Ah, August in Chicago. The last full month of summer when you can schedule some quality time with family and friends to enjoy BBQs, trips to the lake house, camping weekends and outdoor patio dining. And if you're an over-planner like me, the anxiety kicks in of back to school season, fall event preparations at work, choosing fall activities for my son and did I mention that my second child is due in three months?! In the words of Charlie Brown, "AAUGH!" How will I ever manage it all?
Work-life balance is something that I strive to maintain on a daily basis. I try to make sure that I'm caring for my family at home as well as keeping up-to-date on all my work tasks in my role as the Director of Alumni Affairs for the Chicago and National Blended programs of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Initiative. To keep all those balls in the air, maintaining balance among all my responsibilities and obligations is something that I truly take into consideration during my weekly planning to make sure that I'm fitting everything into my crazy 24/7 lifestyle. Over the years, I've picked up a few tips which I discovered both through self-reflection and through trial and error which have helped me create the illusion that I have amazing work-life balance, when I'm actually just relying on my killer organizational skills.
Tip #1 - Get Organized!
This tip is KEY to good work-life balance. Each Sunday night I look at my weekly schedule to see what's on the docket for this week for work and home. I used the calendar app in my smartphone to color code family vs. work obligations and discuss them with my husband on a weekly basis. Questions that can be answered during these conversations usually revolved around do we need a babysitter for this event and do we have one scheduled yet? I also do the same task evaluation at work with my two co-managers. I meet with them on a weekly basis to go over all the tasks I'm working on and we talk about where the priority lies for each project. While priorities may overlap between work and home, having these open conversations with all parties involved in your life will make organizing and completing your to-do list easier.
Tip #2 - Follow your plan, with flexibility
This tip is easier said than done for most organized individuals. If I think a task at work may take an hour to complete, I usually build in an extra thirty minutes to the calendar appointment to make sure that if anything unexpected should pop-up during the time I have blocked off for a project, I will already have the flexibility built into my schedule to make adjustments. With this being said, things do come up that may take over your entire day that you weren't planning on doing. If this does happen, stop for a minute to think of where would a plan B for this project fit into my week? For example, when an unexpected opportunity arose for me to assist a local bar with their social media promotions during a national contest they were competing in, I jumped at the chance to assist them as it would allow me the opportunity to build on my own professional experience. While this was something that wasn't planned for my week, the reorganization of my week did not outweigh the benefits of helping build my professional portfolio. Professional development is always something that I would like to have in the forefront of my life, but as motherhood, work and family obligations arise, the opportunity to work on professional development doesn't always exist. This is why this task, when it was presented to me, became a priority.
Tip #3 - Learn to adapt and to accept change with a smile
Many times at work we are under very short deadlines as unexpected requests arise all the time. With that being said, if your attitude is always, "Sorry - cannot do it" you will never be given the opportunity to work on something really BIG when it arises. Take chances and challenge yourself to try to fit everything into your crazy day, and you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much you can really accomplish within an 8 hour work day. In the words of a dear family friend who passed away this week, "You are stronger than you realize."
Tip #4 - Don't waste anyone's time...especially yours
If you're like me, saying "no" to an event or request is very challenging, as I know it is for many of the "people pleasing" individuals out there. If your friends plan a girls' night out every Friday, and you know you're a little behind on work (or on your DVR for a little ME time), you can say no. This is something that I have started embracing over the past few years, and it's been a real change in my work/life balance. Take a good look at what you would consider are your priorities in life and make them your #1 obligation, wherever they may lie in your work/life balance.
Tip #5 - Recognized the "time sucks" in your life and try to eliminate them
This can include things like checking your social media 100x a day, playing an app game on your smartphone, constantly complaining about something at work that you cannot control, falling into a black hole on the internet while googling your favorite reality TV couple, or online shopping with a fantasy shopping cart into which you place items you never intend to actually purchase. These "time sucks" can really monopolize a lot of valuable time during your day when you could be more productive at work and home. Try to recognize these non-productive activities and replace them with something more beneficial, like doing a yoga workout to reduce your stress levels.
Work-life balance doesn't necessarily mean that equal parts need to be assigned to each minute of each day. However, if you realize that 40 percent of your time this week went to family, while 60 percent was spent on work, you can challenge yourself to take a look at what next week brings to see if you can bring those percentages closer to 50/50 (or whatever your ideal ratio is). Keep in mind that you have control of your own work/life balance - don't let it control you. You have the ability make the necessary changes to find your happy medium in order to have the lifestyle and career that you want.
This blogger is an administrator of Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.