Tag Archives: work/life balance

Lean In, Lean Out

I finally saw Sheryl Sandberg’s Ted Talk about “leaning in” at work. I’m not sure if she was promoting the book or if that talk gave her the impetus to write a book.  Anyway, I didn’t think I was the target audience since  it’s a bit late in my career to lean in, but her talk was very inspiring.

First of all, she was surprisingly funny.  It’s not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed her talk if she was simply straight-forward but I just didn’t expect a laugh along the way.

Secondly, and most importantly, even if you’re not out to super-charge your career, I think she has valuable advice for all.

One thing I got out of that talk is the obstacles faced by female bosses.  In general, people prefer to work under males.  There’s an unfair perception that women are worse bosses.  I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that you have to be tougher and more aggressive as a woman to climb to the top.  Men have to be aggressive to climb up, too, but I do see a wider range of options for them and they can seem more relaxed at the top.

I have had my share of good/bad bosses.  While I really enjoy working for my male bosses, my female boss was the only one who mentored and promoted me.  I don’t think that’s too uncommon and that’s why I think more women at the top could eventually help all women.

On the same topic, I came across a Business week magazine article about a group of Dads at Deloitte who are trying to “lean out”.  It was an interesting take on a new generation of men who want more time with their kids and family.  It’s still not a widely-accepted notion but I do think and hope that the next generation will adopt more family-friendly and flexible policies that create a work/life balance for all.

My Balance Now

Before I moved closer to work, I had an hour drive to and from work.  I re-read my 2012 post that went into depth about how I balanced work/life and thought I’d update it.  Sometimes I can’t believe I endured this commute for so long.

1.  What’s your work schedule?

Before: I got up at 5:15 to 5:45 to get to work on time.  I got home by 5:30-6 pm., usually exhausted with an aching back.

Now: I get up around 6:25 and get to work on time.  I often have time for breakfast and light stretching/exercise!  My drive is 30 minutes tops (usually faster in the mornings when fewer people are on the road).  I get home by 5pm. Sometimes I even hit the gym or go to the park with the kids.  According to co-workers, I’m also less grumpy in the morning!

2. How do you handle childcare?

Before: Part-time nanny, freelancing husband with flexible schedule and more time at home.

Now: Still part-time nanny on occasion who does light housecleaning, plus A LOT of help from my mom.  My husband’s schedule and travel has picked up, which leaves me taking more time off for doctor appointments, illness and such. Pre-school pick-up is a pain to manage.

3. What do you find best about your current set-up?

I love my shorter commute which has resulted in more energy and quality time with spouse, self and kids!  I love getting more help from my mom since she is amazingly good and flexible with her schedule.

4. What advice would you give to other moms about the juggle?

It’s not really about working or not. It’s really about flexiblity. Even within the restraints of a traditional 9 to 5 job, I know I’m fortunate that my boss is understanding about childcare issues as long as I manage to meet deadlines.

I still stand by my love of online shopping: Order as much as you can online.

And I’ve converted to the dark side — smartphone with tons of apps. It’s the only way I can keep track of my emails and shopping lists. My husband and I communicate quickly via text, emails and shared shopping lists, too.

I’ve been taking some vacation days to do a mommy-and-me class with my kids on weekday mornings. It’s shorten my work hours which is nice on a mental level BUT also forces me to eat at my desk some days to get all my work done.  I love using that time to  learn and play with my kids alongside mostly stay-at-home moms or grandparents.  This alleviates a lot of mommy guilt because I have more hours with my kids overall and don’t have to cram all the fun stuff on weekends.

5. Do you think the juggle is harder for women than men?

Yes.  I’m actually guilt-free and good at ignoring snippy comments but I do spend more time cleaning the house and thinking/planning kid-friendly activities.

Feel free to chime in with details about how other women (and men) handle the work/life juggling act!

All Caught Up

I would like to go on record that for 2 days, I was officially caught up on ALL my chores and errands. 

I opened up my to-do list and saw that I had no errands pending.  There was only major errand that I was hoping to pawn off to my husband.  (He ended up doing this without me even having to ask!  I think he’s husband of the year now..)

I was supposed to call someone back but not for a few days.

Our household was stocked in terms of paper goods, supplies, diapers, wipes and food.  My shopping list was blank!

We didn’t even have social engagements lined up.  There were no upcoming birthdays to remember or parties.  I suppose this was like the lull in the storm before the holiday season.

I was swamped at work but I don’t really count that. 

Of course, two days later, the to-do and my to-buy list suddenly started swelling up again.  Oh well, I really enjoyed that “caught up” feeling!

Accidental Happiness?

Years ago, if you would have asked me about my ideal version of parenthood, I would have answered, “working part-time or staying home”.  As much as I admire working parents, especially moms, I could not envision pulling off working full-time and raising kids.  Of course life rarely works out as planned and I’m a full-time working mom.  My husband has a very flexible schedule and we have help from family.

While on a day-to-day basis, my life can be quite exhausting, I have to admit that staying in the work force probably makes me happier.   This is not an easy thing for me to admit either!  

This recent epiphany is why I am intrigued by a recent report stating that full-time working moms enjoy better health both mentally and physically than stay-at-home moms.  As with any research report, you have to be careful about the details and conclusions drawn.  However, I am beginning to realize that this report rings true for me, especially when I focus on the long-term benefits.   I draw mental strength from retaining my independence and contributing financially to my household.  This strength and independence is something I’m very proud of and hope my kids will appreciate someday. 

I also have a strong feeling that I would have a very difficult time getting back into the work force.  Yes, many women change careers or dive back in and excel.  However, many women I know are very lost after their hiatus from paid work.  Truth be told, knowing my personality and priorities, it would not take me long to lose my network, lose touch with my skills and be out-of-date in my field. 

This is not to say that I love office politics or always enjoy my work.  This past weekend, my youngest kept climbing up on me just to lay his head on my chest; he was so content to just be with me and I love these little moments.  Contrast that with my current mindset at work — sort of uninspired and deflated.  I spent weeks polishing up a report and developing a business strategy for future projects that will hopefully counter this blah feeling.  That has kept me engaged and reminded me I have so much more to learn!   

I think the big lesson is:Sometimes what you think makes you happy isn’t what really makes you happy.  This can apply to many areas in life, not just work/life/parenthood.  Maybe not getting into your first-choice college turned out to be the best for you.  Maybe not achieving your dreams of stardom led you to a more fulfilling career path.  Have you experienced happiness in spite of your plans?

A Male Perspective On Work/Life Balance

I am reading “This is How” by Augusten Burroughs of “Running with Scissors” fame.   This is both a self-help book and a parody of traditional self-help, and pretty funny, too.   One chapter focuses on limits and how it’s a good thing that we all have limits, whether it’s of time, money, ability or something else.   That got me thinking in many ways including how this relates to the work/life balance discussions that are all the rage in the web-sphere and media via blogs, forums and articles.   What made his take most interesting to me is that he is not writing from the perspective of someone married with children.  Basically his argument is that limits force us to be creative.  If life had no limits, our life would feel stagnant and valueless.  And the line that struck me the most: “Not having it all is good.”

You should read the book for that chapter alone.  While he really wasn’t talking about women juggling career/work/chores/life, it seemed applicable to that situation.   Time limits can definitely lead to exhaustion but it also forces you to make better use of time, at work and at home.

Sometimes it’s good to get a male perspective on a topic dominated and discussed mostly by women.

Oh, there’s also a very good chapter about how to be fat.

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.

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.