Work-Life Balance Isn’t a Myth: 6 Ways to Find It

wl balance 2As a working mom, I know all too well the pressures and guilt that go along with juggling both a career and an active family. Some days are a marathon dash of running from one meeting to the next, then home for the kids’ homework, karate practice, dinner, and hopefully a little time with my spouse.  With so much riding on our shoulders, we can quickly become overwhelmed and feel guilty that neither our job nor family are receiving the best we have to offer.  We want to do it all, but the truth is we can’t – and we shouldn’t expect to. By learning a few strategic principles, we can find some balance, sanity, and even some time for ourselves. Here are 6 ways to achieve work-life balance.

Learn to get organized. A frantic morning of searching for your project proposal, keys, permission slips, child’s lost shoe, and then remembering a missed appointment does not set you up for a productive day.  Whether at work or at home, create a set place for important and frequently used items, and make sure everyone uses it.  A little organization can bring much needed peace to your morning.  I have a dedicated place to keep keys, wallets, sunglasses, mail, plus important papers for work and school near the door. This simple system has saved hours of tearing up the house looking for lost items! With smartphones, planning is easier and more accessible than ever. Try to put all your events on the same calendar to avoid missing another meeting or soccer practice. I use an app that merges my personal and work calendars into one. I also recommend setting alerts for important events. And, schedule down-time with the family; book that date-night or day at the beach in your calendar just like you would your budget meeting.

Learn it’s okay to say “no.”  Saying “no” is very difficult; there is the pressure of wanting to be a team player, fear of missing out on a career-building opportunity, or disappointing someone.  I have a hard time saying “no” when asked to take on another project at work, and an even harder time saying “no” to the eighth birthday invitation of the month or when asked to make “just on more” humming bird costume for the class play. Saying “no” can be the best thing for both your family and your career. Before saying “yes” to something, ask yourself a few questions first:

  • Does this task allow me to still give my full attention and quality to what I’m already working on?
  • Is it this really necessary or going to help my career – or am I just doing someone a favor?
  • If I accept this invitation, will it cut into valuable family time?

You can say “no” and still be a team player. One effective technique you can use is saying: “I would like to help you, but I am currently working on/committed to completing (fill in the project, customer, school activity).” You can offer to help at a later time, or suggest someone that may be in a better position to assist them. When you choose to say “no,” be clear and firm, and stick to it. Your time is just as valuable.

Learn to let it go.  The more I take on, the more I learn to prioritize and let go of the little things that aren’t really that important – you can’t afford to be a perfectionist.  This is harder to do at work where we are expected to perform at our best at all times, but you can give yourself a break at home with your family. There is a new term being used that I love, it’s called the Pinterest-Effect. Moms are under even more pressure to make adorable crafts 24/7, but my daughter doesn’t care if the snacks I bring for the Girl Scout troop meeting are in customized bento boxes or a brown paper bag. Consider taking a time out from social media. It’s fun to keep up with what friends and family are doing, but social media often paints a false picture of how perfect other people’s vacations and children look.  This just adds to the stress and guilt you already feel about not living up to some unrealistic standard. With all the great pic apps available, it’s easy to make a mundane trip to the store look like a Disney vacation. And don’t get caught up in the little details that don’t go as planned, enjoy the valuable moments you have with your kids and spouse.

Learn to be present in the moment. When sitting in a meeting at work or spending time at home with family, it’s all too easy to let our minds get distracted with thoughts of the other. It takes practice, lots of practice, but try to focus on what is happening in front of you now. Be present in the moment rather than scattered with your thoughts of did you remember to send that email? Or, did you sign that permission slip? I’ve suffered the embarrassment of being caught off-guard in a meeting because my mind was thinking of an issue at home, and I’ve read the same page of a book to my kids three times because I was distracted with thoughts of work.  If you can learn to pause, and quiet your mind, you will find so much more enrichment from your family and your career.

Learn to ask for help. I know, I know it is hard to do. I am finally learning to accept help when others offer, and to ask other parents and colleagues for assistance.  There is no shame in it, and it doesn’t mean you are not an accomplished, capable professional – think of it as using resources wisely.  One tip is to consider trading duties – there may be a task you do not have the time for or enjoy, but someone else may.  Why not suggest a carpool for school drop off or the occasional play date for the kids so you can get a few hours peace to finish that report? You will find ways to return the favor. And certainly learn to let your partner help, even if it means things are not done your way. It’s taken great strength, but I have finally learned to accept my husband’s help in the kitchen and I no longer re-load the dishwasher the “right way.”

Learn it’s OK to fail. We don’t expect our children to get everything right, and we allow them to make mistakes as part of the learning process. So why don’t we give ourselves the same consideration? With all that we do in a given day, it’s inevitable that sometimes something will go wrong. When it does, you can use a statement such as “This is what happened (give facts, not excuses), this is what I learned from it, and this is how I will prevent it in the future.” Take ownership and learn from the experience. It’s okay, it really does happen to us all.

I don’t know if it’s possible to get rid of all the guilt I carry around, as unnecessary as that guilt may be. But by using techniques like these, I have reduced my stress and can focus more on my career that I enjoy and discovering how amazing my two children really are.