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15 Ways to Engage Effectively at Home

2011 June 16
tags: Family Time, Father's Day, Priorities, Self-Care, Time Management, Valuing Others
by Andrew   

Credit: Michael L. Baird

Father’s Day is fast approaching, and I’ve consequently been thinking about how I engage at home. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how I disengage from work before I engage at home. There are several things beyond my control that make it difficult, but there are also several things within my control that I can do to make the transition easier and more pleasant for my entire family, as well as the friends and acquaintances with whom I often have after-work meetings. These tips and techniques are adaptable for nearly everyone.

The half-hour walk in blistering heat or bone-chilling cold, followed by an hour-long train ride on a noisy, bad-smelling train operated by several surly drivers who appear to think the entire purpose of procreation is to give them a captive audience to harangue does not a joyful Andrew make. I could get angry – and stay angry – because my office moved to a ridiculous location with little or no real effort to make the transition easier for people whose commute it doubled, or I could decide the circumstances were largely a product of benign neglect or the inability to do much about it. Either reaction is a choice, and my response to that choice is also a choice.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes. ~Charles R. Swindoll

Competing Perspectives

The simple infuriating fact that my commute is doubled in the morning and evening, robbing me of an additional two hours a day with my family and further exhausting my already health-challenged existence is one perspective, and it’s the easiest to adopt even though it takes the most energy to maintain. After all, it’s an indisputable fact that the relocation of the entire organization for which I work accomplished absolutely nothing in terms of efficiency or effectiveness in accomplishing our mission. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Are there any benefits to the relocation? Possibly, but no one has found any yet that outweigh the costs – in dollars and in morale – of the relocation.

A different, and equally true, perspective, is that the facts above – infuriating as they are – can simply be facts and have their fury-invoking nature neutralized by focusing instead on the opportunities within the challenges.

  • A twenty-to-thirty minute walk to and from work every day? Outdoor exercise I wouldn’t get otherwise unless I chose that over something else at home.
  • An hour-long train ride in each direction? A largely uninterrupted hour to read my Bible, pray, catch up on reading, do some recreational reading, or write blog articles.
  • The loss of a 45-minute commute with my wife? Motivation to seek another job nearer hers.

The benefit of the second perspective is it reorients thinking toward identifying positive outcomes posed by a challenge, rather than feeding a brooding discontent imposed on me by the great unfairness of life. Such reoriented thinking can lower blood pressure (or prevent it from rising), yield greater opportunities by supporting the identification of additional benefits, and broaden the mind’s capacity for rapidly seeking positive outcomes rather than negative impacts.

Don’t misunderstand me, the identification of negative impacts is essential when confronting disappointments, particularly significant disappointments, because an awareness of the operating environment is necessary to thoroughly address remedial actions.

Engaging at work is easier

The simple fact about why more people engage at work than at home, or at least find it easier to do, is because it often is easier to do. At work, we have (usually) clearly defined goals, nearly instantaneous feedback on whether our coworkers and boss are happy with our contribution, and processes to follow with measures to determine degree of success. We go, we accomplish, we leave, and we have a bounded sense of having done something, or at least a discrete part of something. Such a sense supports the fairly common innate need for a feeling of having done something to an acceptable level of doneness. And when we’ve left for the day, with certain notable exceptions, work doesn’t intrude on our lives or our consciousness until the next day.

If we don’t follow the process, we either fail to accomplish the desired outcome or we identify an improvement for the process. Instant feedback. If we follow the process, we either accomplish what we meant to, or we identify a needed are for improvement. Instant feedback. Even if it isn’t our job to identify the improvement or implement it, we know whose job it is. Instant feedback.

If we don’t meet the expectations of TIMBO, we get nearly instant feedback. If we do meet the expectations of TIMBO, feedback is usually somewhat less instantaneous unless our TIMBO is outstanding at feedback, or we did something really well. Even outside the work environment, but also outside the home environment, feedback is often clearer and more timely. I will always remember the feedback I was given decades ago by one of the greatest public figures I have ever known. His greatness came from his remarkable ability to make everyone feel good about themselves and about what they were doing. And he always demonstrated a genuine interest in people, their circumstances, and how he could help improve things for everyone. His words to me were “Wargo, ya done good.” I recall the circumstances of the praise, but they aren’t important here. What’s important is the feedback was timely, relevant, and honestly delivered.

Engaging at home is often difficult

Contrary to the clear goals, expectations, and opportunities for feedback at work, home life can be downright hard. What’s the goal? As Spock would say, “Live long, and prosper.” Well, how the heck are we gonna measure that?! Usually, the scale is whether we lived long and prospered. Not exactly instantaneous feedback, is it? Do we have more goals at home? Let’s see:

  • Ensure the bills are paid on time
  • Ensure the children are fed, clothed, healthy, to school on time, finish their homework, grow, learn, show respect to their elders, and are generally respected by society as a whole…the feedback for that goal, succinctly summed up as “good, healthy children” ranges from instantaneous in some cases to life-long.
  • Maintain the house and lawn…90-minute commute, 8-and-a-half hour workday, see goals 1 and 2 above & 5 and 6 and 7 below…when do I have time for this?!
  • Be a good spiritual head of my household
  • Be a good neighbor
  • Be a good husband, help my wife with “her” chores (they’re only hers because she loves me), and ensure we have quality time together

Clearly, most of those provide little or no instantaneous feedback…if they do, it’s usually the stress-inducing kind. Compared to work, home is a scary, fog-enshrouded, danger-lurking, dark forest of pitfalls. Let’s go to work! It’s safer!

Effectively engaging at home

After spending all day at work, for months and years on end (we’ll ignore those giddy souls who have new jobs that are just “my life’s dream”), it can be mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting to engage at home in effective ways. In fact, it can seem impossible to the point that many people neglect it entirely. However, there are ways to effectively engage at home without needing superhuman amounts of energy and without spending a mint on activities.

  1. Read Is Your Routine Driving You Crazy?
  2. Identify what’s important to you. You aren’t going to be able to focus well on things you don’t consider important, and if you don’t have a clear sense of what you consider important, you’ll end up consistently cycling through unfulfilling, unimportant (to you) things.
  3. Use the commute time to decompress from work. Pray, meditate, write emails to renew or maintain relationships, write actual letters to people. Practice your mental sanctuary. Stay off Facebook. It doesn’t do squat to renew relationships. Feed the FB demons some other time.
  4. Become a personal commitment to being fully present at home. Don’t use your time at home to write up notes from your day, plan your next day, rehearse your speech or presentation, or rehash events from work. If you really need to do these things away from work, take a day off and do them so you aren’t sacrificing family time.
  5. Read Choosing to Cheat: Who Wins When Family and Work Collide (non-affiliate link) and think about it. Discuss it with your spouse.
  6. Write your family engagement goals. These might be a family mission statement, a personal mission statement, specific goals you want to strive for in your family life and family relationships, or a combination of these. Structure and method don’t really matter here. What does matter is you have concrete ideas to which you can refer regarding what you want to achieve.
  7. Don’t routinely discuss work at home. What’s the point? Your spouse is likely to either agree with you or disagree with you. Rarely do work discussions produce feelings of ambivalence in those closest to us. There are certainly exceptions if you need to discuss a major event that happened, but daily discussions of the trials and stresses at work will result in your relationship becoming entangled with work frustrations. If your spouse can’t help you fix them or at least think about them differently and more positively, you’ll begin to associate that inability with the work frustrations themselves. Not good for you.
  8. Pick a family game night. Pick a night that has priority as a family time. Make it a consistent night each week except for real emergencies. Games are much more interactive than watching a movie, so pick games that promote communication and interaction.
  9. Pick a family movie night. Select a night that everyone will get together to watch a movie. Make it fun and not easily interruptible. Make popcorn, wear pajamas, and turn the lights down or off. Pick movies that everyone will enjoy, and ban the portable game devices and phones. This can be more fun if you rotate who picks the movies, but make this a safe activity by having everyone agree on the movies that go on the list, and then have the person picking the movie pick from the list.
  10. Pick a family make-dinner-together night. Set aside a night each week or occasionally where everyone helps prepare dinner. Making a meal together and then sharing it is a powerful family-building experience that, when repeated, creates strong, lasting memories that people carry throughout their lives. Such activities often make a house a home that adult children look forward to returning to.
  11. Spend time relaxing together outdoors. Not nearly enough can be said about the mental and physical health benefits of outdoor activity, even only moderately strenuous activity or mild activity like walking on nearly even ground. Spending this time together has even more positive health benefits and enriches family relationships. Play ball, have watergun fights, chase each other with the sprinkler, go for a walk through your neighborhood’s walking trails if you have them, set aside a day (or three or four) each week to go to the park in the evening.
  12. Plant a garden together. Planting a garden together and watching it grow, tending it, and even being slightly anxious over whether gardening problems can be overcome all contribute to the formation of healthy, lasting relationships. And, you can eat the product of your labors, which goes along well with #10 above.
  13. Have dinner at the dinner table with the television off. Sacrilege! Well, it’s sacrilege in most of the Western world…then again, we seem to have developed a lot of social problems shortly after we figured out how to see more than ten feet after dark. Before that, the problems were largely family-oriented but externally-driven: crop blight, anthrax for the livestock, brigands and such. Now, the problem is the flashing, strobing box in the family room turns the family in to a loosely connected group of individuals with different goals. What’s the worst that will happen if you actually have dinner together even three nights a week with the TV off? There might be arguments about things everyone doesn’t agree with. What? Really?! That means everyone’s talking. About things they care about. Otherwise, why argue? So, establish some rules. Perhaps certain things are off-topic: politics, sports if your family is a house divided about teams, the inherent injustice in a universe that allows a seemingly harmless character from an immensely popular children’s television show to move effortlessly through space and time to associate with known international criminals.
  14. Tuck your children into bed. Old fashioned? Yep. Out of style? Yep. Interfere with your TV-watching or Internet gaming? Yep. Is it worth it? Yep! Most children love being tucked into bed. Even if yours don’t, they’ll be happy later that you did. So will you. And it’s a great time to read to them, have them read to you, pray together, and make sure there are no monsters under the bed.
  15. Spend positive time with your spouse every day. Not watching TV. Not doing different things in the same room…or the same building. Together. Talking…walking…praying…studying together something that enriches and strengthens your faith, sharing intimacy. Make this time a priority, not a chore or something that has to be done. Make it something each of you looks forward to. Perhaps take turns identifying the task or activity that both of you will enjoy, not trading opportunities to do something only one of you likes.

Activities 1 through 7 above all address your attitude about engaging at home, and several provide bigger picture ways of reorienting it. Activities 8 through 15 provide specific things to do, singly or in combination, that will promote strong, enduring relationships, which in time, will make it much easier to engage at home and maintain them. Jump in and do some. You don’t have to follow them in order. You might already be doing some, even if only halfheartedly. Do them wholeheartedly. Do more of them.

Take care, and enjoy life,


Photo credit “Mike” Michael L. Baird,

2 Responses Post a comment
  1. June 17, 2011

    Hi Andrew,

    What an amazing blog! I will surely be sharing it with my psychotherapy clients. You have not just provided a gem but the whole mine.

    I love how you have identified basic life necessities and how they can potentially impact relationships, for example: paying bills on time or ensuring the children are well fed and in a timely manner.

    Thank you for this wonderful wrinting piece.

    Julie Quesnel

    • Andrew permalink
      June 17, 2011

      Hi, Julie! Thank you for your kind comments! I'm glad you found the piece so beneficial, and I appreciate your recommending it to others. I'm currently working on an article that will review several habit-reinforcing apps for the iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch). Your clients may also potentially find those of use, also.

      Your clients may also find the article on building and maintaining a mental sanctuary beneficial. It can be found here and the article series on identifying benefits from major disappointments can be found here.

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