Jack Bauer and Work/Life Balance?

businessman without work family balance

The following takes place between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. All events happen in real time.

My Schedule for Work Family Balance

6:02 a.m.: The morning alarm goes off at the Titus household. No, not an alarm clock, or even my iPhone. It's the sound of our 5 month year old Naomi stirring in her crib. My wife and I open our eyes and stare each other. One quick game of "rock, paper, scissors" later, I am downstairs in the kitchen, making a bottle.

7:10 a.m.: Baby has been fed and our twins are sitting around kitchen table eating cereal and sliced apples. My wife is upstairs with our middle child (four kids in all)...just so we are clear) helping him get dressed for pre-school. I'm sitting on the sofa with my iPad, checking email and sipping my morning coffee. A little hectic, but pretty much the routine in most households, I would guess.

8:12 a.m.: Sitting in traffic on my way to work. I worked from home yesterday because one of my sons had a doctor's appointment I wanted to be there for. So today, I want to be in the office to attend some meetings in person. It's raining like crazy and there's bumper to bumper traffic. My GPS isn't showing any faster alternate routes and unlike the real Jack Bauer, I don't have Chloe O'Brien on speed dial to help me navigate through morning gridlock. So I call one of my colleagues from work who's dealing with the same commute and we debrief about a change management issue that's popped up recently. 40 minutes later, I'm parking my car and we've come to a consensus on how to move forward. I hang up the phone and walk into our building.

12:27 p.m.: After back to back meetings, including my weekly staff meeting, I'm drinking a protein shake for lunch and working on an expense report from last week's sales trip. It was hard being away from my family for two days but it comes with the territory. The day I got back I took a few hours off in morning so I could drop the kids at school and get caught up on everything at home. That's become my routine whenever I travel for more than two days. I look up at the clock and realize I have three minutes before I need to jump on a call with a client. It will be a busy afternoon ahead.

4:00 p.m.: I've had back-to-back meetings since lunch, but I got a lot of walking in. I make it a point to schedule meetings in conference rooms that aren't right outside my office. It forces me to get up, walk around, and interact with people outside of my team. It's easy to get too reliant on instant messaging, email, texting, etc. They're great tools that can make life easier, but are NOT a replacement for a meaningful conversation. Talking with people is important.

5:20 p.m.: My boss asks me if I want to grab a drink with him. After the client call we just had I am ready, willing, and able but I only have time for a quick drink. We head to the local watering hole and talk shop for exactly 6 minutes. The rest of the conversation has nothing to do with work. It's about family, weekend plans, movies, exercise it's nice to switch gears. 30 minutes later, I wish him a good evening and head to my car.

5:57 p.m.: I'm in my car and the traffic is not too bad, so it should take me about 25 minutes to get home. Perfect. Three minutes later, my phone rings and I pick up on my hands-free set. It's a member of my team who works in Colorado. She and I plan our weekly call for this time because she is two hours behind and is still at the office. I am in the car driving home for at least the next half hour, so it is perfect for both of us. We speak uninterrupted for 24 minutes (I had to put her on hold really quickly so I could run in to the take out place near home and pick up dinner).

9:57 p.m.: Kids are asleep, baby is asleep. The last few hours included a quick run on the treadmill, dinner with the family, reading with my daughter, and a game of Mario Kart with my sons. Now my wife and I are catching up during commercial breaks of favorite shows we've recorded on our DVR. She falls asleep halfway through the second show. I pull out my laptop to check email, but there's nothing that can't wait until morning. So I grab the book I've been reading from my night stand and turn to the last chapter. Right on cue, the baby starts to cry. Rock, Paper, Scissors...DANG! "I am terrible at this game," I say to myself as I get out of bed and head downstairs to go make a bottle!

What I learned about setting priorities from the hit show 24

What I just described is a typical day for me, and an example of how I strive for balance. To me, work family balance is NOT about getting extra time away from work to get your hair done or go to the gym. Conversely, it is not about giving up aspects of your personal life for the sake of work. It is about prioritization and discipline. Priorities are dynamic. They can change weekly, daily, hourly, and or even within minutes depending on a number of circumstances. To find balance, we need to constantly evaluate our priorities. Earlier in my career, I felt a lot like Jack Bauer from the hit TV show 24. I was always trying to "beat the clock" because I felt that time was going to run out on me. However as my career progressed and my family grew, I started to think about things differently. My Outlook calendar became a reflection of my priorities...not the other way around. I started to focus on what was important, not just on what needed to get done. I readily admit that I have an incredibly supportive wife, amazing colleagues, and extraordinary staff. I leverage my time and theirs the best I can in order to get things done. Do I get it right all the time? Of course I don't. But that's the point. I KNOW I will have days where I'm off-base and that the unexpected will occur from time to time. Knowing that allows me to account for it in my planning.

At the end of the day, maybe I'm not Jack Bauer. I've never saved the world (although I would like to), I can't speed dial the President from my iPhone, and don't have universal access to major government secrets. I don't engage in high speed chases (even roller coasters make me dizzy!), and the only scar I have is my appendix being removed 8 years ago. But I do know what it is like to be up against a clock, with the pressure of balancing competing priorities and fulfilling a number of different obligations. I will go out on a limb and say that you probably do too. It's how we handle it that allows us to truly find balance. That, and learning how to finally win at Rock, Paper, Scissors!

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

About the Author

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The Bright Horizons Blog Editor frequently posts on the real solutions that meaningfully support employees, advance careers, and drive the world’s leading brands. The Editor curates the latest news, trends, and challenges facing HR pros because your time is scarce. Follow the Bright Horizons Blog to receive this insight in your inbox.