Finding balance: CIOs share how they prioritize work and family

IT work never stops. But these IT executives do: Read their practical work/life integration tips that let your Valentine know they come first
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(Sam Lamonica, Rosendin Electric CIO, and his wife, Marty, stay connected through a shared passion for dance.)

There’s more to life than work. We all know this, yet technology is so integrated into our lives that we can stay plugged into work during all waking hours. It might even be encouraged or expected at times. But when the scales tip in the direction of work at the expense of other aspects of life – like family – for an extended period of time, that’s when burnout happens. And while some people are better than others at blending work and life priorities, imbalances can happen to anyone – they are simply part of modern-day life. 

[ Read our related story: 8 ways to reclaim sanity at work and home. ]

Imbalances can be more obvious on days like Valentine's Day. Special occasions, birthdays, holidays, family obligations, etc. shine a light on the fact that work is taking the lion’s share of our time and attention. So, for Valentine’s Day, we asked CIOs to share their best work/life balance tips for other executives. Here’s their advice:

Find a shared passion

Sam Lamonica, SVP & CIO, Rosendin Electric: “My wife and I have been deeply involved in ballroom dancing for the past 20 years, and are quite accomplished dancers and trainers. We maintain a dedicated commitment of time for our own professional development, teaching of others, frequent performances and showcases, and social dance events. We have always loved dancing and performing together, and the dancing allows us quality time together along with excellent physical and mental stimulation.”

Put family needs first

Kevin Nally, CIO, U.S. Secret Service: “I have adjusted my work day to meet the needs of my family, which is very important to me. My wife is active duty U.S. Army – a Cyber Warrior.  

"In addition to my wife's birthday and our anniversary, I also mark the date we met for the first time and our first real date."
To help out, I prepare her food for the day (breakfast and lunch) and make dinner at night before she comes home. I take our son Rugger to daycare in the morning, and I pick him up after work. I depart work no later than 5:30 p.m. – period. Once home, I give him a bath and prepare dinner for the family – we dine together as a family – very important. I also keep several special dates on my calendar. In addition to my wife's birthday and our anniversary, I also mark the date we met for the first time and our first real date. These are just little ways I show my wife she comes first.”

Set boundaries – and stick to them

Jason James, CIO, Optima Healthcare Solutions: “I set boundaries and communicate those boundaries not only with my own teams, but also to other executives. One boundary: I am completely out of the office when vacationing. Vacations are necessary for rejuvenation as well as making important memories with your spouse and family. Except in cases of emergencies, I avoid checking email or voicemail until I return. Setting boundaries allows you to find harmony with both work and family. 

"Vacations are necessary for rejuvenation as well as making important memories with your spouse and family."

Another boundary: While my birthday isn’t a national holiday (yet), I treat it like it is and as such do not work on that day. I don’t check email, don’t join conference calls or answer my phone. I spend my birthday sleeping in, going to my favorite BBQ joint, and finish the evening with friends and family.  No matter how busy we are, we should have at least one day where we focus on ourselves; birthdays are a good day for that. 

After hours calls, late night emails, and early morning meetings can take a toll and be especially difficult for a spouse that isn’t in the industry. I am fortunate to have a very understanding and supportive wife. To ensure she knows she comes first, I try to be present as much as possible when we are together. I avoid checking my phone during dinner, I text her during the day to let her know I am thinking of her, and we work together to plan fun date nights. Don’t wait for special occasions to let your spouse how much you love them.”

Advocate for yourself to prevent burnout

Robert Reeves, CTO, Datical: “Creating work/life balance requires setting boundaries. If work hours end at 5:00 p.m., commit to events that start at 5:00 p.m. plus your drive time. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘Sorry, can’t do that. I have tickets for a show.’ You must advocate for yourself because the company probably won’t realize that you are experiencing burnout.

Preventing burnout through work/life balance is not only helping yourself but the company as well. If you are having burnout, discuss it with your manager and paint of picture of how difficult their life would be if you just left. The job market is very tight now and finding employees is a challenge. Thus, your workload might be caused by the company not being able to find another employee to help. Ask your manager to pitch in by carving off a number of tickets, for example, that they handle."

Make time to listen; be transparent

Ken LeBlanc, veteran CIO: “Always make time to listen, and be willing to put work aside to make quality time for listening. I also try to always be transparent about the challenges/issues going on at work, so that my wife/family are more informed about the magnitude of the challenges and implications – without violating confidentiality constraints. Other tips: Never, never, never miss a special occasion! Keep things in perspective, especially in the tough moments. Schedule wife/family time on the calendar, to help guard the required time commitments.”

Carve out family time as you would for meetings

Craig Williams, VP & CIO, Ciena: “The reality is that work and your family, hobbies, etc. must integrate. A mentor once told me that you must put the pencil down at a certain time every day and if that's hard to do, actually carve out time on your calendar for home dinners, hobbies, kids' activities, etc. as you would a company meeting. I do this on a regular basis now, and it really works. I think we should all live like it's Valentine's Day every day. Why not?”

[ Is frequent travel causing too much turbulence in your life? Read How to be more productive while traveling. ]

Carla Rudder is a community manager and editor for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.  

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