My New Year’s Resolution: Better Work-Family Balance Through Goal-Setting (and a Handy-Dandy Fitness App)

Setting specific, measureable goals could be the key to better work and family balance. Here’s how

We are more likely to spend quality time with family if we set goals and plan ahead
We are more likely to spend quality time with family if we set goals and plan ahead

New Year’s Resolutions Stink

For the past few years, my New Year’s Resolution has been “To get in better shape.” Which, like most New Year’s resolutions, is a lousy, vague “do your best” style goal- these are largely ineffective. In fact, research shows that we are more likely to stick to and reach our goals when they are specific and measurable, when they are difficult enough to require sustained effort but are still realistically attainable, and when they have a deadline.

In a humor piece at the Good Men Project, I once wrote that exercising in my twenties “meant 3 days a week at the gym, plus racquetball, volleyball and pick-up hoops,” and now that I’m in my forties, it “means parking at the far end of my work’s parking lot and making sure to use the stairs instead of the elevator.” Sadly, sometimes this is true. There have been too many days that my pulse rate did not go above rest. I would go a week or two using the elliptical and rowing machines in my basement after Nick is in bed, but, after a while, being done with the day too often meant a glass of wine, TV, facebook and/or a compulsive 19th edit of my next blog piece. Sadly, my exercise equipment too often gathered dust and laundry.

I had been struggling with vague fitness goals for quite a while, but my habits started to change last month when Amy bought me one of those exercise-tracking watches/apps for my birthday. I wear it all the time, and it automatically tracks the number of steps I take per day, the number of active minutes (activity which elevates my pulse rate above rest) and the number of staircases I climb. It can also be programmed to track calories in and out, as well as monitor my sleeping patterns. The app comes pre-programed with a goal of 10,000 steps and 60 active minutes per day.

While I don’t get to 10,000 steps (about 5 miles) every day, I get far closer than I normally would. Seeing that I’m only at 2,500 steps by mid-afternoon motivates me to walk the halls at work, take a walk around the neighborhood once I get home, or dust off the elliptical machine. The fitness app motivates me because the goals are specific, constantly measured, well balanced between ambition and realism, and can be tracked over time.

I love my fitness app (428 steps is ok for the very early morning, but I gotta get moving soon)
I love my fitness app (428 steps is ok for the very early morning, but I gotta get moving soon!)

There are two other things we can do to maximize the chances that we persist in our goals. First, we need to tell others about them. This way, we’ll feel accountable to others, feel dumb if we don’t reach our goals, and, most importantly, we can get moral support and encouragement. For instance, I now write down the number of steps I took each day on the family calendar, and Amy and Nick use that to cheer me on. Finally, attaching a reward when we reach our goals also helps. In fact, I can now only have a late-night treat (mmmm, Ghirardelli chocolate caramel squares!) if I have burned more calories that day than I consumed.

Work-Family Goal Setting

Ok, but this blog isn’t about fitness.

I’ve been thinking about how effective this fitness app has been in changing my exercise behavior, and how the same principles can be applied to better work-family balance. Similar to “get in better shape”, most of us also have a vague aspiration to “spend more time with our wives and kids,” “be more efficient at work,” or “lead a more balanced life.” Noble goals, but I bet we’d be more likely to consistently act towards them if we made them more specific and measureable.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez’s wise post-it note from the White House Working Families Summit

So instead of: “Have more couple time or mini-dates with Amy,” I’m setting specific goals of seeing one adult movie a month (well, not that kind of adult movie, I just mean not a kids movie) with Amy and having one lunch or dinner out as a couple at least once every two weeks. I’ll be marking these down on the family calendar and keeping track, and of course, I’m accountable to Amy for this, so she’s likely to give me subtle (or not-so-subtle) reminders to come up for air during long days spent writing the book to spend some valuable couple time.

My specific fatherhood goal is to set aside one more hour per week for fun, one-on-one time with Nick. To do this, I have to track my daily time use, and I’ve already taken a specific action- Nick and I agreed to at least two father-son Wii Just Dance challenges a week. I’m also going to discuss finding a book  we can read together before bedtime over the next month or so. Specific goals lead to specific actions.

Similarly, for work, I have set up goals for the number of words per day I have to average in order to complete my book by my deadline, and I have arranged for a “second set of eyes/accountability partner” who has agreed to read early drafts of each chapter before they go off to the editor. Not only will I get his feedback, it keeps the pressure on me to not slack off. I will also be measuring my time use during Nick’s twice-a-week gymnastics practices to be sure I spend at least 90 minutes on work tasks, as opposed to just killing time surfing the web.

These are just a few ideas, and I encourage you to develop your own.

I bet if we all got more specific about our goals, turned them into something measurable that we can track, and made ourselves accountable to others for reaching our goals, we’ll be more likely to ace them.

What are your specific work and family related goals for 2015? Let’s discuss them and support each other in the comments section. (and oh, yeah, Happy New Year!)

Like the article? Think it would make for a good facebook, reddit or twitter conversation? Then please share it using the buttons below. You can also follow the blog via email, facebook or twitter. Thanks!

2 thoughts on “My New Year’s Resolution: Better Work-Family Balance Through Goal-Setting (and a Handy-Dandy Fitness App)

  1. I’ve been seriously intrigued by the plethora of fitness trackers and my mom even gave me one for Christmas. It wasn’t a fitbit, and it wasn’t that great, so I returned it, but they still interest me. I’m good in the motivation/moving department, but really want to check my sleep patterns since I suck there. Seems like you’re using yours well and love how you write down your steps and get encouragement. Keep it up, Scott, it’ll become second-nature before you know it!

    I also like the adult movie with wife goal and think I might take that for myself too. That and/or just spending time playing an easy game or doing a puzzle with some wine (bourbon for me) would be great too. Since “work” is raising our daughter, my top goal is to, well, raise her well and be there for her always! Sounds broad, and it is, but raising a kid is a lot to cover as I’m finding out.

    Anyway, best of luck on your goals and I’ll help cheer you on if you do the same for me. My other, personal goal, is to gain weight through strength training and eating more. Sounds simple, but it’s been hard for me.

    Happy New Year to you too!

  2. Thanks so much, and happy new year to you. My personality means I respond very well to specific goals and incentives, so the fitbit is really working well for me.

    As you state, it is important to build in time for all the important things in our lives- not just being a dad.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: