When my son Tyler was eight months old, both my husband and I started new jobs within the same week in August 2015. Since then, I co-founded a new nonprofit called Women in Product (WIP), increased public speaking engagements, and became an advisor to several starts-ups.
Life is busy and here are four skills that help me manage it:
Think of time as currency. Spend it wisely.
Every minute that I am not spending with Tyler is the minute that I wish I am with Tyler. The tradeoff is huge, making my time more valuable than ever. Time is also the one currency that I cannot grow, so I must maximize my impact with the limited time that I have.
To start, I calendar everything. My husband, Jason, and I have personal Google calendars that we share with each other. By keeping the calendars separate, and only inviting each other to events that we want the other to attend, our calendaring system gives me a clear view of my availability and when Jason is busy or traveling for work. I then diligently plan ahead of how I want to spend my time outside of work: advising, networking, public speaking, working on WIP, volunteering, writing, and most importantly, seeing family and friends.
I set guidelines and I am protective of my family time:
- Every night between 6 to 8 pm is my uninterrupted time with Tyler and Jason. We have dinner together. Jason does bath time and I do bed time. If I have evening events, I stick to the rule of no more than two a week.
- Weekends are sacred. Aside from answering some emails and messages, I do not attend any conferences or networking events on the weekends. I rarely make exceptions to this rule.
- If I travel for work or speaking engagements, I target to spend no more than two nights away from Tyler.
These guidelines help enforce a norm. When I am asked to make time commitment outside of these norms, I think twice before saying yes.
Scale your energy
I cannot invent more time so I look for ways to scale. I scale my energy asynchronously. Thanks to amazing collaboration tools like Quip, Google Docs, Dropbox Paper, Facebook Groups, Messenger, and Slack, I can easily provide feedback and collaborate, without meetings. In fact, we planned the Women in Product Conference last year in five months mostly using Facebook Groups, Messenger, and Quip. We realized that we had our first in-person team meeting for the first time after the conference.
Public speaking and Ask-me-anything (AMA) are other scalability tools. I like the one to many ratio in audience reach and the instantaneous feedback loop. I particularly enjoyed the Product Manager HQ AMA in December. The Product Manager HQ group had excellent questions. I can now easily reference people about my advice on how to enter into product management, what I learned at Apple, and why I love to lead with empathy.
Make time for yourself
I make time for me. Self care is crucial. My mother often says of a Chinese proverb,
“You do not want to exhaust yourself to the breaking point. Like a rubber band, you will snap if you are stretched too thin.”
I am not my best self when I lack sleep. I get moody. I cannot focus. Throughout the school years, I never studied past 10 pm. Naps were one of my favorite past times, and I could easily sleep for ten to twelve hours on the weekends. Sleep and I have a mutual love for each other.
Now that I am a mom, getting adequate sleep is hard but I try my hardest to make time for it. No phone calls after 10 pm, and no laptops after 10:30 pm. I then give myself 30 min to unwind before going to sleep. If things are on my mind, I jot them down in Evernote and pick them back up the next day. Nothing is more important than getting sleep so that I can have full energy for the demanding day ahead.
Aside from sleep, I need alone time. I need the time to relax and not push myself against a set agenda. Sometimes, I use the alone time to sleep in. Other times, I enjoy my coffee and catch up on a TV show like How to Get Away with Murder or Big Little Lies. Jason and I have an agreement that Saturdays mornings I get alone time while he takes Tyler to soccer or a trip to the park. That precious gift of alone time recharges me for the week. Jason is amazing.
Expect the unexpected
When I am having a bad day, my mom reminds me,
“You can only plan as much as you can. The rest is not in your control.”
She is right.
Our first family vacation took place in August 2015 when Tyler was eight months old. Jason eagerly looked forward to showing us Newport Beach where he used to live, while I was excited for beach time with my boys. I bought Tyler the cutest swim outfits from Honest, and I planned out our agenda for everyday at Newport Beach.
After the first day, Jason and I realized that we could not go out to dinner because Tyler’s bedtime was 7:30 pm. No big deal. We canceled our dinner reservations and ordered in the room. Then the next morning, Jason, Tyler, and I all woke up with pink eye. Our eyes were itching and burning, and the beautiful beach time we looked forward to was replaced with some new sunglasses and watching movies in our hotel room.
Children create unexpected chaos. Similar to expecting extra costs in home improvement projects due to unforeseen issues, I buffer in time disruption and set my own expectation accordingly when things don’t go as planned.
Work-life balance struggle is real. Smart time management creates predictability in your schedule, gives you a tool to see how you are spending your time, and empowers you to make tradeoffs when needed. You also need to set realistic goals and expectations with yourself. Like Sheryl Sandberg said,
“Trying to do it all and expecting that it all can be done exactly right is a recipe for disappointment. Perfection is the enemy.”
Be kind to yourself and do the best you can. Everything else will fall into place.
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