Work-life balance has been a catchphrase for decades. People everywhere complain they don’t have it. Experts expound on how to attain it. And medical research says it’s a requirement for physical and mental well-being.
Harvard Business School surveyed 4,000 executives worldwide and found that the most successful leaders consciously managed their time and priorities to maximize their professional and personal lives. Says Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think and a mother of four: “It’s important to make time for relationships and personal pursuits even if you’ve got an intense job. Not only will you be healthier if you take care of yourself, you’ll be more productive, as great ideas come to you when you consciously step back from work for a bit.”
To better manage your time, Vanderkam suggests these steps:
• Track your time for a week. Identify when you are most productive at work and when you are primed for rejuvenation.
• Make a list of things you’d like to spend more time doing, so that when you do have downtime, you can feel satisfied knowing you spent it on meaningful activities.
• Define success for yourself. If quality time with your family is an important part of that definition, adjust your schedule so you accomplish that goal instead of spending more time at work or simply clocking unfulfilling hours at home.
• Manage technology. Set aside specific times to respond to email and catch up on social media. Turn off your phone during personal time.
Who: Married father of four and a parent educator
Where: Los Angeles
When my husband, Jeremy, and I met, we earned a collective $150,000 per year and owned three homes and three cars. We also worked 14- and 16-hour days in the hospitality industry and saw little of each other.
When the economy crashed in 2008, we lost everything. It was a huge wake-up call to get in touch with what was important to us: time together and family.
Jeremy and I moved from South Carolina to Los Angeles to start over. We became parents a few years later as we struggled to find our way professionally. Today I am a parent educator in the foster-care system, run a spirituality center and am writing a book. Jeremy, a stay-at-home dad, also is writing a book. Our income is $85,000, but our lifestyle is far more in line with our values, even as we’ve upgraded from a two-bedroom apartment to a house. Most days our family is together for long hours. I’m often on a business call while folding laundry and keeping an eye on the kids playing in the backyard while Jeremy works on his book.
Part of our lifestyle is committing to work that brings meaning to us and working only with people we like. If I wouldn’t invite you to my home for dinner, I won’t do business with you.
Who: Married (no kids) and a financial adviser at Wealthcare for Women
Early in my career, I’d work 70 hours a week, including Saturdays and Sundays. But when I started dating my future wife, I knew she couldn’t be second fiddle to my job. I started to prioritize my time, which was easier once I earned more career security. I kept prioritizing my time after launching my own business.
My habits today ensure that I put energy into what’s important to me. I keep a regular schedule at my job and take frequent breaks. I never eat lunch at my desk; I enjoy a sandwich outdoors when possible. In nice weather, I take 90 minutes out of my workday for a brisk walk while listening to a positive podcast. This lifestyle allows me to be very productive at work. So if the phone rings after office hours, I don’t answer it and don’t feel guilty about it.
My priority is my wife, who has a demanding career in marketing. When she returns after her long day, she receives my full attention. We walk our dogs in the evenings and prioritize volunteer work with a dog-rescue organization.
Who: Married mother of four and creator of IAmThatLady.com, which helps families lead full lives on a budget
Where: Syracuse, N.Y., area
With four children younger than 10, I have my hands full. For three years I worked between diaper changes and naps. So I had stressful nights, crazy days and imbalance in every area of my life.
I wanted to be 100 percent working mom during work hours and 100 percent mom during mom hours. My husband and I hired a nanny for 20 hours per week and also employed a house cleaner. I could’ve used my time to either scrub my toilets or earn money; I chose money. These services allow me to have dedicated work hours, which in turn let me be focused and productive.
We also saved enough for my husband to quit his job as an actuary in early 2014. We now share the responsibilities around the house and in the business. More home and life balance means more success in every area of our lives.
This article appears in the February 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
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Emma Johnson is a business journalist, gender-equality activist, and founder of the world's largest community of single moms, WealthySingleMommy.com. Emma and her best-selling book, The Kickass Single Mom, and her organization, Moms for Shared Parenting, have been featured in hundreds of national and international media outlets.