Negotiating work seasons with your spouse

I once had a coaching client once who proudly told me about his new ‘lighter’ work schedule.

He was only going to work 14 hours a day 6 days a week. On the seventh day he’d work 2 hours. Yup I called him crazy and when I did he told me his wife had already enthusiastically supported his new work life balance.

Of course I asked him to get her so we could all talk.

Turns out that the previous schedule was more like 16 hours 7 days a week. This new schedule was technically working less so she jumped on any time she could get.

Brent’s 35 Hour Rule

Talking with a friend recently I was introduced to his 35 hour rule which goes something like this.

If I’m working more than 35 hours a week then I’m doing someone else’s job. – Brent Weaver

Now his business can afford employees and his title starts with a C so that works for him perfectly. For a solo business owner, or someone with a few employees, it may not be quite the same. Lets adapt the saying to suit where you are:

If I’m working more than 35 hours a week, then I’m substituting hours for effective work

How often do you dive in to Twitter because you need a distraction? For you maybe it’s Facebook or you pull out your phone and dip in to Instagram for a minute (or 20).

For most people simply removing those distractions from your day will increase your productivity. Most often you’re doing these mindless tasks because you’re avoiding the hard task you should be doing.

Most knowledge workers avoid uncomfortable strain of deliberate practice like the plague, a reality emphasized by the typical cubicle dweller’s obsessive e-mail checking habit — for what is this behavior if not an escape from work that is more mentally demanding. – So Good They Can’t Ignore You

If you can work a system (I love Pomodoro via Toggl and The 12 Week Year) and get effective with your time then you don’t need more than 35 hours a week most of the time. Inside 35 effectively used hours is enough time to accomplish more of worth than most people do with 60 hours.

Assuming you’re going to buy in to being effective with your time, how do you negotiate work hours with those you love?

Seasons

The first idea I like to bring in to the discussion is the idea of seasons. When we were expecting our third child I worked long days for October, November and December. Right up till Dec 20th I was out of the house at 5am and home at 5pm. My wife handled all the chores with our other two kids.

Out of that season which we both agreed to I was able to be off work from December 20 till February 20. I had a month month with the family over the holiday’s to do a bunch more work in the house. I got a month with my new baby girl Arwen who was born in late January.

My season of extra work was followed with a season of almost no work.

Your seasons don’t have to cycle between those extremes. Maybe you spend 3 months working 2 long days a week and then scale it back after a month to a regular work week.

Maybe you sign on a ‘extra’ project and work more hours until you’ve launched that project.

The point is that you have a defined period of time you’re putting in extra hours and once that time is up you take at least a week off and talk with your spouse again about what the next season will look like.

Things you don’t let go

Inside these seasons there are still some things that don’t change. You keep your date night and you keep your family time.

Date night doesn’t have to be a big event all the time. It can be a trip to the coffee shop without the kids. It can be take-out brought in and sitting on a picnic blanket together. It can be a walk on a local trail.

It can also be a fancy dinner out. The point is that you keep a weekly night where you focus on your spouse and don’t bring up work every 2 seconds.

The second thing you don’t negotiate on is a family night if you have kids. In our house that’s Friday night pizza night and a Saturday trip to Tim Horton’s and the park if it’s nice out. Even in seasons where I’m working extra those times with the kids happen. I may get up early and work till 10 or 11am, but I’m home for lunch on Saturday and we spend the afternoon together.

It’s not a new normal

One trap that you can easily fall in to is making this extra work the new normal. You keep working the extra hours, or you stop working the extra hours, but you don’t take up the slack at home like you used to.

Just because your spouse agreed to handle all the laundry for 6 weeks doesn’t mean that you never have to do your share again. When the season is up you dive back in like you did before and handle your part of anything that needs to get done at home.

If you don’t do this then you’ve let them down. They didn’t assume that a few weeks of extra work for you meant that they would pick up extra chores all the time. They assumed you’d come right back in and pick up the chores you did before.

Not doing that is letting your spouse down which is a recipe for much more painful discussions later.

If you can talk together about how the seasons in your work will be organized you can have a successful business and a successful relationship. The communication that you have together is what makes this possible. Don’t assume that your spouse is up for taking lots of extra work while you double down on some idea you had.

Sit down and talk about it with them. Negotiate how you’ll organize life. Set a time limit and stick to it.

Then come back together and talk about what the next season will look like.

photo by: kalexanderson