How to create more quality family time

Protecting your priorities can boost health and productivity.
By Drew Adamek

The world is more hectic than ever. Busy professionals often struggle to escape the career treadmill, and omnipresent technology keeps us working around the clock.

Dinnertimes eaten up by emails and weekends lost to client calls create a costly intrusion. When free time becomes scarce, family activities frequently get moved down the to-do list.   

As valuable family time recedes, health and productivity suffers. The damage takes on a subtle, "dripping, corrosive quality," according to Mark Sirkin, director of the mental health counseling program at Mercy College in New York, owner of human capital consulting company Sirkin Advisors, and author of Regain Your Balance, a guide to work/life balance.

"You neglect that aspect of your life at your own risk," said Sirkin.

That message is resonating. A recent global online survey by German market research company GfK found that 62% of respondents say they spend "time with family, friends, or pets" to maintain their physical well-being, an increase of 6 percentage points since 2014 and nearly the same percentage as those who said they focus on diet, exercise or adequate sleep to stay healthy. A recent data analysis by the Work, Family & Health Network found that workers with family-supportive managers reported better mental and physical health and higher job satisfaction.  

"There are clear links between spending time with the important people in your life and feeling better. Not just feeling better but being healthier in a more well-rounded sense," said Scott Behson, professor of management at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey and author of The Working Dad's Survival Guide.

But while we know that family time is desirable and healthy, it's hard to find ways to fit it into our overcrowded calendars. We asked three experts for tips on creating meaningful time and space for family: 

  • Assess your values. Before making room for quality time with family, understand what that means for you and your family, suggests Pam Vaccaro, CEO of time management consulting firm Designs on Time in St. Louis. 

    "The bottom line is that it starts with your attitude: Is this something that you really want?" said Vaccaro.

    Assessing common interests uncovers shared values and is a key first step in prioritizing limited time. Evaluate and write down activities your family enjoys. Pick activities that are realistic and affordable.

    Sirkin and Behson also both recommend starting with an evaluation of your relationship with your spouse to establish a solid foundation for family time. Communicate your shared goals and values with each other, and make time for connection to ensure the relationship is on solid footing.

    "That's the basis of everything else: the two of you need to be connected," Sirkin said. "You and your spouse are co-CEOs of the family enterprise. You'd never think about running a business and not talking to your co-CEO."

  • Plan and protect family time. Planning for prioritized activities at specific, regular times creates what Behson calls "protected family times" that are as important as any urgent meeting on your professional calendar.

    When scheduling family time, Vaccaro recommends daily, weekly, and monthly planning, but she also urges flexibility. For example, instead of looking for free three-hour chunks in your calendar, schedule 15 minutes of focused activity together.

    "Don't wait for a block of time. Blocks of time don't happen anymore," Vaccaro said. "Take advantage of a snippet of time." 

    Look to multitask wisely during family time. Sirkin cautions against viewing quality time as an "either/or" situation by combining activities. Instead of choosing between exercising and spending time with family, take the kids for a bike ride. 

    "The most creative people find ways to combine things in a way that can accomplish more than one goal at a time," said Sirkin.

  • Focus. Quality counts. You don't need complicated, expensive events — it's the simple, concentrated connections that offer benefits. Look your family members in the eye; listen and be fully present. You don't have to force intimacy.

    Those personal connections are hard with phones and computers constantly buzzing. Our experts agree: No technology during family time, no matter how painful it might be to set aside that device. 

    "Focus is a matter of choosing and prioritizing," said Vaccaro. 

Drew Adamek is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

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