Tag Archives: flexibility

168 Hours…Family

This series is intended for those of us not in the top 1%, or even the top 10%, in terms of household earnings.  We’re not at the bottom either but we don’t have the money or flexibility of CEOs and executives. 

I wrote about work and now I’m writing about the other side of the equation: Family, especially those raising young children.  Older children are another story and one that I have zero knowledge of!  I felt that by focusing on two major areas that take time — work and family — I could help more people find time in their busy lives. 

The most important advice I can offer besides the obvious “choose your partner wisely” is to divide your chores equally. If you work full-time and also take on the majority of chores and childcare, the work/life balance will become nearly impossible.  If you work part-time or are the stay-at-home parent, you still need to get your partner to be responsible for some chores and I recommend NOT splitting these along traditional gender lines.   Many couples do an indoor (female) and outdoor (male) work split.  While grass cutting can wait, indoor chores tend to be more repetitive, urgent and time-consuming overall.   See this post about cooking for what I mean.

Compared to friends/family who divide chores by gender, I have a lot more free time.  I don’t have to do extra laundry to make sure my husband has clean underwear.  We can both make a good, healthy dinner.   I put dishes away more often but my husband is very capable and willing to do this too. I guess the main reason I advocate dividing chores in gender-neutral ways is that it gives you more flexibility.

It almost goes without saying that young kids and teenagers can pitch in, too.  Tell them that they don’t live in a hotel and their parents are not their servants!

Also, check out author Laura Vanderkam’s blog…her book “168 Hours” inspired this series.

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168 Hours…Working It

As I stated in my original post “168 Hours For The Rest of Us“, this series is intended for those of us not in management, or not very high up in the corporate chain.  We still have work/life demands but don’t have the money or flexibility of CEOs and executives. 

Rather a list of tips about work/life balance, I want to focus on certain crucial aspects of time management — in this case, work.  For most of us, work consumes a large part of our week.  At minimum per week, it’s 45 hours per week (including lunch hour), plus commuting time.

The assumption is that the “rest of us” do not work for companies that offer the average employee any flex-time, work-at-home arrangements or job-sharing, at least not on an official basis.  When you work in a more traditional company with typical work hours, it’s much harder to enjoy a healthy work/life balance and to find time for your non-work needs.

The most important advice I can offer is to make yourself valuable to your immediate supervisor (and company).  You do not have to be a superstar employee, which often entails overtime, but you do have to be reliable and generally make your boss’s life easier.  You have to meet all reasonable deadlines and not drop the ball.  You can’t call in sick too often, unless you’re really sick of course.  Basically, you must figure out what makes your boss happy.  This varies a lot depending on your boss’s managerial style, as well as the company culture.  I’m not saying this is easy but if you figure this out, you and your boss will be much happier.  If you have a hard time figuring this out, look at your colleagues.  Even if your boss doesn’t play favorites, there’s always at least one person who seems to enjoy a little autonomy.   Watch and learn from this person.  Here are some additional tips or what works for me.  

The smarter ones also take care to cultivate a good work reputation by taking on projects that have visibility or prestige outside their departments.  That way, they still may have job security in the event their boss falls out of favor or leaves the company. Note: I’m often not one of the smart ones, but I have seen this work time and time again.

I understand that there are many who are unhappy at their job and it’s all too easy to feel trapped.  I was in that kind of situation for about two years.  A new boss entered the picture and we did not hit it off to say the least.  While I enjoyed a degree of flexibility given my track record at the company, it became harder to leave work early when necessary or to call in sick without suspicion.   The best thing I ever did was to find a better job with a boss that better appreciated my skills and temperment.  Having said this, it is often necessary to continually manage your job reputation and that is tiring for many, including myself.

Another important variable are your colleagues.  I’ve been fortunate to be situations where all of us pull our weight and watch each other’s back.  We are all punctual and conscientious about taking time for doctor appointments etc.. When you are in a good team environment, the boss is even more likely to relax and trust everyone.   If there’s one “bad apple” on the team, say someone who’s chronically late, the boss may take away privileges or become more of a micro-manager. 

You must manage your relationships with colleagues as well as with your boss.  You don’t have to become best friends but you should try to set a good example for other co-workers, especially new ones.  Do your best to help new colleagues fit in so that they can work smarter.  Help them find the right resources.  Set an example in everything you do from how you run meetings to taking your lunch to minimizing office distractions.  

Recently,  a new person joined our department and her work ethic threatened to make the rest of us look like slackers, even though we’re not.  She saw nothing wrong with working late or skipping lunch and even “bragged” about working 10+ hours at her last job.  I understood that she had a lot to prove but I also knew that I should help her work smarter and fit into our more relaxed company culture.   When I saw her eating at her desk again, I mentioned a magazine article that touted the benefits of a work break — to clear your head, reduce mistakes and recharge yourself, etc..  After that, on occasion, I would express concern that she had skipped lunch.  Eventually she started taking lunch breaks (on most days) and leaving on time.  While much of her changed attitude had to do with finding her groove at her new job, I’m 100% sure that if the rest of us routinely skipped lunch and worked late, she would have mimicked that, too, in order to look “good” to the boss.

If you are able to create a good work environment via your relationship with your boss and co-workers, you can earn some degree of flexibility even without having the perks of management.

In every situation where I have earned my boss’s trust, I also enjoyed greater autonomy in terms of setting my work schedule.  I can’t choose to come in at 10 a.m. but I changed my morning arrival time to avoid traffic.  Right now this works well for me because I get home for dinner every night.   If I needed to adjust my schedule, my boss is likely to allow it.  My lunch hour is similarly flexible.  I have my regular lunch hour but I can take it later or earlier if needed.  Because I always make sure I do my job well, I can also occasionally take a longer lunch without consequences.  This has allowed me to do my household / grocery shopping, get my hair cut, get oil changes, and take care of a host of errands during the weekday instead of letting these clog up my valuable weekend hours. 

Your company’s internet policy may vary and I don’t recommend surfing the web over work.  However, I admit to taking internet mini-breaks.*  This lets me refresh my mind a bit and also take care of chores, including paying bills,  refilling prescriptions, doing research on everything from cars to cable/TV packages, and shopping for self or others.   I can do this because my boss doesn’t feel the need to watch over my shoulder.  Note: Even if your company has strict online policies, you can do a lot on your own smartphone, tablet or laptop. 

Some people may do everything right and just not have the kind of boss who trusts his/her employees.  A friend of mine works for a micro-manager and despite her best efforts, neither she nor any other employee has yet to win the boss’s trust.  However, even in that situation, my friend is probably still considered one of the more trusted employees and has a small degree of flexibility over the others.

To sum it up, your work situation is one of the most important factor in terms of work/life balance.  If you can “steal time” during your work hours, you can gain back time for more enjoyable weekends.  The other side of the coin is family, to be addressed next!

* I am sure someone will comment that it is abuse to use company computer for personal stuff. I’m just not sure how I could manage my life if I did zero personal stuff online during work hours.

Also, check out author Laura Vanderkam’s blog…her book “168 Hours” inspired this series.

A Precarious Balance

I’ve been thinking a lot again about work/life balance because of Working Mother magazine.  A recent issue profiled an MD, a supervisor and a high-power executive at a tech company about their work-life struggles.  In general all their articles profile women in higher-income brackets, probably due to the demographics of their readers and the general assumption is that if these women can do it, people with more regular schedules can, too. 

While I enjoy reading about these high-powered women and also about freelance WOHM moms, I feel that the majority of media ignores those truly in the middle-class (and lower middle-class).   We don’t enjoy the kind of flexibility that higher-powered women enjoy and we can’t delegate away chores like those with financial advantages. 

At my company, those in manager positions and above enjoy a higher autonomy.   They don’t have to ask permission to work from home.  They also have the money for nanny and cleaning help, something that my household has paid for but at a great sacrifice (and only temporarily).   They can still enjoy many luxuries like massages, travel and dining out.  True, they have greater responsibilities, too, and they’ve earned it.  But their solutions often aren’t applicable to those those in lower income brackets.  In other words, they can buy some balance while many people don’t have that same privilege.

That’s why I’m sharing my thoughts now, as a non-manager making a middle-class salary in a high cost of living area.  Like many average working people, I don’t enjoy the flexibility of working from home or part-time hours, both of which I truly crave, so I make the best of my situation.  Before I delve into my tips, I must say that we manage OK because my husband does have a flexible schedule and we have nearby parental help.   The third part of the equation is flexibility at work, something that is within my control to a degree.  

  1. Earn Your Stripes:  What do I mean by this? I mean that before having kids, you should build a solid work reputation and prove your value to your boss, so that he/she trusts you to do your job without constant monitoring.  If your boss values you, there is a greater forgiveness factor when you have kids and your finely balanced life is thrown off-kilter.  There’s a chance that you’ll manage to keep your career almost on track or entirely on track if you’re a true superstar and that you’ll still get just enough family time to keep sane and happy.   I have managed to “earn my stripes” so to speak at my current company and with my current boss. Although I am sure that he’s not happy about my increased absences, he and my co-workers have been super supportive because I still finish my projects on-time.  Plus,  I have a reputation for being efficient, productive and supportive of others. 
  2. Learn to read your boss: Every boss is different. I’ve had bosses who valued creativity; one who valued initiative; another that valued anticipating his/her needs.  If you can make yourself invaluable in ways that matter most to your boss, you’ll be more appreciated.   This sounds like simple advice but I’ve seen many employees who focus mostly on what they want to do, without thinking about company goals or what makes their boss’s life easier.
  3. Take certain projects off your boss’s plate:  With Tip #2 in mind, If you have a strong skill where your boss is lacking, try taking that project off his/her plate.  For example if your boss hates to write, offer to do more writing-related projects. Same for reporting or spreadsheets or presentations.  Ideally your strengths are his/her weaknesses.
  4. Take longer lunches:  Because I’m a trusted team member, my boss doesn’t watch my comings and goings like a hawk.  I appreciate this and I don’t take advantage.  On most days, I actually take shorter lunches and when it’s super busy, I eat at my desk.  However, if it’s a slow day, I can run errands and eat lunch in a little over an hour. Having that flexibility to get bigger chores out of the way allows me to have more free time during non-work hours.
  5. Just plain dumb luck:  You can work really hard but your boss just thinks that everyone is a robot and can put in 110% with no risk of burn-out.  I’ve been fortunate to have many good bosses.  I’ve also been “fortunate” that for various reasons, my co-workers have had work/balance issues, too, so that the spotlight isn’t on me, the dreaded working mom of young kids (!).

I’m glad that I have this flexibility and while my life often feels unbalanced, this flexibility allows me to plow forward and enjoy parenthood without guilt. 

Here are more interesting thoughts on the work/life balance:

http://thehappiestmom.com/2009/05/balance-vs-flexibility/

http://www.wandering-scientist.com/2012/02/no-ones-gonna-stop-me-from-having-it.html

Laura  Vanderkam wrote a book about time management and while I haven’t read it, I was struck by the negative reviews on Amazon.com — basically her advice was mostly applicable to those with money and only certain types of careers like writing:  http://www.amazon.com/168-Hours-Have-More-Think/dp/B0043RT8EU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329869680&sr=8-1

How do you manage the work/life balance? Do you have flexibility? I’m especially curious to hear from those in non-management level jobs who don’t have the funds to delegate away chores and errands!