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Tim Mitchell

Tim Mitchell is a business intelligence consultant, author, trainer, and SQL Server MVP with over a decade of experience. Tim is the principal of Tyleris Data Solutions and is a Linchpin People teammate. Tim has spoken at international, regional, and local venues including the SQL PASS Summit, SQLBits, SQL Connections, SQL Saturday events, and various user groups and webcasts. He is a board member at the North Texas SQL Server User Group in the Dallas area. Tim is coauthor of the book SSIS Design Patterns, and is a contributing author on MVP Deep Dives 2. You can visit his website and blog at TimMitchell.net or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Tim_Mitchell.

Finding a Work-Life Balance

Like most everyone who works hard in our industry, I’ve run into more than a few conflicts trying to balance work and life.  Personally, the further I progress in my career, the blurrier the lines become between work time, family/me time, and just plain lazy downtime.  It’s quite easy to say that you’re going to spend X hours at work, and the rest of the time is mine, but the reality is that that this rarely occurs as planned.  Systems break down, executives create last-minute projects, direct reports need attention, and a thousand other things have a way of derailing your plans to be home in time for The Office.  Further, it’s terribly easy to keep working even while physically separated from the workplace; VPN and mobile connectivity are great tools but make it very easy to forget you’re actually at home.

To help me make sure that I get a sufficient amount of downtime, and frankly, to keep myself out of the doghouse at home, we’ve set up two family nights a week.  Wednesday and Saturday nights are now sacred, reserved for the members of my real “core team”.  We have agreed, barring any real work emergencies, to disconnect completely on those nights and spend time together playing games, going out for the evening, or just hanging out.  This is a new approach for us, one that I am optimistic about, and I’ll be glad to share the results in a few months.

I’d be interested to hear any other strategies to deal with this.  How do you keep your bills paid and your career moving forward while reserving enough time for yourself and your family?

Comments

Posted by Jack Corbett on 26 February 2009

I think you are making a wise choice in setting aside time for family.  Certainly there are times in our profession when we have to work late or on the weekend, but that should be the exception and, in my opinion, should be compensated with comp time.  You should always ask yourself the question, when my kids are gone am I going to have regretted not going to the play/recital/ball game?

Posted by mazzz on 26 February 2009

I follow what I like to call the Deathbed Principle (even though it does sound like an episode title for the Big Bang Theory sitcom):

What are you going to remember on your deathbed - the fun time you had with friends/family, or your old boss's mild annoyance at you not having been available a couple of times?

Caveat: in one's youth (and occasionally beyond), it is very easy to use this very approach as an excuse to stay out for a few more beers on a school night...

Posted by Kevin Hill on 26 February 2009

As odd as this may sound...I quit pursuing the "uber-career".

I have a great job, but I'm not chasing a mgmt position.  I wanted previously to get to SQL MVP status, but the amount of time it would take is just not worth it at this point.

This not to say I don't keep learning and getting better...I still have to make sure that when managers have to make layoff decisions my name doesn't come up :)

I'm home almost every day by 5, play with the family, get my son ready for bed, spend time with my wife...all good things.

Years ago in a different industry, co-worker Chris took off at 3pm during a hectic day commenting that his daughter would always know he was at her recital, but we would forget in a month if he was at work.  That's one of the best pieces of advice I ever got...

Kevin3NF

Posted by Steve Jones on 27 February 2009

Tim,

That's a good start, and I hope that it's more often than not that you're at home on other nights. You realize there is always something that will come up, and there is. There's also always more work. You have to set those expectations to get done what you can get done in 40-50 hours and then push back except when it's really critical.

Posted by Old Hat on 4 March 2009

While it is my personal opinion that a reasonable amount of after hours work is to be expected in most I.T. related positions, I feel that family should always be a top priority.  Except in rare circumstances I freely give several hours a week expecting nothing in return, but once that threshold is reached, I expect to receive ovetime pay or comp time.  This approach affords me the flexibility to regularly meet my obligations as a parent, spouse, and employee.  My employer doesn't give away their products or profits so why should they expect me to give away my time?  Overtime pay seems to force employers to really consider their true after hours priorities.

Posted by wayne.butler on 6 March 2009

The one bit of advice that I remember from the minister in pre-marital counseling is this: Put your family events, appointments, etc. in your planner. Now it's my Outlook calendar synched with my PDA. Soon it will probably be a Google calendar linked to my wife's calendar.

I mark those appointments as "unavailable" or "out of office" just like any other business meeting. When the project planner-who is usually evaluated on their ability to get a project complete by a date regardless of the impact to the "resources"-looks at my calendar or asks about my availability for an evening or weekend install, the family time is already reserved. Dads and Doughnuts at my daughter's pre-school is on the calendar. By the way, this also applies to requests from the church committee chair, or the worship team coordinator. I find that churches or charitable organizations will also take every minute that you're willing to give them.

Every (in theory anyway) request is compared with my calendar. I find it is much easier to say "no" when I already have something on my calendar. When I don't have my calendar with me, I will defer decisions until I check my calendar. The simple delay required to check my calendar gives me time to really consider the request rather than responding immediately. That's important given my tendency to say "yes" even when I know I shouldn't.

Posted by mcaster on 6 March 2009

I found it interesting that all the posted comments were males.  As a wife and mother, I have had the work/home balance to deal with my entire career.  My vote is positively that you *must* set aside time for your family - for your benefit but especially for theirs.  Kids develop  better when they have both parents participating.  And not spending time with your partner does zip for your marriage.

Posted by Doug Ivison on 6 March 2009

I say "Brilliant", Tim.

And the time with them will pay dividends for your own personal well-being.  

A suggestion:  for me, at some point I realized that "play" is more rejevenating than "entertainment"... and then I started finding games (board games, card games, "mind games" ;) -- to *PLAY* with my family -- as an upgrade to some of that "entertainment" time.

Secondly, I realized that, my thoughts about "balancing" productivity/well-being had behind them an idea that I would get "just enough" productivity, and "just enough" well-being... and I finally realized that I was short-changing both.   Now, my target is supreme productivity and supreme well-being... which strangely, is actually EASIER than "just enough" of both.

Be well, and I look forward to the update on how the  adventure goes, ups AND downs, if any :)

-- Doug

Posted by jcrawf02 on 6 March 2009

I second mcaster (and the others) but particularly her comment that "not spending time with your partner does zip for your marriage."

Having been divorced once before, and now happily married again, marriage is truly one of those 'you get out what you put in' situations.  

Work is work, and there will always be other jobs (although not necessarily the same jobs). There will *not* always be other spouses/kids who want to put up with your crap.

Posted by Erich H. on 6 March 2009

It's interesting that every posting up to this point has been in favor of the life side of the equation. While I agree that there is a great deal of importance to that, I struggle with the flip side. As a single earner family in a competitive work environment it seems going the extra mile, or whatever the heck you want to call it, feels like the only option for ensuring stability and potential advancement.

What I guess this leads me to is the follow-up question: what is the point at which you surrender to the work/dark side of the equation? How much are you willing to surrender to the dark side or is it even a negotiable issue for you?

Posted by samiam914 on 6 March 2009

Most employers steal your personal time; if they have to pay for it, stealing would stop. When you over work, your body pays for it in the future in the form of heart attacks, diabetes, stroke etc. Recent medical studies show that when one lacks REM level sleep they develop above mentioned diseases, you might have seen it on 60 minutes show. One should not be forced to work more then 7 hours per day, laws should apply to white collar workers too not just blue collar workers, IT is lacking unions. Labor secretray under BUSH administration put into the law exempting IT workers, that is a disregard to other peoples health. Why is that corporations that pay hundred of millions to CEOs can't hire IT workers for three shifts (8 hours each shift), and it should not be a rotating shift. Body has internal biological clocks that should not be disrupted.  

Posted by Lynchie on 9 March 2009

I remember having this discussion with a workaholic before, someone who adopted Tim's approach.  His argument was that he made sure the 2 nights he spent with his children was "quality time".  My response is simple - kids don't care, ANY time parents take an interest in them is quality time to them.  Goes back to Kevin Hill's excellent observation that kids always remember you missing one of their events but work doesn't remember when you were in the office last month.

I do love my work, and if you work in IT you have to expect to have to work weekends / late evenings every now and again.  But it should be the exception, not the norm.  Once you start working excessive hours (especially if you're not claiming any of it back in overtime or whatever) it becomes expected, and not appreciated, by senior management.

I guess the bottom line is that it is a personal thing, if rising to the top is your priority ahead of your family then it's up to you, but don't be surprised when you suddenly find you haven't got a family any more.  Comes down to what is more important for you as a person.

Posted by jojojorgechacon on 9 March 2009

I think many people have this problem, it's not specially related to IT but some of us IT workers don't have a clear idea of the strategy to use to balance life/work, some of us are pushed with pressure in our jobs and wish we had a better job or position, or maybe be our own boss.

Till then, we have to deal with the time we spend in both of our places. Wish everybody love to have an IT working for the company and appreciate our kind

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