Picture the scene: You’re at your desk, scrambling to wrap up a critical presentation when your cell phone rings. You plan to ignore it as you’re racing to meet your deadline, but your heart sinks as you glance at the screen. It’s your child’s school. Your kid is either sick or in big trouble. Either way, you are urgently needed, and the rest of your workday hangs in the balance.
I’ve been there, and while I wouldn’t swap being a parent for anything, figuring out how to balance work and family commitments is tough. Across America, millions of working parents pursue their careers while raising a family. In 2016, more than 34 million families in the U.S. included children under age 18.
For many of us, the fine art of managing work-life balance presents an ongoing and stressful challenge. The challenge becomes greater if your work schedule doesn’t fall into a conventional 9-5, Monday to Friday pattern. Even jobs with so-called banker’s hours sometimes involve longer days, varying schedules and rapidly changing deadlines that sometimes make family plans go out the window.
It may seem insurmountable at times, but a few simple steps can help ease the physical and mental load. Here are some strategies I’ve learned and adopted to strike a more harmonious work-life balance.
Put some slack in your schedule
Simply put, there are always components to your work schedule that you just can’t control. What you can control though, is how you allocate your time across your entire schedule, not just your workday. Working long hours, not getting enough sleep and maintaining a constantly action-packed calendar leaves you stressed in the short term and burned out in the long run. There are only 24 hours in the day — and some of those hours must be devoted to sleep and self-care.
I learned the hard way that a schedule packed with personal and professional commitments didn’t leave me feeling accomplished. It made me feel tense and drained. It’s essential to set boundaries, find time to relax and do something you enjoy. That may seem impossible at first, but try it. Even if infrequent, it makes a world of difference and provides some sanctuary to recharge in the middle of the chaos.
This one can be hard, but it’s critical. As working parents, figuring out how to deal with conflicting needs and requests can leave you wracked with guilt. Your kid wants you to watch their soccer game that’s at the exact same time as a critical team meeting. Your boss asks you to attend an industry event that clashes with a family gathering. Your client wants you to fly across the country for a presentation when you don’t have a babysitter. For working parents, these scenarios seem to occur often — and are always painful.
Finding solutions for not being able to be in two places at once can seem impossible. And if you’re worried that you’ve made your boss or family happy at the expense of the other, it’s time to remember the most important person to your career and your well-being: you. Managing your own expectations is just as important as taking care of everyone else’s needs. None of us can ever be the perfect parent or the perfect professional 100 percent of the time, so be kind to yourself along the way.
Prioritize and delegate
Some of us are better at this than others. In my own experience, I found out fast that I could never get through my daily to-do list. It was beyond frustrating. I kept thinking I was failing until I finally realized I had way too many things on my list to begin with. I was ultimately setting myself up for failure.
Now I practice better time management. I still write out my list of things to do at the start of the week. But instead of working through all of them, I prioritize everything that’s extremely important and figure out what can wait and what isn’t essential. I delegate anything that doesn’t require my direct input but still needs to get done. I try to work smarter and focus on what matters versus spreading myself too thin and taking on way too much.
I’ve noticed that many working parents are fast and efficient, and it’s the same with me. When I’m working, there’s no time to procrastinate. I get things done quicker than I ever did before because I don’t have the luxury of leaving work deadlines until the very last minute.
Despite this, I admit that I sometimes feel frustrated by what I haven’t achieved in a busy workday or when certain career goals feel out of reach. But I keep plugging away. It’s a wonderful thing to want to keep progressing, but if you’re feeling demoralized, try and maintain a healthy perspective.
Working parents are pulled in a million directions daily. If you are delivering at work and being present for your family, you already are succeeding.