The Mantra of Family Comes First

Family First Featured Image
photo credit: Mama’s (license)

At Prestige over the weekend, I heard a presenter say that family comes first. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this advice but it’s becoming more prevalent. I generally hear this advice from those who are living comfortably, have two kids or more, and/or have gone through the startup process more than once.

I’m a distributed worker who receives a check every two weeks. I’m married, have no kids, and write about WordPress for a living. Putting family first should be easy but it’s not. The last two years as a distributed worker, I’ve put work before family unless it’s an emergency.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I had a serious conversation about the way I work and how it has negatively impacted our marriage. I’m a late owl and on most nights, my wife sleeps alone. As a distributed worker, I get to make the rules and put myself in the best environment to get the job done.

The conversation with my wife involved words not fit for reproduction but everything she said was right. I’m spending too much time on digital devices and not enough with her. Our conversation was the wake up call I didn’t know I needed.

It’s not easy putting family first all the time. Some argue that you need to put yourself before family so that you can provide for them. Others find a critical balance between spending time with family and getting the job done.

How do you put family first when there are bills that need to be paid, sites to be built, and a constant deluge of work to be done? Please share your thoughts, experiences, and advice in the comments.


98 responses to “The Mantra of Family Comes First”

  1. Family, even without kids, has to come first or you may eventually be without one. I had the same problem years ago. You have to adjust your “working” schedule so that it interferes with family life as little as possible. Treat your distributed worker position as any other job and work specific hours. Your wife, unless she’s never been employed, will be able to understand your position so much better after that.

    • One of the first things I implemented was going to bed at or near the same time as her. That way, I’m sleeping with her at the same time. It’s been difficult but I’ve been able to see the sun at 9AM on most days :)

      Although I didn’t cover it, my smart phone addiction is bad. In the past two weeks though, I’ve left my phone at home when going to the park or on walks. I also leave it in the vehicle when we go out to dinner. It sounds ridiculous to take such measures but it’s working.

      • what I’ve noticed, is that everybody’s on their cell phones way too much the world is gone crazy. Nobody talks each other anymore even when they’re sitting across from each other at dinner, they’re on their cell phones. I live in Canada, Vancouver to be specific and I see it a lot. It is not just you the world is getting a little carried away with the technology. Just remember it’s a tool, it doesn’t run your life, unless you let it. I hope to someday be proficient at at least web press webpages but I will tell. I’m a person with a disability so things are quite a bit different and web design and graphics are not my forte. I don’t really understand the language But I’m going to give it a shot. I know that’s little off-topic but the reality is you should count your lucky stars that you are able to do what you can do because you do set your schedule. You decide. Just pay attention to what’s going on around you. Your wife sounds like she’ll let you know if you’re getting off track, which is actually something a lot of women won’t do. They’ll just leave. Good luck to to you in both your home and work life. Light goes a lot faster now with technology, but that makes other things go slower like home life, just keep a balance.

  2. You are trapped Jeff. No matter how great a job you do in your current work, the instrument of production no longer belongs to you. Therefore the late night sacrifices can only bring modest rewards. Women are willing to put up with modest sacrifices for substantial rewards (for a time). Eventually though they want the basics: time together, time with the children, communication. Much of which seems like a waste of time to most men most of the time.

    You have to put yourself in a position to say no. That means bringing bills to about half of your income. As Charles Dickens wrote:

    Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.

    Keeping expenses well below income has always been the key. Diarist Samuel Johnson wrote about wanting too much:

    Every man is rich or poor according to the proportion between his desires and his enjoyments; any enlargement of wishes is therefore equally destructive to happiness with the diminution of possession, and he that teaches another to long for what he never shall obtain is no less an enemy to his quiet than if he had robbed him of part of his patrimony.

    So in the end, your wife is right. Unless you come up with a big project which will change your fortunes. I love and appreciate WPtavern but in its current form it can’t make real money. On top of that any massive financial success goes to Audrey Capital. It’s difficult to imagine an editor maintaining his or her integrity and making a lot of money here, regardless of the ownership situation.

    It’s not impossible thought: you could partner with a WordPress service bureau, i.e. WP Tavern would be the face of a help service. There are some people WPGarage making very good money on the low end this way.

    The first step would be to buy back at least half of the asset.

    • The amount I make at my job is not an issue. It’s the processes and ways in which I work that are the issue. I’ve been haphazardly trying to figure out this distributed work routine and have not had many successes. It’s a battle day in and day out to figure out the right recipe/routine that works for me. Happy wife happy life. I’ve made a series of changes in the ways I work since the conversation with my wife. I’m doing my best now to make sure I have a happy wife :)

      • Hi Jeff,

        The amount does have a bearing on the sacrifices your partner is willing to bear. Trust me on this: the higher the number, the more sacrifices, but even here there is a point of diminishing returns.

        As others have noted, you have to learn to forget your technology. I usually do NOT have my smartphone internet turned on or often even the ringer turned on. Or even the phone charged. I’m on the internet enough as is. I wouldn’t even have a smartphone but I do keep a Blackberry Q5 on hand so that when I am on duty on a weekend, I can leave the house and check the internet.

        Turn off the internet when you are together and many issues will just disappear.

        Good luck Jeff! Happiness is an elusive mistress.

    • Women are willing to put up with modest sacrifices for substantial rewards (for a time). Eventually though they want the basics: time together, time with the children, communication. Much of which seems like a waste of time to most men most of the time.

      Orly? Women will only put up with some modest sacrifices only for substantial rewards? Men view family time primarily as a waste?

      I’m really hoping this wasn’t what you were trying to say, because that’s coming off like saying all women are gold diggers until the going gets rough or there’s not as much gold to dig, but it’s kinda okay because men don’t care about family.


      • Yes, what George said.

        And George is being rather gracious. Saying that communication and time together with family and children is “a waste of time to most men most of the time” is (or should be) offensive to pretty much anyone, anywhere, regardless of basically anything. And I’m _really_ the last person in the world to find pretty much anything offensive.

        • I’m not one to often say “me too,” but:

          Women are willing to put up with modest sacrifices for substantial rewards (for a time). Eventually though they want the basics: time together, time with the children, communication. Much of which seems like a waste of time to most men most of the time.

          This is hyper-generalized and simply disgusting.

          If that’s your definition of your family, that’s fine, but it sure as heck isn’t the majority in my experience, and certainly isn’t mine at all.

    • Much of which seems like a waste of time to most men most of the time

      You guys aren’t much for subtle irony are you?

      all women are gold diggers until the going gets rough or there’s not as much gold to dig

      Not more than most men, in our Americanized commercial, mercantile culture. There’s been relatively few examples of women willing to die or suffer serious harm for their men. One positive example were the wives of the Decembrists in Russia who followed their men into exile in Siberia. Another, an older example were the Sabine women.

      Speaking seriously I believe we need a cultural reset. When I see policemen shooting blacks with impunity (and most anyone else who catches their eyes but principally blacks), bankers socialising risk and privatizing reward, drone warriors winning Nobel prizes, refugee ships sunk like pirates – it’s pretty clear that the compass is set wrong.

      Even in our little world we have to contend with domain squatting (, borg plugins (Jetpack), copycat coders (WPMU) and data mining (Jetpack/Automattic). But in relation to all the above, it’s really small beer.

      Some perspective gentlemen.

        • James, I didn’t write all women. Women like most groups exhibit some general behavioral tendencies and common traits. Of course, in any group, there are always outliers. Women (and men) may behave vastly differently in a different social/economic structures. The context which most of us face (including Jeff, including myself) in our relationships is the current tech-ridden, internet driven and capitalist Western culture which surrounds us. Within that social-economic context, both men and women as a group do have expectations. Jeff is seeking to meet his wife’s (fairly reasonable) expectations.

          Not that Automattic is evil but that Automattic is doing some evil. Having participated in the creation of WordPress for a very long time (perhaps I missed the first year), I’m convinced Automattic/Matt Mullenweg can do much better than they/he have been of late.

  3. I’ve worked from home since the internet really got kicking in the 90s. I’ve done a couple of office stints, but those included setting my own hours and only coming in part time. It’s hard, especially when you are more productive at non-traditional hours, like late night, to force yourself into a routine that works for those around you…

    I was always lucky to have clients or vendors in Asia or the PacRim, that meant that keeping those late hours could be blamed on them ;) Now we’ve got EU vendors and 5 am comes early for conference calls!

  4. Thanks for this one Jeff. I suck at the whole work/family balance thing. Partially because I’m a night person, partially because I have a compulsive personality, and partially because I’m focusing on long-game, not short-term gain right now.

    The one thing I’ve learned to get good at was “forgetting my phone” when I go out with my wife. It got even better when the headphone jack on my phone broke, means I use an old phone for music when exercising (my current non-work obsession) which means I don’t have my email, twitters, etc. on when I work out, providing a nice break.

      • Dude, no one has invented more excuses not to work out than me. And no one is getting their butt kicked harder, and feeling more old-manish than me:) If I can do it, anyone can.

        One of the things that set off the get into exercise bit was financial stress that I was going through recently. Things were really tight, and I needed a new way to work off the stress. Even if it’s just the waking up sore, is better than waking up money stressed, I dunno.

        Anyway, I wonder about the assertion that with more revenue, there could be more life/ work balance. I’m trying real hard right now to increase revenues, so I can add new people to the CalderaWP team. But would these new team members actually lead to me doing less, or will it lead me to spend more time on what I don’t delegate to them? Also, I’d have to spend time managing them…

        So, I guess the question, which I’m really asking myself is: Is money the issue, or am I the issue? I could probably get a good paying job with a fancy web-dev agency that respected my time, or I could keep disrespecting my time, whether I become more financially successful on my own or not.

        That’s a big part of why I’m doing the gym thing. It’s more about learning to treat myself with more respect, than anything. Counter-acting the damage I’m doing by sitting on my butt in front of the computer all day, is a real nice side-effect though:)

        • Josh – That is a great question you ask “is it financial or you?” I went through the stress of building a team that I thought would make my life easier. The truth is that building a team, for me, just changed my responsibilities from developing to now managing a team and making sure they all had enough work to do in their disciplines. In my case, the problem was me. I made more money before trying to build a team because the variables of my own time and effort were a lot easier to manage.

          • Kiko – Thanks for sharing that experience. I’m working my butt of right now to build my business, but I need to keep this in mind. The goal is not just to make more, and empower others, its to create freedom for myself. I need to make sure when I put in the long hours I’m doing it by choice, and when my family needs me or I need rest I take it.

  5. My main job is Journalist, the side job is WordPress related job.

    There is a federal election in Canada, called at 09:55am on sunday. Election day is October 19. So I will be away from home for most of the 11 weeks.

    I will be ordering A LOT of flowers to my partner. I will try as much as I can to do SKYPE calls.
    I also did a customized pillow (my photo on one side).

    Around November 1, 2015. I will be taking my partner on a 2 week vacation.

    First job keeps me A LOT of times out of the home. second job keeps me in my basement home office A LOT.

    I put on my Google Calendar our anniversary and her birthday so that way I NEVER forget. Those two dates I come back home AT ALL costs.

    When on the road, I call every night (or close to that as possible) and tell her good night.

    Three times of the year that my partner comes first.

    1) Our anniversary
    2) Her birthdady
    3) Christmas

    She is a VERY forgiving partner. When on the road for weeks, I tend to order “thinking of you” amazon gifts.

    • I came here to say the same. It’s so easy to say “family comes first” when you receive 5 figures paycheques every month! Moreover, when you have a team where you can delegate tasks to avoid being overloaded.

      Contrary to the popular belief, putting family first when you work from home, is hard, really hard.

      From what I can tell. It’s FAR more difficult when you work from home and are alone with a 3 y/o kid + you MUST pay the bills + you MUST play with the kid (cause you CAN’T/SHOULDN’T ignore your kid, ever) + you MUST get your job done or trying to raise your startup to the top, or even keep it working enough to be healthy.

      Also, I work with several geek/designer women and from what I hear, they are reluctant to have kids if it will harm their career. Professionals want to ellaborate a good career before having kids, and you see people in their 40’s still avoiding kids because it “could” harm their job performance; and I can confirm you: it does! (but is priceless).
      If distributed/freelance jobs of this era continue this way… man, the human race is condemned to be extinguished in barely.. 100 more years :)

      Fortunately, you have the access to the technology, so at least be virtually present via Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, or whatever media of choice. And the idea of a customized pillow made me ROFL, I did the same with a coffee mug ;)

  6. Family Comes First is a pretty simple idea, with some very powerful implications. Not dissimilar to Democratising Publishing, in that respect.

    As a distributed worker, I get to make the rules and put myself in the best environment to get the job done.

    This is one of the the easiest traps to fall into as a distributed worker, and you need to figure out the best way to get around it for you. A distributed environment isn’t about you getting the job done, it’s about the job fitting in with your life. I don’t work for a distributed company so that I can be available 24/7, I work this way so that I can get things done when it’s the right time for me.

    That’s not to say that there are never schedules or deadlines. For me, WordPress releases need to happen on set dates, at certain times. For you, getting news to folks in a timely manner means that you’re sometimes working to a deadline. But this should be the exception, never the norm.

    I’ve spent a lot of time finding the right balance for me and my family, and it’s constantly being adjusted as our needs change. But I got to this point by setting myself some strict rules to begin with, and relaxing them when they became unnecessary.

    Look after yourself

    When your bedroom, office and kitchen are all within 10 metres of each other, it’s pretty easy to forget to go outside, or exercise.

    Take the time to exercise at least a couple of times a week. At the absolute minimum, go for 2 x 30 minute brisk walks. This gets you outside, and gets your heart rate up. It’s good for you, and it makes you feel better.

    I find that if I go too long without exercise or going outside, my work starts to suffer, too.

    Treat it like an office job

    Do 8 hours a day, weekdays only, as close to 9-5 as you can. Outside of office hours, ignore all emails, notifications, messages, etc. If you need to, remove the culprit apps from your phone. This helps you set strong boundaries between work and life. As you become more comfortable with this separation, it’s okay to re-add these apps, as long as you never act on notifications outside of your work hours. Thinking about work problems is okay, acting on them takes you away from your life.

    If you like to use your computer for entertainment outside of work, make a new profile you can switch to when you’re not working, so you’re not tempted to work.

    There’s plenty of research showing that doing more than 40 hours a week on a regular basis reduces your productivity to the point that you’re less productive than if you had’ve just stuck to 40 hours.

    Once you hit 40 hours, it’s quite literally more productive for you to go outside and have a beer, and not come back until the following Monday.

  7. I’ve struggled hard with this one, especially after a little over a year of working a full-time (remote) job AND running a full-time business. When it comes to my business, I get way more done late at night when I’m the only one awake. Setting strict rules for family time has helped me tremendously, as opposed to attempting strict rules for work – that never worked out too well. Here’s what I’ve been doing:

    (1) One night a week is family night. Devices are off, we all eat dinner together at the actual table, and we usually watch a movie or play board games afterward. The night of the week may change, but this is non-negotiable.

    (2) My husband and I go to bed at the same time every single night unless there is some kind of emergency. Now, I may get back up after he goes to sleep, but we are at least both in bed with all lights in the house off at the same time each night. The longer we’ve had this rule, the more sleep I get; it becomes more and more difficult to get out of bed when I’ve forced myself to take a break.

    (3) When I plan out my schedule, I add the family things first, then schedule work around them. For a long time I did it the other way around and, naturally, my son and husband felt slighted on a regular basis.

    (4) I had a job that didn’t allow me much flexibility, so I switched jobs. I can always move my business stuff around, work on weekends, etc. if I need to, but if I’m going to work a job as well, the job needs to be flexible. I work hard, and it means a lot an employer that recognizes that and allows me to do “normal” things like go to the doctor or the post office when needed.

    (5) I’m on Twitter less often. This one is hard for me because I’m a Twitter addict (as you well know) but I try to plan for nights I know my husband’s favorite TV show is on (one I happen to dislike) or when he’s not home.

    These all seem like little things, but they weren’t little when I was trying to break my internet addiction. The impact on my relationship with my family wasn’t little, either. Don’t try to drastically change your behavior all at once – set a couple of goals and get used to one at a time.

  8. Jeff,

    I forgot to include this:

    Jeff…you can go work all the hours you want, but after Mrs. C leaves you, what can all that money give you?

    Money can’t buy happiness.

    I am sure you enjoy when you have dinner with your wife. When she tells you she loves you. When you go to bed at the same time.

    Of course we need to pay the bills but sometimes the rewards you get when you spend time with your wife is worth more than money from your job.

  9. Good on you Jeff for talking about this. People aren’t often public about their difficulties. I can’t say I’m expert in this area, and like many, my wife and I have had our ups and downs. Luckily, we both continue to work at it and have more ups than downs.

    I’ll leave you with a few links that I’ve collected that have helped me. Good luck and keep at it.

    View at

  10. It’s interesting that you wrote about this. This was exactly what my presentation was about at WordCamp KC this year. It really needs to be more like a 2 hour presentation but I’m pretty sure people would get tired of hearing me drone on for that long.

    Having said that, here’s what’s worked for us (an keep in mind we have five kids in the house):

    1. Routine, routine, routine: I cannot say it enough. Have a routine and stick to it. Set the expectations with the people you work with and the people you live with and then follow through.

    2. Accept that it will never all get done (either professionally or personally), and that’s a GOOD thing! Imagine what would happen if you did!

    3. Set expectations with your friends. One of the big things with working from home is that many (especially those outside of the tech world) do not take what you do seriously. “You have a flexible schedule. You get to make your own hours.” That’s an easy trap to fall into and since humans are people pleasers, we like to drop the work and be interrupted to cater to our friends wants. Unfortunately, this sets a pattern.

    4. SAY “NO” when people interrupt you. Remind them that it’s your work time and you need to get it done so you can have play time.

    5. Always remember why you’re doing it. Family DOES come first. Sometimes that means that the best thing you can do for your family is work and sometimes it means that the best thing you can do for your family is NOT work.

    Those are my top 5 but I have a bunch more. I will tell you that even with the five kids, 2 dogs, 3 cats an bunches of fish while dealing with contractors building out our attic, my wife and I still find alone time an we still manage to keep things in check.

    You’ll get there. Just remember that your wife is the most important part of the equation. There was never “til death do we part” with your job. :)

  11. I’ve been there. At one point I was working about 100 hours a week, and lost all semblance of a normal life. I didn’t know day from night anymore. I would forget to eat. I looked like death most of the time. And worst of all, I was losing the ability to have normal conversations with people.

    The biggest thing I had to do was learn (and believe) that the work would always be there, regardless of the time of day. When I did it really didn’t matter. So I began getting myself back in the habit of living amongst the living.

    Start by removing distractions during the day. Twitter is the worst at this, but email isn’t much better. Get in the habit of doing things on a schedule, and keep it. If work stops at 6pm, it stops at 6pm. Nothing really to be gained by doing something after that. So shut down the computer and go spend time with your wife. Even if it’s “mindless” stuff like TV. Just be *present* in her life.

  12. I think this is a great discussion point Jeff. The bottom line is the idea of “Family First” is just a couple of words. It’s not black and white in the end. To put “Family First” is a very subjective thing. The people that are doing well financially and say that on stage, probably had similar discussions with their partners at some point in the game. It is all about balance. You must be able to provide for your family in the end as well.

    Remember in the end you are the only person that can determine your happiness. You have to be able to stand on your own to be able to be a strong partner in a relationship and a good role model for children. A healthy relationship is one that supports each person in achieving their goals.

    The best advice I can ever give anyone is to try and stick to a schedule. Working at home sounds like a great perk but without a solid schedule that both you and your wife agree too, it ends up being harder than punching a clock at a job. The exercise of talking through the idea of having a traditional job has value. Say you work from 8-5 with lunch in there and add on commute time. Use that saved commute time as a benefit for your relationship. Don’t be so hard on yourself to produce content. Stick to your schedule! You’re a knowledge worker so sometimes you might spend the whole day on research or relationship building… That doesn’t mean you weren’t productive because you didn’t write three pieces in a day. At the end of the scheduled work day, punch out and take care of yourself and your family.

    I suck at working from home. I had to get an office so I could work when I’m at work and then be at home when I’m at home. Too many distractions at home and then I think some sort of weird guilt would kick in that I needed to work later. I still often end up working on stuff at home when everyone else goes to bed.

    I think I told you this analogy over the weekend. A flight from LA to Hawaii is rarely on the correct heading. There is constant course correction to ensure the aircraft still reaches it’s desired target. Just don’t let yourself get too far off course with either your professional or personal life.

    The fact that you are asking these questions of yourself and the community, tell me you’re on the right path. Constantly course correct and maintain balance.

  13. I’m one of the few people who probably doesn’t believe a whole lot in “balance,” rather in seasons of life. The support from my wife Jackie is tremendous and there’s no way I’d be able to be as dedicated to what I do if I didn’t *know* I had her support 100%.

    Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t make sure I’m at every t-ball game and that we don’t have family activities every week, but I’m never at the office wondering if she’s going to be upset when I get home. I know she’s behind me and we talk frequently about how this isn’t forever.

    Right now is our entrepreneurship and building a business season. Hopefully, assuming things go as planned, we’ll be able to start the relaxation, travel, “family first” season of our lives earlier than most, and before our kids are out of the house completely.

    We talk about goals and progress of the business with each other all the time because ultimately it’s going to dictate when the next season of our lives can start.

    Jackie also knows that if she needed me for anything at all, I’d be at home in 2 seconds to help out in any way I could. Family ultimately is first, but it doesn’t get the most time in our current season.

    • I think transparency and open communication between partners does a lot of good. One thing I seriously need to improve on is opening up lines of communication with my wife. Explain to her what I did during the day and the struggles I’m encountering. Right now, Twitter knows more about my life and struggles than my wife.

      • When I went through Officer Training School, my drill instructor had two mottos, and they both still ring in my head decades later:
        1 – Communication is the key to the success of ANY relationship
        2 – Document, Document, Document
        I love that he always stressed the ANY and they are both such great advice.

      • I have to say this, I don’t even know how to do WordPress and Am impressed that all of you are so awesome at these kinds of things. That said, twitter sucks, Facebook isn’t much better they both suck your time away. And you’re right everybody knows about your life. I find them slightly ridiculous actually unless of course you’re using them for advertising or something of that nature. Facebook does have some good if you use it to keep up with the people that you know and love who are distant as far as miles go.It looks like already have communication or are developing it, which is a good thing. Make sure you keep it open because ultimately it will make or break your relationship. You can’t fix a problem you didn’t know you had. For the record, I do have a Facebook account. I do hope to become proficient enough to at least supplement my income. I find it encouraging that many of you are able to make a living doing this but everything has its sacrifices. We like to think were in control of our situations but in reality, we aren’t and never will be. There will always be something that controls us, it’s just a fact of life. Of course control can be minimized but it will always be part of the equation. Just do your best to control your situation and have balance. Sorry I’m new to the writing thing so I babble and go off track somewhat, but hopefully I will get there. I’m finding this blog to be helpful in that regard. I don’t have the same issues as most of you. As a matter of fact, at this point my life is not too bad and I live on disability CPP disability. It is very little money but my family is instrumental and so supportive without them I probably wouldn’t even be here. A loving and caring support system is key in anyone’s life. That is my belief. Sure I’d like to make more money and probably at some point will have to and hopefully by then I will know how to do a WordPress website. That’s right, I am WordPress illiterate. I match a jealous that most of you have the skills you do but hey mine is more of a relationship fixing skill but without a degree it’s a little difficult to find employment. You can’t cite that you helped your friends as experience. Anyway enough for now. You’ll make it Jeff you just have to not lose sight and keep reminding yourself that your wife is the most important thing in your life. The fact that you’re actually trying to change things to make your relationship better says that you are already part way there. The doctors doesn’t matter if you have a distributor’s job or whatever you call it were a regular job. Relationships aren’t easy, I see strife all around me so is not really just something that happens to folks like yourselves. Everybody goes through it on some level. It really depends on your partner as well some are very accommodating, some not so much. Every relationship is unique but guidelines help. It is a very interesting topic and people are not honest with themselves a lot of the time when it comes to relationships. I’m glad you’re all talking about it and it seems like you know each other, so it’s nice that you’re there to help each other. Keep it up. To Miroslav your job must really suck sometimes politicians are full of sh** and you have to report on it, oh well there could be worse things.

  14. Great post Jeff. I do struggle with the giving 100% attention at one time. One thing that is helps me is scheduling. I now only check my email 4 times a day and that is it. The only time I leave Twitter and Facebook open is when I have the downtime. A good friend of mine has put out a few great posts about time management, productivity, Nd putting family first. Here is a great post from him.

    It’s hard sometimes to say no to the distractions, stop when the time is up but you still feel productive, and change habits but it can be done. I’m sure you will get there to. Plus, you have a whole support community of friends, and a profession that will still be here when you turn your computer back on the next day.

  15. Reading the post and the comments, I feel good to know that I am not alone in the situation of balancing the work life. I have a slightly different situation.
    I have a full time job and then a blog to manage and it gets very busy at times, specially when I have to keep reading stuff to keep me updated. My girlfriend is usually very supportive but then, at times she gets enough of it.

  16. Just stay away from smartphones and social media and the problem is solved.
    I use none of them and I’m glad I do so.

    It’s not a question of family coming first but rather of social media and smartphones coming last. Those addictions have been artificially created and maintained, the same way street drug dealers are always there to help you…

    • Interesting you mention drug dealers and such. Why wife finally got sick and tired of my checking my phone when we went out to dinner. She took it away from me and put it in her purse. I started having immediate withdrawals where I just wanted to check to see if anything new happened. It’s at this point I embarrassingly realized I have a serious problem and need to do something about it.

  17. This is an interesting challenge and one that I think most of us in the tech world face. The trap that I’ve fallen into in the past is thinking that I am just going to have one “big push” that will get me where I want to be (more clients, product launched, new technology learned, etc) and I sacrifice time with my family and friends now thinking that I will have time later once the push is over.

    Of course, the problem is there is always the “next” thing that also requires a big push!

    I’ve been reading some interesting stuff about philosophy in general and Stoicism specifically recently. One technique that was mentioned was to imagine that your loved ones had died, to imagine how that would make you feel and how you would miss them. The idea is that your perspective will change and you will be thankful for what you have right now, rather than constantly dreaming of the future and greatness to come. This works for me and has the desirable side effect of making me spend more time with my family (and appreciating it).

    • Great perspective, Miles. My sister likes to simplify it: Live like today is your last day on earth. I prefer your (more visual) version. Thank you for that.

      The only issue is that at some point one does need to make sacrifices to achieve (almost all of biographies show that great and successful people do face these periods of sacrifice). Achievement and personal happiness are difficult to reconcile.

      Specifically in Jeff’s case, the sacrifices he’s made since June 2014 appear to have borne professional fruit. Traffic at is up about 10x what it was.

  18. I have 5 kids and have been working online for the past 8 years, part of that time was for 2 failed startups but most of the time working from home/cafes/wherever my laptop was. I definitely identify with your situation.

    One thing: if you work from home anything more than half the time, the perception will be that you’re always working. Even if you have clear-cut hours, lock the door to your home office, leave your phone in there, it doesn’t matter. Just accept it.

    That said, you can definitely make it so that everyone else accepts it too. Go to bed with with your wife, have a weekly date night, and have 1 full day per week where you completely disconnect – no Internet, no phone, no tablet, nothing. Just you and your family, eat, sleep, play, whatever.

    If you feel that you can’t pull it off because your business will start to suffer, then you need to learn how to subcontract and outsource, and possibly even change business models to a more passive one.

  19. Creative job/business is sometimes hard to manage. You can not sit in front of computer from 8 to 4 and work on ideas. Sometimes they pop up at midnight and you feel to turn on computer and start typing/searching.
    As journalist … something happened or you find interesting topic so you start your research right away, you don’t wait for shift after weekend is over ;)
    Its hard to manage this even without family.

  20. Looks like you struck a nerve, Jeff :)

    This is a hard thing, especially when you’re in a small company or solo. A couple things that helped me:

    1) Rather than structuring your day around a number of hours, structure it around goals. Set reasonable expectations for the day and, when you hit them, go play with the dogs. Some days it might take 12 hours, other days it might take 2. I had a business partner who was fond of telling the sales team “I don’t care if you work one minute a month as long as you hit your numbers”

    2) Don’t be a slave to your phone. “Forgetting” it is one way about it, but it is very temporary. What worked for me was to go through and really fine-tune notifications. For example, the only things my phone will make noise for are texts and Baseball notifications– slack, email, etc, can wait until I want to look at it.

    3) Experiment to prove to yourself that the world won’t fall apart. A few years ago when we went to Greece for a couple weeks, it really helped me realize that the world was okay without me. I would connect to the wifi at breakfast every day to check baseball scores and make sure that BruteProtect or our consulting business hadn’t fallen apart, but, to my giant ego’s surprise, it hadn’t.

    Good luck! If y’all want to come sit by the pool in NM and “forget” your phone back in Ohio, our doors are always open :)

    • Oh – on the phone thing here are two things that have worked for me:

      1. During work, and especially when the chronic interrupters (I’m talking about people who come to the door and want “just a few minutes of your time) who don’t take what you do seriously are there, make sure that ALL notifications for your phone are turned on and loud. I discovered this purely by accident, but I was helping our dog trainer out with something in my office (he calls all the time needing something) and my phone kept going off. Granted they were mostly useless notifications but it was going off every couple of seconds. After that, he said to my wife, “Man, Marc really IS busy during the day. I’ll stop bugging him all the time.”

      2. I know you don’t have kids so this may not apply to you, but a game that we play is that when it’s “family time,” I surrender my phone to them and they hide it. Sometimes it turns into a game of me trying to find my phone while they follow me around the house laughing, and sometimes it just gets left until their bed time and they tell me where it is. Either way, I’ve discovered that when I don’t have it, I don’t miss it, and everyone is involved. Maybe, if the phone thing is a problem with you, you just hand it over to your wife during the time you’re spending with her.

    • Sam, you know I might take you up on that offer, there’s no going back on it now! :)

      @Marc – I remember you describing that game to me on Slack. Should I let my wife be the one to hide it? If it goes in her purse, I’m not getting it back until bed time lol. Maybe that’s exactly what needs to happen. I’ve become very good at leaving my phone in sleep mode so that I only get calls from people on the list or I deem important. As Sam mentioned, I think it’s time to go through and be picky with my notification settings.

  21. Its all about LIFE BALANCE… I don’t believe it should be a work-life balance because work should only be a “part” of your life. Your life and those IN your life should be the core balancing properties. Anyway, congrats on having that tough conversation and I wish you luck on the establishment of new habits.

    • I definitely understand this train of thought but I disagree. I used to think very much like this, but now I think that the line between work and family life has been blurred for decades; long before technology took over our households. My dad was a professor who always had his work at home with him. I went to his work often, and I wasn’t the only kid there. Watch the sitcoms from the 60s. Mike Brady had a drafting table and an office at home. Darrin Stevens had Larry over and they did advertising presentations in the house all the time. Yes, those were sitcoms, but the point is, no one who watched those shows thought it strange. I personally believe that this notion of trying to keep a line there causes more stress than removing the line altogether. Get the kids involved. They LOVE it. I talk to my wife ALL the time about things I’m dealing with and she almost always has great insight that helps me see things from a different perspective.

      That’s not to say you should work ALL the time and it’s not to say that you should have the family sitting in the office with you when you work. It’s more to say that Work/Life is more fluid when you’re not putting so much effort into keeping them separate. My wife and I have routines that don’t involve work just as we each have our routines that don’t involve the family.

      Once again, this is what’s worked for ME, but I’ve found that since I changed my thinking on all of this, my life has been kept in far more congruency than before, and things are far less stressful and we’re far more happy.

  22. Thanks for sharing this personal story Jeff.

    I come at this from a slightly different angle. Our society seems to place a great emphasis on making as much money as you can. And there is nothing wrong with that if that is what you want. I’m not here to judge others. I make an amount of money in my chosen field that allows me to enjoy a comfortable standard of living. I could make much more by relocating to other parts of the country. But you know what? That doesn’t interest me.

    I have no desire to have the biggest house or the fanciest car etc. In the grand scheme of things these things are meaningless and I have zero interest in them. All that matters to me is family and friends. I try to be the best person I can be while I am here. Sometimes I fail of course but I try.

    Having said that, you need to survive while here obviously. Spouting platitudes from a soapbox is nice and everything but it doesn’t pay the bills. I get that. Only you can decide what is best for you. Only you can choose the path you want to travel. Finding that balance isn’t easy but then again life isn’t meant to be easy – we’re here to learn, experience and love.

    Peace Jeff. :)

  23. Jeff? You are doing alright and this is a great conversation. ?

    At the end of it all, it’s just you and your wife. If/when you have kids you’ll expand that to them too. Finding that midway point for work balance is worth it.

    Work with your wife and remain her partner in everything you do.

    That doesn’t mean you need to give this up, but it does mean that she gets to tell you when to dial it back. When she does then listen and just do what she says or wants. And do it promptly, the dividends for you paying attention to her will be greater later on.

    Yes, it is a 2 way street. But speaking from this side of the fence you really want to what it takes to get her to accept what you do and when you do it.

    Getting her buy in for what you want to do is the best thing in the world and your work will be better for it. That acceptance from her will make everything you do alright.

  24. Good thing that you have realized that, I find quite good the fact ot leave the phone when leaving home for a walk or dinner.

    spending some time with your girlfiriend, wife or kids away from technologies is a good habit, for example at nights before going to bed chat a little or going for a walk together with no smartphones.

    good article :)

  25. Having read your post I can recognize a lot from my life :-)

    I don’t work distributed, but I work a lot, especially in peak times of projects. Here I’ve had the pleasure of having a manager that was good at saying no for me. Making sure that I didn’t burn out. I gather that this might be a problem when working distributed. The bandwith is bigger when being able to interact face to face.

    I have a mantra that I have used a couple of times, when I needed to get my feet back on the ground: I work to live, I don’t live to work.

  26. Hey Jeff, it’s everybody’s problem and I have a great solution. Changing the “Hello Dolly” plugin with messages like this:
    “Did you kiss your wife today?”
    “Did you tell her how much you love her today?”
    “You’ve been here more than hour, how about a coffee break with her?”
    “Did you …
    Go wild depending on your interests :)

    Another idea is to remind each other life/work balance on twitter :). Let’s build a club.

  27. Hmmm…what a great post and what fantastic comments from everyone! I have two suggestions:

    1. Use two different email client apps (on all devices) – one for all work-related emails and the other for all personal emails. This helps (well, it helps me at least), further separate things ‘work’ and ‘life’.

    2. just never ever use your phone when you’re with your wife (for any reason whatsoever – except emergency phone calls or when you are both looking something up together – like holiday flights).

    Also, if you’re addicted to Twitter and Facebook, etc. Then probably best to do whatever you can think of to get un-addicted asap. They are true time sinks and can utterly ruin all productivity, which can easily result in what should be a 3 hour task taking like 6 or even 9 hours! Which, in turn, of course, means family time gets wrecked!

  28. Jeff,
    It was great to meet you over the weekend at Prestige Conference, and awesome to see this conversation continued here.

    This might sound ridiculous to some of y’all, but I actually found all sorts of helpful “prioritization” ideas in that “4 Hour Workweek” book. The book is 90% NOT worth reading (same can be said for every business book), but the 10% in there that was helpful to me seriously helped shift my thinking about work-life balance and priority-setting. It’s mostly “80-20 rule” stuff, but I found it to be truly enlightening.


  29. Great conversation. I should be working, but I’m reading this … I think I have a problem! Although tempted to continue working and skip a bike ride with my husband earlier this evening, I knew better (for my health, sanity, and relationship). Now back at it so I can get go bed at a decent hour. Ciao!

  30. This conversation obviously hits a nerve for many of us. Personally my wife and I have chosen to significantly reduce our lifestyle so we can prioritize relationship with each other and with other folks in our community higher than we could if I were constantly online working to earn more. At the end of the day people are far more important than websites.

    It also means I have to be OK not being as “in the know” as I was years ago. Time on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Slack, reading all the latest WordPress news/opinions/gossip, etc. is time that can’t be invested in personal face-to-face relationships. Often a skim through headlines is about all I do. My network within the WordPress community is far less than it was when I was getting started because I’ve made those choices to keep time available for the people I see in person around me, especially my wife.

    At the end of the day I guess I’ve decided that WordPress stuff is what I do, not who I am.

  31. Ah, Jeff, I feel your pain. I’ve had that conversation. Numerous times… Currently we’re still together…

    As a continual failure, I can’t offer any wisdom, except to agree, it is the best thing for the relationship, and for yourself.

    We do it because we get on a roll, we want to “fix this” before we go to bed (coz we know it will bug us if we don’t), we know that we’re slow starting the next day.

    I know that if I get up early it creates a totally different mindset. Early to bed, early to rise, makes you feel positive about the day – eager to start it. Late to bed, late to rise, you tend to start slowly, putting off the day.

    And yet, I still keep listening to the voice that say “just a little bit longer”.

    I’m trying to break the late night work habit – but ironically still read late instead when I do get there early.

    So all I can say, is good luck, mate! We’re all in this together.

  32. I know I should just write a blog post, but I’m going to try to put my thoughts down here in your comment section and see if it makes sense without a full-fledged post.

    The Truth About Money
    If we’re going to talk about family, relationships, work, and all that, it seems like it’s pretty important to start with why people even feel like they have to make a choice. Why not just spend all your time with your family and friends and enjoy life? And the answer is normally money. And if someone who has money says it’s not about the money, others say, “that’s easy to say when you have enough money to not worry about money.”

    So let me start by saying that I don’t believe that the link between effort and money is a direct (and controllable) cause & effect relationship. I think some people are lucky. I think some people have some relationships that net them good amounts of money. And some people have a shitty life that just sucks. Regardless of how hard they try to accrue wealth.

    If you believe this, like I do, then it means three things, I think. The first is that we have to learn to be happy living on less than we earn. All the time. Even when you’re 27. Not just when you’re 45. The earlier you learn this, the better life is. The second thing is that you have to invest the time you do have at work mastering skills that are transferable. Writing and communication, programming, analytical thinking – these are valuable and over time, if you’re lucky, you’ll develop a depth that will earn you more. Lastly, since sometimes the path to money is via a key relationship that opens doors, you ought to invest time building relationships because you can’t predict when or how they will pay off with a net gain of income because of an opportunity that you didn’t actually earn.

    Notice this has nothing to do with how much time you spend at anything?
    The goal isn’t more time working. It’s better working during the time you allocate.

    The Truth About Patience
    I just bought a 55″ Television. Like, seriously, 10 minutes ago. I spent all of 3 minutes picking it out. But when I was 27, I wanted a 55″ television. Because the guy I worked with had just bought one. He also had a nice car. He also was 15 years older than me. And I had to remind myself of that.

    Some ten years ago my boss sold some stock to buy property. This past year I sold some stock to build a nice pool. But ten years ago I didn’t even have stock. I kept thinking – how am I going to get stock like my boss.

    We are all impatient. All the time. It’s like we’re born not only comparing but wanting. And the worst part is that chemically, in our brain, the wanting and envisioning is actually more stimulating than the actual purchasing and owning. Which means we’re never – seriously never – satisfied.

    So teaching ourselves how to be patient is critical. We have to learn to say, “That looks like something I might like. I’m not at the same stage of life as that person, so I’ll have to remember that when I get there.”

    Again, it has nothing to do with how many hours we spend working. But it will mean that the money we earn, while we work, won’t get poured down the drain of “stuff” simply because we haven’t learned to be patient. And this means we can use that money on things that matter.

    Some people will disagree with me. But eleven years ago I started focusing on the time I spent with my wife. I had had a failed marriage (that had lasted 20 months) end four years before I met Melissa and it was another two years until we married. But 11 years ago I went from someone who didn’t take vacations to a person who took 1 or 2 a year. And then 2 or 3. And then 3 or 4. And then 4 or 5. You get the idea.

    Instead of spending money on assets, we spent money on experiences that no one would or could take away from us. When we weren’t on vacation, I worked hard. And sometimes a lot. Late nights here and there.

    But our vacations were the way we spent money instead of buying stuff – which we could afford because we were patient.

    The Truth About Hard Work
    Today I am blessed beyond belief. My life is a dream. And I can’t take all the credit. There were a lot of lucky breaks along the way. But I kept my eyes open to the opportunities to build relationships, I was patient with spending, lived with less than what I earned, and all of that helped.

    But today I’m enjoying the fruits of accumulated knowledge. I’m enjoying the fruits of accumulated experience. And I’m enjoying the fruits of constant and diligent work.

    It’s like the dollar you put into savings when you’re twelve. It grows a tiny bit. But the next year, there’s compound interest. And it grows. And it grows. And one day you’re a millionaire because of that single dollar.

    Knowledge and experience are like that if you’re diligent. And the result of that is that you can parlay that knowledge and experience into roles that pay more. And in roles where you actually work less (though often there’s more stress).

    I love how some developers have hit it big in just five years. I love that their products have taken off. But those are like the one-off stories of athletes I grew up with. They’re not the model. They’re the exception.

    I count on the hard work from 21 to 41 – twenty years before I stepped into this community – to give me the opportunities that I enjoy now. That’s way longer than 5 years. And I didn’t mind.

    Because along the way, I enjoyed the money I did make, focused on relationships, and kept a hunger about learning as a focus of mine professionally.

    The Truth about Family First
    I never once wanted my family to be second. Not in the last 11 years that I’ve had one. So I never really made a trade-off. Instead I focused on alignment. My wife wanted the vacations. So did my kids. So they knew that I would have to work hard sometimes.

    Until mid-June, my kids knew that every single month of their lives, dad would travel for work. This summer has been an exception where I shaped my work schedule to limit travel until September. That didn’t mean they were second all those years. But they surely feel first right now.

    I don’t think there are formulas. We live and learn. We make mistakes and recover. The trick is to keep talking with the ones you love. And if the job isn’t the right one – and makes you crabby even when you’re not working – then it’s time to change. Because no job is worth your life. Or your wife.

    I have no idea if the Tavern even accepts posts as comments, but thanks for letting me write.

    • If you think you need to be making 5 figures a month before you can spend quality time with your family, then very few of us will ever be happy.

      You have to be happy every step of the way. Like Chris says “…we have to learn to be happy living on less than we earn. All the time.” We can’t live our lives — working and neglecting our families, friends & ourselves — waiting for this imaginary day when we can finally be happy.

      There will be periods of time that suck, like someone close getting sick and dying, or a super stressful work or relationship situation, but they have to be blips on the timelines of our lives.

      When my wife has to make a work vs. family decision I always tell her “years from now what you are going to remember – that you went to visit your mom or that you worked extra hours on some project?”

    • I hope one day I will be able to write as clearly and succinctly as Chris does period that was awesome. I have words like that in my head but they don’t come out that way . maybe someday thanks Chris you have another subscriber

  33. I’ve been doing webdesign and WordPress consulting and products for almost 7 years now. Basically started when I was 24.

    7 Years later, I can say I was happy and bloody lucky that the business grew. That growth was channeled towards a different kind of company.

    We work 4 days a week, hardly any overtime (we actively discourage it), 1 hour launch brakes, anyone can take what vacation time they see fit + we enforce a very low maintenance two weeks for Christmas and 1 week for Easter when we just do minimal support for our clients.

    However, this didn’t happen over night. We pushed towards this for the past 7 years. Luckily enough my business partner was on the same page with me and we’ve yet to hear complaints from our employees regarding the schedule :)

    Please note we’re not some “look at us how cool we are” kind of company. We still have problems. For such a small company we should communicate internally better, but we don’t. This leisurely pace means it takes us longer to innovate and ship things and the revenues and salaries are modest.

    But we’re profitable and at the end of the day I’m at 6 PM I’m at home spending time with my daughter and so are my colleagues.

    So it’s possible, but at the same time, if I look back, there were some really long hours for the first 3 years. I guess we were just lucky enough to see that it’s didn’t have to stay that way.

  34. Like so many others, I’ve had that conversation a few times too. My defence is that “I’m a freelancer, I have to work to get paid”, and really, that’s a crap excuse.

    I was late to the smartphone era, but since I joined, the wife has commented more than once about the amount of time I spend on there, so I do try and limit my interaction with it. As per Sam’s suggestion, I’ve just been and blocked notifications for Twitter, Facebook, Slack et al and I’m keen to see if that reduces my interactions further.

    If you go out for a meal wth the family or friends, then put all the phones on the table, and the one to look at theirs first has to pay for everyone else.

    In terms of business, I’ve got the luxury of being able to choose to work on projects that don’t have hard deadlines. So if something needs to wait until tomorrow or next week, then I feel less stressed about it, and less guilty about it sitting there during family time. As a journalist Jeff, that may not be quite so easy to follow, but still, a news article coming out lunchtime tomorrow instead of last thing tonight isn’t going to kill off readership.

    Our routine, for most days, enforces a break and some time together. My wife gets home before 5 pm, we have dinner together (and we try and get it on the calendar so I have no excuse not to help prep some of whatever we’re having) before picking up the twins together from nursery. We come home and put the kids to bed, together. Most times now, I’ll try and stay downstairs with her – sometimes watching TV, or maybe even on the laptop, but it’s still more sociable than disappearing upstairs to the office.

    The laptop, as it happens, only has a subset of the typical tools I’d need and use on the desktop machine, so that forces me to leave some tasks until the next day.

    It’s uncommon that I go to bed at the same time as my wife – she’s a morning person, and I’m a night owl, but I do try, because she specifically asked me to. Even if that’s 10 pm here in the UK, that’s 5 pm EST in the US, so my client’s are, or will be, clocking off soon anyway.

    My long-term plan is to put some products out there that don’t need 24/7 support. Something that still needs an investment of time, but isn’t critical that I respond straight away. I’ve got a couple of small products and earning money whilst I’ve been out at the park with the kids is an extremely satisfying feeling.

    I’ve improved communications with my wife too – she knows what I’m currently working on, and what the long-term plans are. She can see the shared calendar when I have business calls scheduled, and she’ll accommodate them as needed. Me and my business being less of a black box to her allows her to be more understanding on those rare occasions when I do have put work first.

    Note that nothing here so far is about money. You can always earn more money, but time is a limited resource. My wife supported me when I was working and not having much income to show for it. I’ve been self-employed since 2008, and this financial year (ended in April) has been my most profitable and the first one for which I’m not embarrassed by the low numbers. I do think that having financial security is a positive thing for a relationship, but getting to that stage and not irrevocably harming the relationship is the balance most of us face.

    What would really be interesting, is asking partners (and kids?) to read this article and our comments and getting them to leave their own comments from their perspective. Do they agree that strategy X or effort Y that person A says is working, really works for the person A’s partner?

    • Great idea. I asked my own partner to read this article and comment thread yesterday and share her thoughts with me. Still waiting though on the feedback. I do know that the no smartphone at table or in the bedroom helps keep us on track despite long hours.. I couldn’t imagine the mutual hell of dual smartphones following all of a couple’s private and intimate moments.

      Focused attention is the greatest gift a person can give to another (well maybe kidneys rank higher or a carefree college education). Focused attention is the greatest free gift a person can give to another.

  35. And herein lies the crux: “Family First” doesn’t mean – and no offense to Chris Lema – but 5-6 vacations per year. It doesn’t mean a family yearly membership to DisneyWorld. It doesn’t mean moving your family across country for a better school system. It doesn’t mean cashing in stock options for a pool.

    It really simply means choose your family first.

    If you’re working 70hrs weeks to provide for your family – in lieu of being a cheap ass who is forcing your family into welfare – that’s family first. And that’s something to be proud of.

    If you’re choosing to skip a WordCamp because it’s Halloween weekend and that’s important to your children — that’s family first. And that’s something to be proud of.

    If you turn off Twitter and disengage from the net because your partner is staring you down — asking for your attention — that’s family first. And that’s something to be proud of.

    It has little to do with money. I had money. And stock options. And 5-6 vacations per year.

    And I had a husband who never chose family first. He chose self first. And when we divorced, the primary cause was neglect of family responsibilities and selfish choices. For about 2 yrs following that we lived a very meager existence and I constantly questioned my choice to leave. When you go from a really nice home in a bustling big city to government subsidized housing in small town, Texas, you can’t not stop and question your decisions. But 4 years later – we’re rocking a pretty balanced life. And in those 4 years, my ex-husband has proven time and again that he will never choose family first. So I made the right choice. I put my children first. I put my family first. I did what I had to do. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I’m proud of what I’ve done for myself and the children.

    We don’t live high on the hog. In fact, to be honest, if I hadn’t met Paul Clark – who got me involved with the WordPress economy when he hired me in 2013 – I have no idea where we’d be financially. But that chance encounter led to some really strong relationships, the opportunity to really network in the WP Community and that has segued into one job, then another, then another, and now I’m successfully freelancing my time away as an independent digital project manager, I’m helping manage a WordPress premium plugin build with Cindy – who I met through Paul Clark – and I’m running my own little digital services agency.

    All because I chose family first.

    I really want a 55″ tv. I would love to be able to spend 10mins online and order one and not have to wonder where in the budget that money was going to come from. Mostly because John REALLY wants one. But I’m not there yet. I fought hard for basic financial security in my divorce but that doesn’t mean I don’t need to work. If I wanted out of gov’t housing – I have to bring home some bacon. So after 2 yrs renting – I was able to buy a small house and start to rebuild a life for the children. If it were just me, I wouldn’t care where I lived. I’d live in my car. But I’m choosing family first. And in a few years I’ll order a 70″ TV and not worry about where in the budget that money is coming from. :)

    I haven’t been to any WordCamps this year because – family first. We have had a full year of one medical expense after another for the children. I knew this was coming – and I reallocated my travel funds for oral surgeries, ear tubes, and orthodontics. Because family first.

    It’s not a lofty goal.

    It’s a lifestyle.

    And therein lies the crux.

  36. Time management is essential. Figure out the way to regain precious minutes and hours from your day. I did that by opting to not have a smartphone. Nor Facebook…

    This way I can love and enjoy my work as much as I love and enjoy my family and I am not forced to compromise (very often; when I am, I always do what my wife suggests :)

  37. Regarding the late owl or basically staying up at night working in front of the screen(s) let me tell you this. Have done so for ages and it definitely hurts your health big time. One of the key things that helped me change this was this tool called “f.lux” that removes the blue light from your screen after sunset. This leads to your body and mind being able to come down and start sending sleep or rest signals from your brain to your body and also to your mind. This leads to being able to fall asleep faster, have deeper and more solid sleep and thus also waking up earlier and actually feeling fit.

    When I first read that I would not believe it. Now I have tested this “f.lux” tool on two 1920×1200 dell u2412m screens that I do dev work on and oh wow what a change!! Even if I want to work late I am simply so tired after a day of work (and I know how you can always squeeze in one half hour to tweak code) and the screen does not keep me awake any more, so I hit the sack and oh wonder the next day I simply cannot stay in bed any more and feel wide awake with the sun coming through.

    This is what humans natural rhythm has been for ages and will also always be like that, at least for the next couple million years when we get a DNA update but that is an entire different story. Our brain and body is tuned to the sunlight and when you have sunlight your brain sends out signals that keep your mind and body awake. So does your screen, the light during the day is like sunlight, when you sit at it at night it will keep you awake for sure.

    Why am I telling you this? I have two kids and was always tired during the day, thinking I don’t get enough done, feeling bad that I did not really have enough energy for my kids nor my girl. Now that I sleep regularly and deep I get so much more done during the day am happy when the sun sets and know the next day I will have power to tackle the next level on my to do list. I don’t want to post a link, but if you search for “f.lux” you will find it for sure. There are also some proven scientific studies about this and how blue light affects sleep and what not. For me this was a real eye-opener, pun intended.

    You will see if you shift your work rhythm, sleep at night and work during the day you will be super happy to snug up to your wife at night and will get more stuff done during the day since your mind and body and mostly brain will not have to copy with not having had rest but still trying to deliver good intelligent output. You see what I am getting at? Sleep is terribly underrated in today’s society so please you also do not make that mistake. Sleep at night and work during the day. It will give you a real boost. Give it a shot. You can always go back to the old days if you don’t like.

    Naturally having more energy during the day I am sure you will have have more time for your relationship and actually also feel more happy about yourself as a whole. You might also find some clues in about this. Sadly this article does not mention the “screen factor”, might have to post a comment there too about this. most people in IT have no idea what all this bright light does to them.

    On the “Research” section of that “f.lux” site is a PDF linked: Go have a read and see what you are missing. I promise you once you sleep well at night you will feel better about yourself during the day and get more stuff done. And this comes from a chronic night-worker late owl that now is an early bird and loves life even more. It will all come into place.

    To finish all this, I am sure “You Can Do It” it just shouldn’t be working at night.. :)

  38. Family and Quality Of Life have always been “first” for us … but what that has looked like has been very different over time. As Brian says, it does require conscious decisions and discipline.

    Lets Start With Vacations:

    Most people only see today and how much vacation we take today — which is A LOT. But they don’t see the years of struggle because they didn’t know me then. They want to achieve the same thing right now… and that’s just not always how it works.

    When I first started Bourn Creative there were no vacations. I worked 16-18 hours days every day of the week. I was young, has a mortgage, a husband, and two babies — and I rarely spent time with them, I just worked near them or watched them play from my desk.

    I was doing it FOR family. Putting the good of the family’s future first. BOTH Brian and I are totally on board with the idea of the short-term sacrifice, long-term gain — but that’s the difference, we were both on board.

    At first it was just a big deal to NOT work one weekend day. Then I slowly (over a long time) took both weekend days off. Then we moved to 3-day weekends, then 4-day weekends. Our first 5 day vacation was life-changing. It took years to get to just one week, and each year since we have added a bit more.

    We hit the 10 year mark in July and what you all see now is the payoff of all of the years of hard work that came before. It’s easy to say family first and only think of the fun and good and the time off. But family first means a lot of different things.

    Family First Has Different Meanings:

    For some people “family first” does mean sacrifice. It does mean working long hours and weekends to make ends meet and provided a great life… they key is ensuring it leads to a long-term gain for the whole family, and being open and honest about the struggles the whole way.

    For some “family first” means putting everyone else in your family before yourself (which is a whole different can of worms), but that can only be sustained for so long before everything becomes a mess.

    For some “family first” means doing without so you can spend time together. For others it means no screen time when with family. For others it does mean screen time because family isn’t always together.

    What we need to remember is that there should be no judgement on what that means to anyone else. The only thing that matters is what works best for you and your family. Others can judge, give you advice, and tell you what you should do all they want, but you need to find out what works best for you and stick to it.

    Those Pesky Screens:

    Smartphones and the rise of digital social media has made people worse at real life (again another can of worms). When you are at dinner and the person (or people) you are with take out their phone to check Twitter or Facebook, or text someone else, it says, “I don’t value or respect my time with you.” It says, “I’m not present and engaged with you.” It says, “I’d rather be elsewhere than with you.” It says, “I’m waiting for something better to comes along.”

    Even if that’s not your intent, that’s the message it sends.

    When did people become unable to actually spend time together and talk — be it at a meal, in the car, at home, before bed, while on vacation, etc. — without checking Twitter or Facebook or something else on our devices?

    We’re guilty of it too. Checking social in the car, before bed, at the beach… So we had to agree as a family to put boundaries on our time.

    We either leave our phones at home on family hikes and adventures or we bring them but have a rule to only use the camera. We leave the phone inside when we’re outside in the backyard swimming and playing. We don’t check our phones at dinner or on dates. We even go on vacation at least once a year to a place with zero mobile signal for real detachment.

    It gives us the opportunity to be fully present, show up full out, and really show the people we care about that we do care about them.

    Trust me. All the Twitter crap, drama, and convo will be there when you get back. It’s like a soap opera. You could not watch for days, weeks, or months, and then pick it back up again as if you never took a break.

    Life Is a Teeter-Totter:

    We approach life as if it is a teeter-totter with family on one end and work on the other end.”

    A teeter-totter that is perfect balanced all the time is NO FUN! It’s boring. But the teeter-totter than moves up and down, back and forth, giving each person time at the top is fun.

    We don’t ever aim for a balanced teeter-totter not just because it’s not fun, but because it’s a lot of work and pressure to try to keep it balanced. And it is just not realistic. The minute you let go of one end, it goes back to being unbalanced.

    We work to keep the teeter-totter moving, and to never have the bulk of the weight on one end for too long. Sometimes work will come first and will be the priority. Sometimes family will come first and it will be the priority. Sometimes it will even out a bit … that is a realistic approach to work/life balance … one that is doable. It is also one that you can have a discussion around and set some expectations with.

    Communication Is Key:

    For example, when we’re deep in a big project, have a large looming deadline, or are swamped with work, we talk about it as a family. Now that we have kids, they are included in the discussion. We let them know that life is going to be tough the next X days/weeks because of X. We let them know we’ll be working long hours or on the weekend if need be. And then we introduce a benefit.

    For example, when we redesigned our brand/site in 30 days, we told the kids, we’re basically out on life for the next month. We’re going to be working like crazy 24/7 to get this done and it is going to take up all of our time. But at the end we’re going to take a family trip to Disneyland as the reward. We asked for their help and support to keep the house clean, get along, and help each other too.

    Even early on in business when we couldn’t afford weekend trips and vacations as rewards, we did day trips or even half day trips. I’d sit down with Brian, line out my workload, communicate what I needed to get it done, and then we’d plan something fun to do together afterward away from the house.

    And I’d be lying if I said it was all sunshine and rainbows. We fought a lot about my putting work first over everything else those early years. And the kids didn’t always understand. Before Brian began working with me, it was harder for him to understand. But eventually we worked at it and found what works best for us.

    It’s NEVER Easy. It does require conscious decisions and discipline, and constant effort … to communicate, to allow for the ebb and flow of priorities, to put away the screens and social media, and to be fully present when you’re with those you care about.

    I LOVE that you wrote about this.

    Just remember, that WordPress, all of us, the community, and everything else that comes along with work will be there tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after. There will never NOT be more work — and it is totally ok to step away for a bit and nurture your other relationships. We’ll be here when you get back!

    • All of this. Family first does not necessarily mean “must spend X hours doing this” or “must spend fewer than X hours working” because, like many people said, there are many seasons to life and different priorities to each season. Family First really means making sure your whole family communicates and understands what you’re doing and why, supports you, and feels included in your life, and feels like whatever time you do have to spend with them, you’ll be able to be fully present for some or all of that time.

  39. IMHO it really depends on your financial situation and on what financial goals you and your wife have set together.

    If your income is unstable enough that financial ruin is a real possibility, then surely the best way to put your family first is to provide for them.

    If you’re more comfortable but you still have goals to reach (eg you and your wife have decided that you’ll save $x this year), then the conversation shouldn’t be about family vs work, it should be about reassessing your mutual goal. Either you spend more time together, or you work harder and save up more. Either way, sacrifices have to be made. Perhaps there is miscommunication between you and the wife over what your financial goals are?

  40. That the WordPress community is willing to discuss this and other “uncomfortable” subjects is arguably its biggest strength. That which is considered most private is actually most universal. Kudos to all. As a true night person who works at home, I can relate to many of the feelings!

    Everyday, at about this time, I take my cat out in the yard and watch over her as she enjoys the smells and sights and sounds of nature. She is extremely well behaved, and appreciates the time.

    Today, I will leave the phone inside. Yes, I enjoy a simple life, compared to many. And like everything else in life, it has its advantages and disadvantages. Rock on.

  41. I don’t often post comments, but I read the Tavern almost daily. This post (and the comments) really hit home for me.

    I’m now the proud father of a beautiful 7-month old boy, and it’s forced me to take an entirely new perspective of “family first.” I figured it may help some people out there in a similar situation for me to share my experience balancing my work, my wife, our new baby, and the rest of my life.

    I run my own business doing web design, development, and consulting. I don’t have any employees, so almost all projects are handled exclusively by myself. I used to work the better part of 60 hours each week and not even notice it, but with a baby in my life that’s just not going to fly if I want to be a present father and supportive husband. (Which I do. Even more than I desire professional success.)

    Fortunately, the arrival of a baby is something you can plan for, and I knew the first month was going to be nuts so I made sure my workload was light for the first month. I planned on taking 1 week off, transitioning to part-time work week 2, and hitting a near-full-time stride by the end of week 4.

    Talk about a parenting noob getting pwned! Anyone who’s had a baby knows that wasn’t a realistic expectation. As a result, my own expectations of what I could realistically accomplish had to be adjusted. Multiple times. It was difficult. It still is. I don’t think that will ever change.

    What’s crazy is that while I had my lowest earning total in the past 5 years in January, I’m actually on track to make 2015 the most lucrative year for my business to date. I believe this is due to a number of factors:

    1.) I’ve raised my rates by around 25%. The value of my time has reached an entirely new level, and I have no choice but to charge accordingly. In my opinion, I’m charging at around the ceiling of what I can get away with for my target clientele.

    2.) I’ve become laser-focused when I’m at work. I have a window of around 8am-5pm Monday-Friday to accomplish everything on my plate. Very little gets done outside of those bounds. This is approximately 15-25% less time that I used to work. Right now this is more due to necessity than by personal choice, but I’m liking it and I’m going to try to stick with it. I’m finding that my productivity is almost the same as it was before. I’m just working more effectively and efficiently.

    3.) I’ve ditched the bullshit. I fired my first client and I’ve become more direct with the clients that I’ve retained. I don’t have time to beat around the bush. I’ve taken ownership of my time and I’m not going to let others waste it for me. I’m forcing clients to operate on my own schedule. Really what I’m saying is that I’ve gotten better at saying “no.”

    4.) I’ve become more selective about the clients I take on and the working relationships that I forge. I need to make sure that my new projects will be a financial success inline with my new rates, and that the clients I’m working with are goal-oriented, self-starters who understand my personal situation and can communicate their needs effectively. If I see any red flags during my initial communication with a potential client I try to eloquently cut off negotiations.

    I’m well aware that the achievements I’ve made are the result of new actions put in place based on experience gained from years of hard work (as the most-astute Chris Lema has discussed above). I couldn’t have done the items mentioned above if I hadn’t had over 10 years of professional experience under my belt (6 of which have been spent working for myself).

    While I acknowledge that on paper this sounds like wild success, let me tell you, it doesn’t always feel that way. It’s easy to focus on all of the shortcomings both in my work and my personal life each night as my head hits the pillow.

    What’s still lacking is the personal time for myself and the quality time my wife and I used to have together.

    I used to go surfing regularly in the summer. I used to train for century rides on my bike (that’s 100 miles, and yes, it’s kind of crazy). I used to go out for coffee during the day and linger for 15 minutes just to “hang” and “take a break.”

    My wife and I used to sit and watch TV together. We used to go out to dinner sometimes. We used hold each other for a few minutes in the morning before getting out of bed. Hell, we used to talk about something, anything, other than our baby and the logistics of taking care of him.

    I/we do all these things sporadicly now, if at all. But I’m cool with it because my little guy makes it worth it and right now my priority is him. And I know at some point in the near future when he’s a little older a bit of this balance is going to come back into place.

    Life is a work in progress. I’ve made a lot of it this year, but I acknowledge that there’s still a long way to go. Thanks for letting me share. I hope I’ve helped someone out there.

  42. Just wanted to say thanks to everyone who shared their experiences, advice, and personal stories. I didn’t think people would be this personal but it’s a personal topic.

    It’s not published in her comment but on Twitter, Sarah Pressler published this tweet that I think is fantastic.

    “If you take one thing away from the Family First conversation @wptavern: We are all on unique journeys & most are doing their best! Props!!!”

    It’s true. We’re all in unique situations with our own circumstances. What works for one may not work for another because of these variables. However, it’s great to know that myself and a lot of other people are not alone in struggling to find the balance between work and life.

  43. Speaking as someone who has managed to have three marriages go south as a result of his workaholic tendencies, my best tip is to make sure you block out your weekends. That is what is the saving grace of my strange hours (I also work from home, when I want and tend to prefer to work in the quiet of the night). Also, a date night midweek helps.


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