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Three Lessons Learned From the Trail of a Summer Work Life Experiment

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What to do with four children under nine and eight weeks of summer holidays when you run your own business? From home. Summer camps times four might just wipe out all profits for the year! An incredible nanny helps, but even they might burn out under the weight of entertainment and care for that many children for that many weeks. Meanwhile, countless new business development opportunities, an important conference and client visits beckon in the West. And Grandma lives out there too. Were we game enough?

Cue four children, one mini-van, a laptop, iPad, cell phones and all manner of chargers, enough books on CD to sink a small ship and many, many snacks and we were off! 8,000 miles later we had tales to tell and lessons learned.

  1. It is possible and wonderful to take your children to work with you. However, expectations need to be managed. Clearly defined boundaries around work and family matter more than ever, especially on the road. Whilst the kids were listening to books on CD, the driver focused on the road and everyone fed and watered, the passenger could work with abandon. But rest stops needed to be all about the children, giving them time and badly needed attention. On the road phone calls had to be factored in to breaks too, but only after the kids had some love and freedom. Just try to do it the other way around!
  2. Everyone thinks you're on vacation the whole time anyway, so make sure you take one. Our knee-jerk protestant work ethic can often back fire. "Oh no," you cry, "I was working almost the whole time. It was vacation for the children, but sadly not for us." In this instance it was true. I only took 3 full week days off. In seven weeks. With my family. Who's fault was that? In retrospect, no one gave me a prize for my workaholic stupidity, not even my clients. Next time I'll be answering that question very differently. I came home exhausted and unprepared for a very busy Fall. Take breaks. Real breaks. Don't spend your precious week at the beach working and visiting clients. Just. Don't. Do. It.
  3. Even with the best of modern technology, being away from home base for that long has an impact. You can mitigate most of it with good planning. We factored in emergency plane rides and other back up plans if needed for any fires burning back East. Fortunately, these didn't arise -- this year. There were wasted operating costs in duplicating resources that were sitting on the desk at the office. More than that, it's discombobulating to be on the road for that long. The nature of our projects and opportunities meant that length of time was necessary to make it all worth while. But it sure was a wonderful feeling to pull up back at home/office base and be in our zone again.

Bottom line? With a few changes, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Our business benefited in substantial ways, with opportunities already being realized from the many meetings we had and relationships we were able to nurture. There's still nothing like meeting in real life. More to the point, hearing my kids (including the two year old) belt out Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain" for the fiftieth time at the top of their lungs in the middle of Wyoming was worth every "are we there yet?"

This post is part of a series celebrating National Work and Family Month.