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Treat your spouse like a customer

I know exactly what's throwing my work life balance out of whack this week. And it's only Monday. You see, I've gotten into the habit of letting my work day stretch longer and longer. Are you doing this, too?

Fast-forward to the end of 2010. What do you see? Do you see yourself ending your work day in a timely way? Are you spending more time with your customers or co-workers than your family or spouse? I read an interview with Louis Upkins Jr. who wrote a self-help  book titled Treat Me Like a Customer: Using Lessons from Work to Succeed in Life. His book plays off the central notion that home life would improve if busy business executives cared as much for their wives or husbands and kids (and showed it) as they do for their most-valued customers. Here's an excerpt from a Q & A with Upkins in The Tennessean. His answers will wake you up.

Upkinsl On the surface, the concept of treating family members like customers sounds a little insulting — aren't wives, husbands, sons and daughters more important than that? It sounds insulting, sure, but the reality is that many times we treat our customers so much better than we treat our family. We take our customers to the best restaurants, plan the best trips for them, take them to the best golf courses or spend two months to think of the best gift for them. Yet, we'll pick up something for the wife at the airport as we rush home from a business trip, or we buy the Kmart "blue light" special.

My thought is … at a minimum … spend the same amount of attention on your family as you apply to your daily chores at the office. This isn't rocket science. We all have these skill sets.

For example, how do I communicate at work? I listen. How do I communicate at home? Sometimes I don't listen.

What are some basic skills that business leaders use with their best customers that can be applied at home, too? We are so polished and prepared, and we communicate so well in our business life. We are so responsive to our customers. But when it comes down to husband, wife or child, you find very little of that same DNA.

The whole premise of my approach is how we can put families back in the center of things. It's a matter of priorities. Be present with your child while you're taking them to school versus driving them somewhere while you're talking on the cell phone or on a conference call. Turn off the cell phone. Make it a rule.

Is it harder to follow these ideals in a down economy — when companies are firing people and asking those who remain to work longer hours or face being cut themselves? There is a fear factor that people have to grapple with. But I have also seen the current environment spark a huge wake-up call for many people. Maybe they're shaken to such a degree that their focus shifts to what really matters most to them.

In some cases, I think the impact of the weak economy — and mounting pressure at work — is helping some people make that leap to find a better solution, to do something more meaningful rather than being locked in a structure for the next 30 years that makes them very unhappy.

In some cases, the desire for a better work/life balance leads to career change

What's a typical first mistake that can lead to someone's home life and work life falling out of balance? I think the first mistake is to ignore the warning signs.

You look away from what you clearly see, and you start to make excuses. The excuses get easier, the more you use them. You don't listen to what you feel internally. We go and do things that are expected by others and that aren't part of our own DNA. It's not something you really believe in or value, but it's what everyone else does.

My advice is: Don't ignore your own "inside voice."