Recently there’s been plenty of discussion in the technology industry about work/life balance, and in particular whether it’s possible to be a good parent whilst having a successful career in startups: examples such as Yahoo cutting down on remote work, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and, most tellingly, the reaction to Elon Musk’s parenting insight at SXSW
Some will tell you that it’s not possible to do a startup and be a decent parent. They’re wrong. When we started Wonderland Software my son had turned three, and I’d been working in the games industry - which is not exactly renowned for it’s pursuit of a healthy work/life balance - for nearly a decade. He’s now seven, and in that time I’ve learned plenty about how to balance the pressures of startup life with the much more important demands of raising a family. Here are a few tips.
Enlightened companies support flexible working. This is good for everyone, parents or not, but can obviously help people who have non-negotiable time commitments such as the school run.
Flexitime, perhaps with core hours (we had 11am-3pm at Wonderland), and a trusting environment that emphasises give-and-take on working time helps employees and employers.
Manage your hours
It’s not healthy for you, your business or your family to constantly put in long days and work weekends. Startups are generally a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to pace yourself so that you are at your most creative and productive for the longest period of time. Happily, this fits in with cutting down on the crunch and spending more time with your family.
Exclusive family time
Make time you spend with your family devoted to them - ditch the phone, stop checking email, and try to put work to the back of your mind. Give them your full attention and take off your work-face.
Sit-down home meals
Eat your home meals at the dining table, and get up early enough that you can share a proper breakfast with each other. Make dinner at home the norm, not the exception
Cut down on work trips
Be strict with yourself about how worthwhile those out-of-town trips are. Is that conference going to really benefit you, or is it another jolly just like the one you went to a few weeks ago? Is the trip to the parent office in San Francisco actually necessary, or is it just a handshaking placebo for fundamental problems that should be fixed back at base?
It’s easy to think that because you’re travelling you’re working, but I bet that many times you’d save yourself a lot of time by rethinking your approach to this work - and it’ll mean you won’t need to spend the next week away from home.
Share your experiences
Talk to your kids about work. Show them what you’re working on, and ask for their opinions (I’ll bet they’ll notice things that you’ve missed). They’ll love the fact you are sharing with them, and you’ll prevent yourself - and your work - from being remote or distant.