have to focus on it. Before my daughter was born, I was a typical professional, constantly looking at my phone at all hours of the day. It wasn’t that there was work that needed to be done, it was the sense that I needed to check in case something came up. I fully expected to be checking email in the hospital and popping online a few times during paternity leave, “just in case.”
But it didn’t happen. For the first time in my life, I fully unplugged during time away from work. And in the weeks since my daughter arrived, I find myself keeping fairly firm boundaries between my work and my home life.
It started as a necessity — there’s no sense trying to respond to client email when you have an infant squirming in your lap — but quickly became an amazing trick to boost my productivity. Instead of trying to mix my focus between my work and my family, I can focus on one and then the other. And it’s really a glorious feeling.
When I’m at the office, my family knows I need to be fully focused on my work, and when I’m home, they know I can be fully engaged with them. Because I’m not constantly trying to think about two things at once, I feel more refreshed and recharged than ever before, and I feel like I’m the best version of myself in either location.
Now, if only I could come up with a killer strategy for making four hours of sleep feel like eight …