Work-life balance is a very important subject for anyone who works or cares about someone who does. Distributed teams, remote work, and a bevy of digital tools make working from anywhere and anytime easier than ever before. These developments also make it easier to work when you should be doing something else.
As a busy executive, I’m keenly aware that preserving and protecting my time is a vital life skill. But I can’t always maintain strict boundaries between work and life. School breaks, sick days and teacher’s conferences mean that sometimes my two worlds collide.
So how do I maintain my equilibrium and make sure my life, my partner Haim’s, and our children’s lives don’t fall out of balance?
It takes a combination of firmness and flexibility.
I must be firm in enforcing my boundaries with my clients, co-workers, and myself so that I don’t develop bad habits or allow meeting unreasonable expectations to become the norm. Weekends are for spending time with my partner and children.
Our family eats dinner together on most weeknights. And if I need to catch up on work, I wait until after I’ve tucked my children into bed.
That’s the ideal, anyway. But working for a company that does business around the world, I can’t always dictate my schedule.
As a parent of a 9-year-old and a toddler, I can’t always dictate my schedule either!
Sometimes I have to take a call before my kids go to bed. Sometimes my best-laid plans to accommodate a Zoom conference with an overseas team member are foiled by a sleepless little one.
Flexibility was one reason Haim and I started our business after our first child was born.
Now as the growth and marketing team for enterprise email marketing platform, Ongage.com, my partner and I appreciate working for an organization that recognizes that sometimes life gets in the way of keeping exact hours.
But it’s no secret that drawing the line between home and work has become more difficult in the past several years. New communication tools that make asynchronous interactions a breeze also make it very easy to forget to unplug when the workday is over.
Plus, it’s not always easy to keep track of exactly when the workday begins and ends when your team members are working from in-office and remote locations around the globe!
Work can creep into our personal lives subtly with texts arriving after hours or emails pile up over the weekend. Over time, expectations shift and you can find yourself unsure of where to draw the line.
The future of work has to be one in which firmness and flexibility goes both ways.
Businesses that need team members who can attend a late night conference must be willing to give that time back by allowing their teams to make personal appointments during the day or leave early to pick up their kids after school.
Follow gentle parenting practices such as allocating your time so you can be present for your children when they need you the most.
That’s how we’ll find our new equilibrium and build happier, healthier, balanced lives for ourselves and generations to come.
How can you find the balance that works for you and your family?
- Not everyone’s or every household’s schedule is the same. Review your schedule to identify when your team members and your family members are most in need of your time. Give yourself permission to adjust your life to meet those high-demand moments at work and at home.
- Parenting and leadership both require sacrificing for others occasionally.
- People are looking to you at work and home for guidance and support. But you can’t be effective in either role if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Don’t forget to block off time in your weekly schedule for self-care and focused work. It’s okay to declare a no-interruptions zone now and then.
- Practice transparency, even if that means appearing vulnerable sometimes. You don’t owe everyone an explanation when you have set aside a boundary to meet a deadline or attend an important family event.
Opening up about your struggles with work life balance can help others understand your point of view. Plus, like early financial literacy, it’s important for our children to learn about managing their careers in small steps.
Sharing your workplace challenges may also make your children and your team feel safer sharing their own struggles with you. Be the role model and mentor you wish you had.
- When your two worlds collide, look for ways to smooth the overlaps. When you have to work from home and the kids would rather you spend time with them, it’s kind of like you’re on a work trip without the gifts.
- Can you do something special right at home?
One way my spouse and I bridged the distance with our daughters when we are all working (and schooling) from home during the pandemic was to create an activity book that allowed them to learn about our jobs.
We actually created the book as part of our jobs as the VP of Marketing and VP of Growth at Ongage.
Ongage made the Email Marketing Activity Book available to everyone as a downloadable pdf on their website. So not only was I able to show my kids, “See, this is what I do all day,” but I could also say, “and this is what you inspired me to do at my job.” Plus, they can imagine the book being shared with other kids all around the world just like them whose parents work in email marketing!
- As you find your equilibrium, expect some setbacks. Be on the lookout for signals that you’ve become too flexible. Think of your work life balance as a long bridge. It needs a strong structure. Your plans can’t be so capricious that they leave everyone feeling tossed around every time the wind blows. But they also can’t be so rigid that they collapse if there’s a sudden change in the direction the wind blows either.
Or to put it another way, be like the willow tree; capable of responding to the breeze but firmly rooted in the ground.
The way people work whether from home or in a corporate environment is changing. As you navigate these changes, keep a watchful eye on your well-being and the well-being of those around you. Change can be good as long as you find the right balance.