Prioritize, delegate, outsource. They're all good management concepts for keeping businesses running smoothly. But can they help get the laundry done and put dinner on the table?
Absolutely, say life coaches. Heads of households should set goals, outsource tasks and review team performance at home just as business managers do.
"At work, for whatever reason we've applied more management tools than we have at home -- which doesn't make sense because a family is an organization," said Patrick Lencioni, a management consultant in Alamo, Calif. "We've never recognized the incredible cost of winging it, which is what we do."
Kathryn Sansone, a mother of 10 in St. Louis, Mo., said managing her home requires many of the same techniques she uses in running her corporate fitness business and Website, shapeupmom.com. All the children, ages 3 to 20, are responsible for some chores and the family keeps a schedule of daily activities on a whiteboard and a separate schedule of sports activities so everybody knows what's going on and when.
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"I am running a business within my family," she said. "I constantly have to delegate projects and keep deadlines."
Ironically, many workers who leave clean desks and empty in-boxes at the office come home to chaos because they don't apply the same skills to housecleaning and bill payment, said Lencioni, author of The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family.
Some life coaches suggest using tools such as spreadsheets to keep track of chores and schedules, or calendar programs such as Outlook, which let members of a group enter appointments into a shared schedule.
If one person is the family manager, it helps to see the home as a series of departments, such as food, property and finances, said Kathy Peel, a family manager coach in Dallas.
"Initially it feels overwhelming, but it brings clarity to the job," said Sarah Zeldman, a certified family manager in Toronto who trained with Peel. She applied what she learned in her own home when her husband had hip replacement surgery last December. Now they often have discussions about how the different departments of their home are going.
Good managers know which departments they can handle themselves and which they need help with through delegating, bartering and outsourcing, Peel explained in an e-mail. At home, the same rule applies: Delegate chores to different family members, barter household chores like cooking and decorating with friends and neighbors, or pay a responsible neighborhood teenager to run errands or walk the dog.
Sarah Rottenberg, a business consultant in Philadelphia and mother of twin 3-year-old boys, says she learned the benefits of outsourcing at her twins' last birthday party, when she decided to bake the cake herself. It didn't come out tasting as good as a store-bought cake, so she's decided next year to buy a cake and spend more time at the party instead.
"Parents who work need to have that same mindset: What are the things that are important for me to do as an individual and what are the things that can be outsourced?"' she said.
Setting priorities is crucial, say life coaches, who insist mission statements and long-term planning are not just for businesses. Michelle Woodward, a master certified coach in Arlington, Va., often asks her clients to develop long-term plans for getting household projects done.
"It doesn't have to be a rigid, Stalin (regime) seven-year plan. But if you can have a plan that says 'In 12 months I'm going to need to replace my refrigerator,' if you have a plan you can execute it," said Woodward.
Rottenberg and her husband, a Web editor, did some scenario planning about their lives as working parents before their children were born, much like companies do before launching a new project. They considered whether they would work longer hours, earning more but having less time at home, or shorter hours for less income.
Today, he works full time, while she works from home four days a week.
"We do have a lot of goal-setting conversations," she said. "On a Friday we will sit down and ask what are our goals for the weekend."
Indeed, meetings are another workplace reality that needs translating to the home. All the life coaches suggest parents check with each other and the children regularly to see how things are working and make adjustments.
Sansone and her husband, who works developing real estate, try to get the family together for dinner every night and a family meeting every quarter where all the children get a chance to say how they feel about their siblings.
"It's like a company, you change things and go forward," said Sansone. "We reorganize and reconvene and see what works."
But to make it all work requires team-building skills, especially to bring the children into the loop.
"Family meetings take on a different quality when they get old enough to have their own opinion," said Woodward. "Then you have to fall into your business skills to build consensus and build the team."
It sounds like a lot of work, but households than have tried it say it can be a relief.
Lauren Ashburn said she was feeling overwhelmed by her household projects while awaiting the birth of her third child, until she was forced to ask herself how she would handle the same workload in her office. The answer: get help.
Ashburn, managing editor of USA Today Live, the national newspaper's TV unit, hired a personal assistant to organize her home in Washington, D.C. The assistant set up systems for storing photos, paying bills, filing, closets and storage. She now has an inbox and outbox in her home office that replaced the pile of mail next to the phone her husband had nicknamed "the snowdrift," she said.
"I feel more in control of my life at home," said Ashburn. "I can come home and relax instead of coming home and looking at the (home) office and saying 'Oh my gosh I have to do something about this' and feeling frustrated."
Ashburn said that one-time expense gave her the tools for managing her household, which includes her husband, a lawyer, and their three children, ages 8 years, 4 years and 7 months.
"It's really about planning and strategy," said Ashburn. "The textbook principles of management can be applied to your home if you take the time to invest up front."
Here are some tips from experts for managing the household.
- Break down the household into manageable parts. Family manager coach Kathy Peel divides the home into seven departments: Home and Property, Food, Family and Friends, Finances, Special Events, Time and Scheduling, and Self Management (keeping the household manager healthy).
- Get help. Either delegate, outsource or practice what Peel calls "executive neglect." Perfection can be the enemy of management. "When Dad dresses the kids, you can usually tell. As a mom you may want to make fun of that ... but unless you want to have the responsibility to do that all the time, you have to let that go," said Sarah Rottenberg, working mother of 3-year-old twin boys.
- Develop systems. Whether it's a whiteboard with children's schedules or a spreadsheet, it helps to set standard operating procedures. The goal is to get certain tasks to the point where every member of the household knows how to do them, and does them like clockwork, said family manager Sarah Zeldman.
- Evaluate progress. Family meetings can be as short as a five-minute conversation or longer discussions about goals and discipline. For example, Lencioni and his wife use a red-yellow-green system to communicate whether chores and goals for their four boys are being completed.