I am regularly asked, “how do you maintain work/life balance?” This is a great question. I know that I want to be the best professional I can be and I also want to be the best parent, partner, and friend that I can be. Can you do it all? Sure…but probably not all at the same time. When I interviewed for my current job in the spring of 2006 my children were 4 and 6, my partner was commuting 2+ hours a day, there were times of the year that I was working 14-16 hours a day; life was busy. The only thing that is different today is the kids are now 18 and 20. Life is still busy. I love a busy life and I would say that I lead a pretty balanced life.
So back to the question, how do you maintain work/life balance? This is so personal, only you know what you need to feel whole. I will tell you what I need, and maybe it will offer you a framework or an idea that you might try.
Anyone that knows me knows that I am a planner. Anyone that knows this field knows that there is only a small part of the day-to-day operations that can be planned. Life happens, and whether you are working with 25 students or 25,000 the work is unpredictable, because life is unpredictable. This is true in my work and in my personal life. Yet I also know that I need a certain amount of “predictable and planned” to feel whole and balanced. I have thought really hard about what I need and it has changed over time.
Work and life are both full-time jobs and I really like both of them. So the question for me became how can I do both these full-time jobs and continue to really like both of them. The answer for me was to plan for it. Let me tell you about a typical week. I will start with the fact that I am an early riser and would like to be in bed reading something that requires absolutely no intellectual engagement by 9 p.m. Every morning starts with a dog walk – it is required by her and good for me. The rest is about setting aside time for the things that will make my life better.
My life list includes some of the following:
- FOOD: groceries and meal prep for the week – these 2-3 hours alone sets us up for a week of no stress around what’s for dinner and how is it getting made. Periodically (if the weekend or week is shaping up to be super busy) I will order groceries online for pick-up or delivery (a good $3 investment.) I would say the crockpot gets used pretty regularly and nothing is better than walking into a house that smells like dinner at the end of a long workday.
- SCHEDULE: a weekly calendar review – my partner and I sit down together once a week and review our calendars to be sure we know who is where when (and when the kids were little, who was picking them up a the end of the day.)
- CLEANING: starting every work week with a clean house and clean clothes. We also iron on Sunday nights. The kids started doing their own laundry and ironing at about 10-12 years old and this was a life changer!
- THE OTHER STUFF: take a day off (about every three/four months) to organize life (i.e. file financial paperwork, fall/spring clean the house/yard, clean out closets, get the furnace cleaned, make donations of gently used items, etc.) I often try to end this work by about 3 p.m. so I can get a massage or get my nails done (do something just for me!)
- VACATION: two weeks in a row of vacation each summer is such a luxury and really helpful to me and my partner. We work hard and it takes us a while to get into vacation mode. We were finding that if vacation started on Friday night we were crazily getting organized to go somewhere on Saturday, settling into new routine on Sunday and Monday, and not feeling like we were actually enjoying vacation until Tuesday or Wednesday, then on Friday we were packing up to come home on Saturday in order to clean the house do the laundry prep for the week on Sunday to go back to work on Monday. CHAOS! If it is possible, add a second week and sit back and enjoy the time.
My work list is reflective of my home list and the two ofter cross over.
At this moment I need:
- SCHEDULE: a work to-do-list helps to stay organized. Also, knowing your best working conditions for the various types of work that you do is important. Using closed-door, quiet time for certain jobs may be useful. Scheduling your day with space for doing administrative work is important to your efficiency in the long run. I mentioned that I am a morning person. I arrive to work about an hour before the “day starts” and use this time to manage my emails and work on projects. This allows me some flexibility later in the day for the unexpected items that are added to my to-do-list. It also gives me time to schedule in time to attend afternoon events on- and off-campus.
- ORGANIZATION: knowing what work needs to be done and where the information is will help you to get work done on time. Find a system that works for you – folders (electronic and/or paper), charged devices (have more than one charger – one for desk, one for home and one in the work bag), and a way to keep track of the regular on-going work and the projects that come up. Find a system and use it.
Sometimes the days are long, but the older I get, the more I realize that the years are short. I have been so privileged to love both work and home and have been able to share them with each other. It is not balanced every day, but I am happy and whole, learning and growing, challenged and fulfilled.
Associate Dean of the College/Dean of Students at Smith College, Northampton, MA
Directorate Member of CSCLI