Monday, September 26, 2016

18 Actions To Achieve Personal-Professional Life Balance


I believe that there are a number of simple actions that I have taken to balance the time and effort I spend on work and at home.
First, I am going to call it Personal-Professional life balance and not work-life balance as it is normally called.
  1. The semantics. "Work-Life Balance" implies that work is not life and life is not work. The term creates a conflict where there should be none. For me, work is life & life is work. What I want is to be able to balance my personal and professional lives.
  2. At any given point of time, both cannot be in balance. Sometimes my personal life will need to take center stage - all my mind share, time, effort, focus, money; and sometimes my professional life will take center stage. That's just the way it is. I just Accept it and get on with it!

So How Do I Balance My Personal & Professional Lives?

Mumbai Dubbawallas
Photo: The Hindu

Ensure quality work is delivered on time, every time
It builds credibility. Credibility I learnt, is far more important than the time I get to work or leave work. People at work and home have come to depend on my delivering on promises. Delivering quality can happen anywhere - at work, sitting on the floor outside an ICCU, at a vacation hotspot. For a couple of years our team delivered and billed 15 days in advance so that our entire business unit could close down over Christmas and New Year! We loved it!!
Communicate Availability
I let people know in advance if I am not going to be available - whether it is 3 days attending a Strategy Meeting or half-a-day for a doctor's visit. This helps us all plan for completion and/or approvals well in advance of my "unavailable" time. My teams also know that I do not want to be disturbed during this time and that they will get delayed responses. If we are in the middle of a super critical project, I plan a check-in time and number.
Communicate Response Times
I let people know when they can expect a response from me. And I stick to maintaining these response times! From letting my household staff know exactly when they will get the advance pay they asked for, to a 24-hour response time on emails. Communicating expected response time cuts down on useless reminder calls / emails and prevents people from calling me to check whether I have received and read an email or report and what my response is.
My Outlook calendar can look like this
on any given Monday!
Put everything on one calendar
Calendars are great tools. They help us plan and schedule work in offices. I use my calendar to schedule personal work too - from dinner with friends to payment due dates of bills to shopping expeditions and vacations. Not only does it let me see all that I have committed to do, but also helps me allocate time judiciously. I share my calendar with my teams so that they are aware of time that I have blocked off, and they respect and appreciate it.
Plan and communicate me-time
Both at work or at home, I plan and announce to people that I am spending time on thinking, or research, or whatever it is that I need time for. I plan for time to read, or write or catch up on sleep. And everyone is told that this is my time and not to disturb me. I have an unwritten rule, that gives me 30 mins alone time after I get home from work. I use this time to take a shower or read or watch TV. At office I block-off several hours a week to read or do research.
Phone covers are very useful  
Avoid your phone
I often work with my phone on silent or face down / cover shut, so that I am not disturbed by calls or flashing alerts. I have a different ringtone for calls from immediate family - set to ring even when on silent. At off-times, my teams (including supervisors) know that they can call me in a certain window iff "the building is burning down". I avoid looking at my phone when out meeting friends or shopping or watching a movie. I don't answer every call I get if I am already engaged with someone or something.
Return calls / messages when convenient to you
As I don't pick up my phone every time it rings, or read messages immediately when I am focusing on work (personal or professional), I make a point of reading / responding to calls that I have missed 2-3 times in a day. People know this and respect it.
Be connected without being a slave to work or home
Technology must work for me vs take over my life. I get the technology I need to connect "at will". I use technology to listen to music whilst I work or clear emails when a flight is delayed. I have ordered dinner for guests scheduled to arrive at home at the same time as me - I was just coming from another city! I shut down my computer when at home. And every time I reach for it, I ask myself, "Do I really need to boot up my machine?". The answer is often, "No."
Avoid working on weekends and off-time / bringing work home
I define work-free times (evenings, mornings, weekends). At these times, even if I am on my laptop or using my phone, and I can see that there are many unread messages on my official email or WhatsApp groups, I do not open them. It takes a lot of will power! When I want to work at home, I ask the question "Does this really need to be done now?" It’s the same question I ask if I want to do personal work at the office.
Avoid hanging around the office
I don't hang around the office just because my boss is there or for a phone call from an overseas customer. I leave when I have finished work. I take late night & early morning calls from home. Customers have happily conferenced me into calls when I have told then how late or early it will be with the time difference. If I am hanging around the office after finishing for the day, it is to connect with friends and chat.
Say "No"
I cannot do everything. I have to say "No" both at work and at home. I have said "No" to new projects or to entertaining relatives on weekdays. It's better to say "No" than to find that I am unable to deliver. Why keep the door ajar for guilt to waltz in and stay for free?
Prepare the night before or the weekend before
If I have a very hectic week ahead, I do take a few hours off from my personal time to prepare for a mad week or clear my emails so that I have no pending work to nag me. It is well worth it. It helps me sleep well on Sunday night. The same works for the day / night before a big presentation.
Stick to a sleep, exercise, eat routine

I have been asked if I can take a call at 5:30am in the morning (from someone on the West Coast, USA) and I have said "No. I will be out for a walk then. Can we make it an hour later?". I have said no to calls that clash with the time I spend with my father, or dinner time at home. I find that if we give people alternate times to call / meet so that we can stick to our routine, they understand and are willing to be flexible. We've just gotta ask!
Respect others' personal time
If I want people to respect my time - personal or professional time, then I need to respect their time. I avoid calling colleagues, about work, on a weekend or holiday. I also learnt the hard way, not to send emails on a weekend or holiday. I once noticed that my program managers were responding to my emails on weekends. When I asked them why, they told me that I sent emails on weekends and hence they thought they were expected to respond. I was horrified that they logged in on Sunday mornings just to respond to my emails! I soon learnt to keep emails in my outbox or drafts folder, so that they could be sent out on a Monday morning.
Understand the company's policy on flex-work / work-from-home / telecommuting
Many companies have policies that allow for work flexibility. It’s worth spending time reading and understanding these policies & their applicability. Telecommuting even a day a week can add hours to the time you have to spend on personal work. Just remember, the better a performer you are, the better the chances that you will be able to avail of these policies.
Stop wanting perfection
Super-woman / superman are fictional characters. We are bombarded with ads and messages on being "Super" whatever-the-gender! And that makes us believe that we all need to be "Super". It is impossible to do everything right all the time. I have missed movies and concerts and networking events. I have pushed guilt away when I miss these. And that's OK!
Co-opt / commandeer help
I don't believe that I have to do it all. And I am not going to be a martyr to the cause of the do-it-all super-woman. So I try to co-opt people to help - spouse, parent, paid help - basically whoever it takes to be able to give me more time for myself. I also believe that co-opting children to do chores is a great idea. My mom rostered our chores - cooking, washing clothes, laying and clearing the table, cleaning bathrooms, dusting, sweeping and swabbing, et al. She has even paid us to iron our own clothes. I think I am a better person because of it!
Nurture a hobby
It does not matter what it is. It just has to be something you are passionate about. I have even had on-and-off hobbies (stitching and baking) and consistent hobbies (reading) over the years. A hobby for me is something that I do for myself and not others. Something that makes me forget the passage of time. I am now planning to sort thru the boxes and boxes of stamps I have - another possible hobby? :-) Whatever the hobby is, I believe that my time and effort spent on it is as important as anything else in my life.

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