Plaster Man argues that work life and family life can co-exist.

One of the biggest challenges that faces a person in business is the balancing of business and family life. Finding that happy medium wherein work is taken care of, but quality time with the wife, husband and/or kids is not crowded out.

I bring this up for two reasons: First, it's a subject that has been brought up on the Walls & Ceilings bulletin board at and second, because it's something that must be tackled when doing plastering and plaster repair. We'll use the PATCH system to break this subject down for discussion.

Problem: The problem that frequently comes up in doing plastering, and especially plaster repair, is using time efficiently. It's usually not the time spent on the job that's the problem. The real challenge comes after work. The time spent at home working on the books, writing proposals, getting things ready for the next project, and the big one: looking at jobs. It's this last one that I want to talk about. Now, if doing new construction, this doesn't pose too big a problem. A person is plastering a new house for a week, maybe two. That means that in a year's time one needs only to look at 25 to 52 jobs. And often, there is a string of houses that are lined up with one contractor, making the amount of time spent looking at the next job even less.

Where things can really get wild is when doing plaster repair. Now granted, some of the repairs and renovations are quite large, maybe a two- or three-day job. However, in the majority of cases, repairs are small, with an hour or two involved to do the total job. This simply means that more projects must be looked at. In a year's time, one could look at 100 to 300 jobs, maybe more. If you look at the big companies, many of them even have an official estimator, someone who looks at projects full time. For the little guy, this has to be covered by me, myself and I.

Approach: How are we going to deal with this problem? This has a lot to do with our mental outlook, our vision and view of business. If that's our entire focus and we have no problem working 60 to 80 hours a week, then there isn't a problem here. However, I tend to look at how to use my time in such a way that my kids call me "dad" instead of "mister"! One thing that helps a lot is getting our priorities in balance. This involves consciously making the decision that we will run our work, and our work will not run us.

Leave the job at work

Also involved is the decision not to bring work home. This is a tough one, especially for those who are self-employed. It reminds me of a story. A guy brings a friend home for dinner. Just before he walks inside the house, he stops, takes off an imaginary coat, pretends he hangs it up on something invisible, and walks in the house. The friend asks him what that was all about. "I never bring work home with me. The problems, stress and worry that I carry all day I leave outside. I hang all that up on the 'worry tree' outside." A good story for us all. Remember, this article has in its title the word "battle," and that's what it can be. It's a battle that involves:

Time: Time for work, time for play, time to relax. If we handle things right, we'll have time for all of that and more. But it all starts with our view of time. Who is in charge of it? We are. But that¿s easier said than done. There are those calls after work, the ones that come during dinner. Early morning calls. The calls that "need you right away."

I found out a long time ago that how I valued my time is how others valued it. In other words, I had to teach and educate people on what my values were. I was the one who laid down the ground rules and they were the ones that had to work with them.

I'll give you a classic example: when to look at jobs. Many guys and gals complain that they are always away from home looking at jobs. Yes, this at times could be a full-time job. But there have to be some ground rules laid out here. I saw two facts: I had to actually do the repair work, and that there was this second job, that of looking at the work before it was done. How was I going to work out a strategy to do both? Let me give you some tips that helped me keep my sanity:

First and foremost, you are in charge. You're not a puppet on a string, nor do you have to constantly jump when someone calls. Try to separate as much as possible work time from family time. I often leave the answering machine to get calls when I am spending time at home with the family. Some people just can't do this and relax. I, for one, have found I have to do this to have time to relax. Nothing interrupts family life more than phone calls at the wrong times.

Most people that call you are worried and thinking about one thing: getting their jobs or projects done. They are thinking about their schedules and how you are going to fit into what they're doing. Pretty soon we're staying out until 7 or 8 at night looking at jobs.

Now, I'm not saying that looking at jobs is wrong. However, this is where another strategy has worked well. I go back again to the idea of educating and training people to respect our time. This is done in a very easy way: I give them choices. Instead of asking people to tell me when it's a good time to come and look at a job, I give them something like this: "I look at jobs in the early morning, between such and such a time. I also can meet you at noon or after work. I usually work until 3:30 or 4:00. Which works best for you?"

We've just accomplished something big time here! We've called the shots and it's worked out well. OK, so now for a minute let's say it doesn't. "None of those times works for me. I'm only available to have you come on Friday evening or the weekend," comes the reply. No problem. But again, it's going to be on my terms (and I hope after you read this article it's going to be on your terms, as well). Fine. "I will be coming over your way Friday evening with the family. How does 5:30 sound?"

Quality family time

This is where family time and business time can merge in a great way. No, I'm not going to encourage you to drag the family around the countryside or city looking at an endless amount of jobs. Let's take a Friday evening. We leave town about 4:30 to go out to eat. On the way, I stop and look at a repair job. It takes about 10 minutes and we're on our way. We go out to eat. Afterward, the wife and kids want to go shopping. I drop them at the mall for one hour. My oldest daughter goes with me and my wife takes the two younger girls. I look at two or three jobs and spend the rest of the evening with the family. On the way home, I look at one more job if need be. To me, this is better than leaving the family at home and flying around creation all alone.

The third tip I'll share has to do with how to handle those estimates, the proposals. I looked at one job before supper with the family in this example. I don't take the time to write out the bid right then and there if they're really hungry and restless. If things are pretty calm, maybe I do take five minutes in the car and write it up and give the proposal to them on the spot. The same is true when I look at the jobs for an hour. I either give them a bid right then and there or I look at two or three jobs, taking notes on what has to be done and then write them all up at once at the end. I bring envelopes and stamps and proposal sheets so I figure them up and drop them in the mail. This completes the whole process of looking at jobs, including bidding them. Taking care of this all while I'm out for the evening or afternoon with the family eliminates the time I'd spend at home figuring up all these individual bids.

Cost: If we're going to run a successful business--a tight ship--then we must look at things from both the professional side and the family side. There's nothing that drives me more wild than to be with someone who can never relax. Now mind you, I am a pretty driven and motivated person, but one of the big lessons in real success is to be able to leave the business stuff for a while and concentrate on matters of more importance.

How: I think we covered this one from the angle of how to identify where problems occur, in making sure we stay in control of our business and not letting it control us, and in finding ways of using our time more efficiently. I mention these points only to help you out. Sometimes we have to slow down and smell the roses, to take stock of where we're headed in our professional life. This is especially true as we find success and our business life prospering. May it never be at the cost of family life. As long as we work for ourselves, it will be a constant challenge, something to work on and deal with every day. However, with some careful planning, and having our families interests at heart, we can make a success of it, so that the things we accomplish will be satisfying and long lasting.

Until next time, may you always keep your work standards high and your overhead low! And as always, your questions and comments are welcome and very much appreciated!