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5 Tips for a Better Work-Life Balance

“Marshall, it’s a pleasure to meet you, what do you do?”

This is the question for which most of us have a well-prepared, 15-second elevator speech (if you do not have one prepared, you should).

Marshall and his wife, Krystle.
Marshall and his wife, Krystle.

For me, it can sometimes take longer than 15 seconds to answer this question. Often my reply includes something to the effect of, “It depends on the time of day, the day of the week, and the events in which I am taking part, but I am a…” I then complete the ensemble with a well-rehearsed statement including my job (Synergy), my other job (chief of a fire department), my main job (father), and my fun job (husband). I work a full schedule as a Synergy Project Manager on APLES II supporting the United States Coast Guard (USCG), run a fire department as chief officer, coach three sports teams a year, volunteer at my church, strive to be the best husband for my high school sweetheart, Krystle, and father my children Lily (12) and Maverik (6).

Often, one of the first questions I hear following my explanation is “How do you do it?” While I do not consider myself any better at time management than the next, I do believe that my involvement in these fields provides true happiness in my life. My participation in multiple arenas also provides me with a unique opportunity to learn from leaders of various disciplines.

One of Marshall’s jobs is Fire Department, Chief Officer.
One of Marshall’s jobs is Fire Department, Chief Officer.

Recently, I attended an International Association of Fire Chiefs® convention, where one of the speakers covered an entire segment on time management and staying busy. While there was much more to their speech, it sparked an interest in me to share some of the tips I use in my life to both maintain balance and stay happy.

Don’t be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in the year as you make use of. One man gets only a week’s value out of a year while another man gets a full year’s value out of a week. — Charles Richards

 

Research continues to show that busy people are happy people. I am happy. Most of my days begin around 6 a.m. with coffee and a scan through Facebook. By 6:30 a.m., my son is awake, and the day has officially begun. I frequently have meetings in the evening (today, it is a countywide chiefs’ meeting). When I get back home, I always have dinner with my family before heading back out to the Fire Station, where I spend the evening working, often returning home closer to 11:00 p.m. On many nights, the station receives emergency calls, in response to which I operate an ambulance or fire apparatus, leading to much longer hours. This happens rather frequently, and while it likely sounds exhausting to some, it is a source of happiness for me. I love my jobs, and I am honored to have the opportunity to serve my community.

To maintain effective work-life balance amidst competing priorities, here are some rules I follow, that will hopefully benefit others:

Make it Meaningful

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” — Anonymous

We all know that is not exactly true. Work is still work, even when you love what you do. My advice is to discover what is meaningful to you in your work.

One of the greatest things about working for Synergy is being able to support the USCG. Every day we show up and do a job that has substantial meaning and purpose. To paraphrase what a prior Captain liked to say, because of us, someone in the Coast Guard gets to do their job, save a life, and excel every day. We do meaningful work across Synergy, day in and day out, for multiple influential clients.

Remember that purposeful work doesn’t always have to come in the form of a paid job. Organizations across your community need vital support, so take some time to seek opportunities outside of your career that will prove to be just as, if not more, rewarding.

Plan

Planning your week before it begins is a great way to prepare for effective time management. Each Sunday, try creating a list of realistic objectives for the week and spread them throughout the upcoming days. Pro tip: plan to complete your most difficult tasks first, and the rest will be a breeze.

It’s easy to only plan for work, errands, or other necessary tasks, but it’s just as important to set aside personal time for yourself to maintain a healthy work-life balance! Block out segments of your week to get coffee with a friend, go for a bike ride, spend time with your family, meditate, or any other activity that will help you unwind. As you spend more time becoming familiar with what can and can’t fit into your week, your time management skills will improve.

Be Present

I must admit, this is still the hardest for me. Be present wherever you are! If you are going to do something, give it everything you’ve got.

Being present means being engaged, actually listening, and communicating while focusing on those around you, not the distractions running through your head. My phone constantly notifies me of something, and it can be very hard to ignore, which leads into my next point…

Unplug

Our phone is almost always at our sides, and it can be easy to keep it there. However, the mere presence of your smartphone can be a distraction to you and others around you. Rather than letting your phone, or other devices, become a constant drain on your productivity, rest, and ability to be present with those around you, leave them in another room so that you have the freedom to fully focus.

Never Miss Dinner

Marshall stands with one of the Shepherdstown Fire Department trucks.
Marshall stands with one of the Shepherdstown Fire Department trucks.

This is, in my opinion, the greatest advice I can give (and it’s not just ‘cause I like food). 

On my wedding day, I had been a firefighter for about three years, and at the time was working as a paid EMT and firefighter. My Fire Chief spoke at the reception, and the advice he gave is what I paraphrase for you now: prioritize dinner with your loved ones.

After a day spent fully investing in what you are doing, make time to share and relate those experiences to those you care about. This advice sums up all the prior points in one: put away your phone, be present with those sharing the meal with you, plan around it, and make the most of this meaningful time.

We all have unique gifts and talents. I encourage you to use these to the best of your ability, give more to those around you, invest in your community, create more balance, and live to your fullest capacity!