In 2007, I was the picture of a successful young professional. I’d graduated with my MBA, been recruited into a lucrative consulting career and even married my college sweetheart.
By society’s standards, I had made it. But I was absolutely miserable, exhausted and burned out. My husband and I were excited to start our family, but there was so much pressure to focus on my career that I couldn’t see how I could have a baby.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that my career goals and my personal goals weren’t aligned. Like many women, I felt that I was being asked to choose between my ambition and my desire to become a mom.
I’ve learned that it’s important for us entrepreneurial parents to be intentional about how we spend each and every day if we’re going to create a life and earn a living.
If you were to sit down and make a list of all of the areas of your life that need your time and attention, you’d probably quickly feel defeated. With so many things you need (and want) to do, balance may feel impossible. And it often is. When you’re raising a family and running a business, one sick day can throw off your entire week. But setting a goal for harmony instead takes into account that while your days and weeks might not look exactly the same all the time, it all balances out in the end.
How do you find more harmony? When you have a busy week in your business, planning for some quality family time the following week can ensure that you don’t neglect the other priorities in your life. If you have to travel for a weekend conference, make sure you take off a few days to recover upon your return.
When the work-life balance conversation comes up with my friends and clients, it’s usually because they’re burning out. They’re waking up before the kids do to work. They’re working during naptimes. They’re working after bedtime. Weekends are a nonstop struggle of attempting to catch up on work between all of the kids‘ activities.
When was the last time you had some actual fun? Each season, my family sits down to write our family fun bucket list. We share all of the things we want to do together. It gives us a dozen activities we can do together for real quality time. In the winter, we go ice skating and snowboarding. In the spring, we plan our family garden. In the summer, we hit the beach and amusement parks. In the fall, we go apple picking and bake pumpkin-flavored everything.
There are natural cycles in everyone’s life. Taking some time to understand them helps you build more downtime into the mix. In my business, the busy seasons kick off in January, April and September. I know that I’m going to be working more than usual to achieve my business goals during those times. But July and December are wide open for two weeks of vacation time. And during the months in between, I can plan for a few extra three- to four-day weekends.
By making family, friends and fun a priority, I find that I always have something to look forward to and can guarantee that I’ll be giving myself the break I need to be at my best at work and at home.
The most important practice I’ve maintained for the last 12 years is having a model calendar. You may have tried creating a weekly calendar in the past by first placing your work obligations on the calendar and then squeezing in your life between work. What if you flipped that around and started with what matters most?
Because I have three small children, I start my model calendar by planning family time. I know that the first two hours of the morning are mostly getting kids ready and out the door for school, and then when they get home, it’s all about getting them to ballet lessons or Boy Scouts, getting dinner on the table and finishing up homework.
Next, I block out time for my own self-care and health. These are usually the first things I’m likely to put on the back burner, but when I make an appointment with a personal trainer or plan to go to yoga with a friend, I’m held accountable (and I just feel a million times better).
Then, I plan my office hours. And yes, create real office hours for yourself. It’s the best way that I’ve found to ensure that I’m actually focused and getting real work done every day, week and month in my business without getting distracted.
In my experience, the sooner you let go of the perfectionist idea of work-life balance, the sooner you can escape the inevitable guilt and start living a life you actually enjoy as you grow personally and professionally. We all have the same 168 hours in a week, and when you embrace finding harmony to make time for your biggest priorities, you can find amazing freedom and fulfillment in everything you do.