Does Your Schedule Reflect Your Values?
by Elizabeth Grace Saunders
Because of the highly personal nature of parenting, individuals tend to have strong opinions of the way things “should” be as a working parent. Being pulled in different directions—the expectations from both work and home, and the stress that comes with them—can mean parents struggle with questions like: Can I make it home in time for dinner? Will I be able to help with evening activities? Will work be done in time for me to tuck my kids into bed? How much travel is too much? Should I take time during the day to exercise if it means I don’t see the kids before school or I get home later? Is it OK for me to see my friends if I feel like I barely get enough time with my family?
As a time management coach, my role is not to critique your parenting style but to encourage you to live a life aligned with your values. Especially as a working parent, that requires you to be exceptionally intentional with your time. Part of that is developing—and living by—a values-driven schedule. A values-driven schedule requires you to determine what is most important to you and your family, and then craft your calendar around those priorities, rather than fitting your family and yourself in around whatever might land on your plate. This helps ensure that you can feel overall satisfied with your time and parenting choices, instead of feeling guilty or frustrated that you’re not investing your time in the people and activities that matter most to you.
Here is a three-step process to create a values-driven schedule, based on strategies I’ve seen be effective for my clients who are working parents. Table 3-1 offers you a sample worksheet to use for this exercise.
Step 1: Get Clear on What’s Most Important
Begin by listing these key items:
Your time choices impact not only you but also the other members of your family. As you make this list, have some discussions with your kids and spouse or co-parent about what matters most to them. For example, maybe your son doesn’t mind you heading to the office before he gets up, but it would mean the world to him if you leave work in time to see him in his school play.
This is also a really good time to identify what’s not important for you to do. Perhaps there are professional organizations where membership would be nice but the decreased time with your family isn’t worth the trade-off right now. Or you may have the ability to get outside help with some tasks such as housecleaning, lawn care, errands, or handyman items, so you can use that time working on your side gig or spending time with your kids.
Once you have defined your categories, levels of achievement, and essential rituals, think of why each one of these is important to you. Go through each one and write down why you believe they are significant.
Thinking about the “why” can strengthen your resolve to follow through. It’s one thing to say, “I should exercise,” but it’s another to frame it as, “I want to exercise because I want to live a long, healthy life where I can be present for my children and my future grandchildren.” It can also help you weed out false priorities. For instance, if the strongest reason you can think of for taking a job that will mean 50%–75% travel is that it’s the usual next step in your career path, step back and think again. Would you love that job? Would it help you fulfill your potential? Would it match your goals? If so, go for it. But if it’s just what people usually do but you’re not that excited about it, seriously consider whether it’s worth that much time away from your family. We often have more options than we think in our jobs, and success comes in many forms.
As you evaluate the “why,” look at everything from a 50-year point of view. Think about what you wrote down and ask yourself, “Fifty years from now, what choices would I have been happy that I made? What would matter to me? What wouldn’t?” In the moment, things like a work contract can seem so incredibly urgent and important, but over the 50-year span, making (or missing) memories with your family will likely be what you remember.
Step 3: Fuse Your Priorities with Your Schedule
Once you’re clear on your priorities, identify related actions and put them in your calendar. This helps to make doing them more automatic and makes it much easier to live a values-driven life.
Start by plugging your essential rituals into your calendar, and then add new items as recurring events based on your priorities. Here are some examples of priorities translated into calendar actions:
Then have discussions with the people who this might impact about how you can make this work for all of you—and why it’s so important. Maybe your spouse or partner helps get the kids ready on the mornings you work out. Then you return the favor the other days. With your children, there may be days when you need to work late to make up the time you took off to take your child to dance class or to participate in another extracurricular activity. But if you explain to them that you want to make time to talk before bed and really follow through on that commitment, that can help them still feel heard and connected. And if your values-based schedule adjustments impact your normal working hours, you may also want to have a discussion with your boss to explain your intentions.
The needs of each family are unique, but the importance of values-based scheduling is universal. Take the time to think through these three steps and create a schedule that reflects your priorities and values, so that you’ll look back with satisfaction on the choices you made as a working parent.
Adapted from “Working Parents: Does Your Schedule Reflect Your Values?” on hbr.org, November 26, 2019 (product #H05AMY).