Leo Babauta is a father of six children, successful writer, and professional blogger.
If that were not enough to keep him busy, Leo also recently announced that he will soon be a published author as he has signed his first book deal.
Leo recently set aside some time to share a few of his thoughts and experiences on work life balance and what that has meant to him and his family.
Can you please tell me a little about your family? How many kids do you have? How old are they?
I’m married with six kids (three boys and three girls) — the oldest is 14 (she’s in high school) and the youngest is almost 2 years old (she’s in daycare). If I can be doing anything in the world, I’d choose to spend time with these fine people.
Can you provide a little bit of background on your career and professional interests?
I’ve been a journalist and freelance writer for the last 17 years or so, and I’m now a blogger at Zen Habits and Write To Done. And soon to be a published author. Basically, I’m a writer, and I love what I do.
How would you define work-life balance?
It’s really a matter of deciding how you want to spend your time. I don’t divide my life so much in terms of work and life, as it’s all the same thing … but I don’t allow my work to overrun my time with my family or personal goals such as running and staying fit. So it’s looking at your life as a whole, and deciding what your priorities are… and then making sure your life reflects that.
Do you feel that dads have a harder time achieving work-life balance than moms? If so, how?
Not really. Moms who work often juggle a lot more than dads do, as they often assume more of the home responsibilities (not necessarily, but more often than not). My wife and I try to split things up evenly. Moms who stay at home have an even bigger problem: their work IS their home life, so there’s no division at all. Their days and evenings run together as a long list of things to do and people to take care of, until they find the sweet release of sleep.
I think every parent, mom or dad, faces the same problems of figuring out what their priorities are and structuring their lives to reflect them. We often ignore our personal goals to work or take care of the kids, or ignore the kids to focus on work goals, and as a result, we look back with regret because we haven’t done what we really want.
What do you personally find is your biggest struggle to achieving a healthy work-life balance?
I think no matter what your intentions are, things have a tendency toward chaos. So creating a structure in your life that reflects your priorities isn’t just a matter of setting up that structure — it’s a matter of being vigilant and constantly revisiting those priorities so that the structure doesn’t crumble into chaos.
What do you remember from your own childhood with regard to your dad’s work-life balance? Was he around or always busy working? How has that influenced your own views on the subject?
I think my dad did a great job in being there for us, playing with us. He wasn’t perfect, but it was obvious that he enjoyed being with the family. I think that definitely affects me as a father — I have a desire to be with my family.
How have you learned to identify when your work-life balance is too far out of balance in one direction?
Not always right away, but again, it’s a matter of revisiting the issue on a regular basis.
What is one of the biggest mistakes that you have made with regard to work-life balance?
I don’t feel I’ve made any big mistakes — at every turn in my life, I’ve chosen my family over my work. In fact, over the last year I’ve worked so that I can quit my day job to work from home, to focus on my blogging, my book, and my family.
Have you faced any stigmas or criticism for focusing on your own work-life balance? Do you think focusing on your family has impacted your career? If so, how?
I think I could have made it big in the corporate ladder if I had not focused on my family and poured my entire being into work. However, I wouldn’t be very happy with that kind of life. So I’ve made career choices that have resulted in time for my family and in me doing what I love to do. It’s the best thing I could have done.
What is one thing that you wish you knew at an earlier age with regard to work-life balance? That is to say, what is one piece of advice that you would give to a new dad as he struggles to find his work-life balance?
Do what you love to do. That includes being with your family, if that’s what you love to do. That includes making career choices that focus on what you are passionate about.
How has your work life balance changed since you had kids and do you think it has changed for the better or worse?
There’s no doubt that I was much more into my work before I had kids. Work was my life, and I did wonderfully at it. However, I am much happier now that I have a family in my life.
Do you think your work life balance has changed as your kids have gotten older? How?
Well, when you have infants in the house, they demand all your attention. Now that my youngest is almost two (she’s still very
demanding!), I’m able to have more of a life outside of her sphere of influence, but other than that, I don’t think the balance has changed much.
How important do you think it is to find time for just you and your spouse without the kids?
Very very important. Spending time with my wife is one of my top priorities, one of the things I love to do most. We try to have a date every week or every other week at least. We get a babysitter and go out alone. Also, we try to take at least 10 minutes alone, watching the sunset from our back yard, ever day if possible. It’s that alone time that keeps us close as a couple and functioning as human beings. Without it, I don’t think we’d be very good parents and our marriage wouldn’t work as well.
What tips do you have to “unplug” from work? Can you completely unplug?
It’s difficult. I think it takes practice, to let your work go when you’re with your family. Just focus on being present, doing what
you’re doing, instead of having your mind be elsewhere. This isn’t easy, but you get better with practice. Just remind yourself: “Be
present”. Be aware of where your attention is, and when you find it straying from the present, acknowledge this and bring yourself back gently.
What activities and/or interests do you pursue as a means of relaxation?
I love to read and I love to run. These are my two passions besides writing, my wife, and my kids. They are releases into other worlds, and I couldn’t be sane without them.
Leo, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences regarding work, family, and how you have learned to find your own work life balance.