I was sitting at my daughter's swim lessons on a recent Saturday morning, watching her thoroughly enjoy herself as she practiced her kicks, when I got the urge to tweet:
I’d have so much time for work if I didn’t have kids, but I wouldn’t know the value of that time without the experience of having kids.— Ryan Masuga (@masuga) May 10, 2014
I wanted to expand on that thought.
When I was in my 20's and 30's I worked a lot more hours per week than I do now. I was married and had no kids, so sixty to eighty hours a week wasn't unusual. Staying up until 2 or 3 a.m. every night was the norm. I was always working on something, trying to build a business. My life wasn't very balanced, but I had all the time in the world to work if I wanted to.
I now have two kids, and my free time is no longer my own. For example, on the morning I started this post I was almost done setting up my new Matrix fieldtype for this blog when I heard my son wake up, requiring me to stop halfway through. Deploying the blog changes wouldn't get done until the end of the day. The second time I sat down to finish this post was later that afternoon, on the couch while my daughter was watching a cartoon and my son was taking a rare nap. The third attempt to finish this post is right now, almost two weeks later.
Nights and weekends aren't an easy option for me any more, either. Weekends are family time unless I can get up early enough to get a few things done before the kids wake up. Nights are out because by the time we get the kids to bed, I have nothing left in the tank. I'm ready to do anything but work and then go to bed. I can't stay up late like I used to.
Let's be clear: it's not just about the kids, it's only that they're the latest in the line of "life stages." Each stage is a little more harried than the last:
- Being a kid (Hey, life is good!)
- Grade school (What do you mean I have to get up in the morning?)
- High school (What is this…"homework"?)
- College (Final exams; soul-crushing ennui)
- Got a job (Ugh, wish I was back in college, I was only taking 12 credits!)
- Running a single business (Wow, I have to do everything, 24/7)
- Running multiple businesses (Head spins 360º)
- Married (Spend time with spouse first, then handle all work…good luck, buddy.)
- One child (Sleep? What is sleep?)
- Multiple children (Oh, what have I done)
- TODO: Retirement; physical and/or mental breakdowns; deathbed
In any stage, I can look back at a previous one and say, "I didn't realize how easy I had it." The Catch-22 is that I would never have understood how valuable my time was in a stage (or how much I had at my disposal) without migrating to the next stage.
I feel I could have accomplished more in the time that I had in the pre-kids "Married, running a single business" stage. I don't think I maximized that time for a couple reasons:
- I didn't understand the value of that time.
- I had no long-term goals in mind.
That 60-80 hours a week I had at my disposal was probably filled with a lot of distracted half-work, or work being done on the "wrong" things. And without long-term goals, it's hard to say what I was working towards. I was just working, day after day, on client project after client project, no end in sight. If I had been thinking about long-term goals and objectives in earlier stages, that might have helped me focus on the right things (those things being, in my eyes: hiring sooner, building products sooner, working on "positioning" myself and my business sooner with a concrete goal of "retire to my beach house on Lake Michigan" being something specific to work towards).
In other words, when I didn’t have kids, I wasted an enormous amount of working time, because I didn’t understand my time’s value.— Ryan Masuga (@masuga) May 10, 2014
All this is to say that now I realize I have a lot less time to achieve personal goals that relate to my profession, so I need to maximize the time I do have by not screwing around.
I have so much I want to accomplish and need to learn, especially in light of my company's recent foray into SaaS (software as as service) with lamplighter.io, that I'm terrified I'm just not going to get there. I'm afraid I'm not going to accomplish what I know I could accomplish or learn what I need to learn quickly enough, because the majority of my time is no longer my own. So staying focused when it's time to work, and working on the right things is my only option.
And let's be honest…why am I working on these things at all anymore, and so concerned with maximizing what I can do in the time I have for work? It's for my family—my wife and those very kids for whom I'm gladly making so much time.
I might only have 20-24 hours of quality work time available to me in a week now, but I understand its value in a way I only could now that I have experienced a change in my life as large as having my wonderful kids.
I never would have realized this without them.