Expanding Family Time


Expanding Family Time

The good news is that most invincible executives eventually iron out their problems with their children, and many enjoy happy marriages as well, although often it is the second marriage that proves to be the lasting one.

Now there are a couple of tricks to making the family situation work. I got these pointers principally from two men who have enjoyed good family lives throughout their careers despite a lot of mobility and time away from their families—Mike Sears, the executive vice president and CFO of Boeing, and Admiral Joseph Prueher, former commander of the Pacific Fleet and U.S. ambassador to China.

First, learn to operate on less sleep. Sears needs only three hours per night. Military people like Admiral Prueher tend to become accustomed to low amounts of sleep as well. A surprising number of invincible executives throughout history—including, for example, Albert Einstein—have noted how much more you can get done if you are awake three more hours each day—that's 12.5 percent of a day, which gives you a real advantage over those who need a lot of sleep!

While I am no doctor and cannot comment on the medical aspects of the debate, there is no doubt that invincible executives believe that reducing your sleep time is something you can learn. They point out, for example, that part of the essential training of interns and residents at hospitals involves lowering your threshold of sleep so that you can operate effectively on two or three hours of sleep and feel well-rested on five hours. Catnaps—fifteen-minute interludes of sleep during the day—are another surprisingly common scenario among top executives. If you can learn to operate on less sleep, you will get your work done faster and have more flexibility to spend time with your family.

Vigorous regular exercise and maintaining a proportionate height-to-weight ratio will help you reduce your need for sleep. After that, it is just a question of setting the alarm earlier and going to bed later! I did it so that I can write and practice law at the same time, and I guarantee you it works.

Now a lot of people out there will object strongly to this strategy. They write books and go on "Oprah" saying that Americans need more sleep, and there have been studies suggesting that everyone needs seven or eight hours of sleep. You may like this idea. That's fine, but it may mean that you are not the invincible executive. Like it or not, executives with staying power tend to function on less sleep than other people do.

Second, invincible executives, while passionate about their careers, are able to "carve out" family time. They have an amazing ability not to take work home with them—either physically or psychologically. When they are at home, most of them do not prepare for meetings, write memos, or even use their work cell phones—except in the most extreme or unusual circumstances. Few of them wake up at night worried about a precarious deal falling through or the latest earnings projections. They would rather stay at the office late or even over a weekend than mingle their home lives with their work lives. Careful segregation of family time—even if it is less time than most people devote to their families—goes a long way toward keeping the family of an invincible executive cohesive and happy.

If you want to become an invincible executive, you are going to have to throw out a few preconceptions and clichés. You and your family will need to agree that the career is part of the family. You may have to be careful in setting expectations for your children. You may have to get accustomed to the idea that you will not live in the same city as your family for extended periods of time. You might learn to get by on less sleep. You should turn your cell phone off when you are at home. And you should not feel bad about any of it.