I recently did something that might seem radical, but isn't: I took three months of paternity leave to help raise my baby son. Instead of meetings and conference calls, I spend my days changing diapers and singing lullabies. I love my job, but I wouldn't miss this opportunity for the world.
In many ways, this is an exceptional opportunity. Companies today are more likely to offer paternity leave than in the past, but it's still not common. A study from Boston College's Center for Work and Family found that 76 percent of fathers take just one week off (or even less) after the birth or adoption of a child, while 96 percent are back to work after two weeks.
In fact, paternity leave is part of a broader issue for many people. Baby or not, it's often tough to find the right work-life balance. I believe that's something people can and should be far more proactive about. There were many reasons I could have stayed at work after our son was born. The media agency where I work was taking on an important new client, and I was heavily involved in developing back-end analytics, linking their marketing technologies and developing campaign proposals. Plus, I genuinely love my job. But if you don't think hard about some of these issues, work can become all-consuming, and you can miss out on some of the other important things in life.
I made the deliberate decision to spend this time bonding with our new baby. But before I made that choice, I thought hard about four key topics. I think all four are critical to any kind of work-life discussion.
Assess your finances.
Life is expensive. Working harder to make more money is one approach, but if you have other things in your life that are important, set a budget and stick to it. Keeping track of your financial goals and your current status can inform career decisions, such as whether it's a good idea to leave a job you enjoy and gamble on one with better pay.
Prioritize your time.
Finding work-life balance also requires you to manage your time. Figure out what's most important and prioritize that. It's also helpful to plan your day around when you're most productive. If you're a morning person, protect that time for deep work. And if you want to leave early on a Friday to see your kid's Little League game, you might need to catch up on work over the weekend.
Consider your career path.
Some companies and professions just aren't conducive to work-life balance. Some organizations offer paternity leave, but then privately punish people for taking it. Employees who take leave miss out on plum assignments and projects, or they're dismissed as not being team players. Finding the right work-life balance may require you to reassess where you work and whether you want to continue in your current field. Advertising tends to put its people above everything else, but the same may not be true at an early-stage tech company, for example. Be sure to ask HR about leave policies before you join a new company.
Set limits on technology.
There are all kinds of new applications and tools that help you get work done outside of the office, but they can also create the expectation that work should happen 24/7. As technology becomes more pervasive, you have to set your own rules for when and how accessible you want to be.
I don't think there is one right or wrong way to establish work-life balance. The right solution is personal for everyone, and even after you figure it out, that solution will likely change over time. But if you don't think about what you want for yourself, you risk neglecting your personal life for work and vice versa, which is a compromise no one should have to make.