Twenty-five years into my career, with ten years at the executive level, I think the most elusive skill I’ve encountered is that of work/life balance. Over the years, I have been lucky to attend some of the world’s finest leadership courses and talk with many highly successful business people from around the world. It seems the elusiveness is a theme, and each individual continues to strive for it! But through those encounters, I have developed five tips that work for me… most of the time.
1. Make peace with balance being achievable over the medium term, but not always the short term
There are often weeks where I need to travel, or weeks when the kids seem constantly sick. In those short times, I need to focus on one priority more than others. However, over the course of weeks and months, I make sure to correct the balance to make sure my priorities remain in balance over time.
2. Quality trumps quantity every time
As a working mother, I have chosen to use a quantity of my time to pursue a career, and therefore have less quantity at home with my two wonderful children. When I am at work, I throw myself into it and use the time with high quality. Why waste time, when I could be with my kids? Then when I am at home, I use the time to throw myself into home life – whether a game of cards, a bedtime story or a serious discussion about the trials and tribulations of primary school. Or, hearing about my partner’s day at work. On a good day, I get the very best of my these two worlds, and they get the best of me.
3. Know what you will compromise and what you won’t
As a driven ‘A type’ personality, I also find it useful to give myself clear rules that I do not compromise. I make these clear to my staff, to my peers and my manager if I need to. But mostly, I make these clear to myself, and I keep to them. Different rules will work for different people. For me, it’s about dropping the kids to school a minimum of three times a week when I’m not travelling, and always being home to sit around the family dinner table. Two simple rules that help me feel in balance.
4. Role model
As a female executive, I want to ensure my work/life balance is a model for other women. I want them to see my role as one they would want, and one that could work for their priorities. This means I have a responsibility to find ways to overtly share what works for me and what doesn’t. Being open and doing things – like writing this article!
5. Time for me
This is the one I have struggled with the most. Between work, kids, husband, family and friends, it was easy to be a martyr and put myself last. I’d push myself to be a super boss and super mum, and then… I’d get really sick and do neither. Finding time for a run, a pedicure or whatever it is that gives you a moment of piece, will help you keep the quality over the quantity! It is hard to find that time, but it is worth it and will pay back ten times over.
I certainly don’t have a Masters in work/life balance, and I’m not sure anyone does. However, I can say with confidence that I love my time at work, I love my time at home and I treasure time by myself. I feel challenged but not stretched, by thinking medium term, focusing on quality time, not compromising on my rules, and taking time for me. I hope these tips can be a guide to other’s struggling for balance, and I hope my honesty helps us all to give ourselves a break as we keep striving for the elusive work/life balance!