Ok working mamas, how many of you are good at leaving work and work? I mean, seriously? You refrain from checking your email after you leave the office or taking calls from co-workers, team members, etc… once you get home? If you are ecstatically raising your hand or jumping up and down, saying me, me, me…then…good for you! You’ve figured out how to balance work and family. Now, for those of you who have not quite mastered the art of balancing both, then welcome! You’re not alone. There are thousands of us, hard-working, intelligent, dedicated, working mother’s that have a hard time saying no and leaving work AT WORK. We feel like that’s what we have to do in order to succeed in our careers and prove ourselves. I hope that my trials and tribulations, lessons learned, and research help you as you seek more family and alone time while still succeeding in your profession and rocking your career.
He just called me out…. the dreaded moment!
There was a time in my career when I would consistently work 10 to 12-hour days. Leaving the office around 6:45PM, arriving home tired, not talkative, overwhelmed, stressed, and ready to eat dinner, take my makeup off, put my hair up, take my bra off, put on some comfy (non-sexy) lounge wear, and “veg” on the couch. My actual reality was quite different. Though my makeup and bra did come off, there was no relaxation. Though I was winding down my day (or attempting to), our Asia-Pacific market was starting theirs, so the barrage of emails started flooding in. As I sit on the couch, glued to my laptop, fighting fires with ninja like precision, I hear my son in the background. He was telling me all about his day, how great school was and his accomplishments on Minecraft. All I hear is a little voice, chirping away when all of a sudden I hear him say, “Mom, mom….did you hear me?” I quickly snap out of my email coma and look up to see his adorable, little, round face and bright blue eyes staring at me. I also notice my husband looking at me with what I describe as disappointment wrapped in disgust. I quickly apologize to both of them, close my laptop, and begin engaging with my son. He proceeds to ask me “mom, why are you always on your laptop or phone….does your boss make you do it?” As I sat there, processing his powerful words, it occurred to me that I do NOT have my priorities straight. My boss never asked me to work beyond my hours in the office, he never questioned my work ethic, my projects were always delivered on time, I was trustworthy, reliable, and dedicated, so why was I robbing myself and my family of quality time? I had no valid reason, no valid answer. It was an “ah ha” moment for me and right then and there, I decided that was it. I am leaving work at work and saying yes to my adorable family.
Easier said than done, right? But How?
In theory, this all sounds great, right? Simply leave the office, put your phone on silent, and call it good. Well, in reality, it isn’t easy. It does take a bit of work but the payoff is worth it.
If you’re like me, you’ve worked non-stop for quite some time and have established habits. Habits for you, but most importantly, habits for others. By answering emails and performing non-emergency tasks after hours, I have set the “expectation” that at any time, anyone can email me, and I’ll respond quickly or deliver on a request. Since that is the pattern of behavior that I helped establish, I now needed to determine how to unravel that pattern and establish a new one. This is going to be fun! NOT! So… let’s dig in. How did I begin to leave work at work and…in turn have a better work life balance?
- Communication –
- Start by having a candid conversation with your manager. Let him or her know what patterns and behavior has been established and that you’re turning over a new leaf. This means that after hours, you’re unavailable, and that you would love their support to ensure you have a work/life balance.
- Send an email to common “offenders” to alert them of your new schedule. They do not need to know that you’re trying to build a new pattern of behavior, but they do need to know that if they send an email or request after hours, that you will respond the next business day.
- Learn to say NO!
- Often times we feel overwhelmed and cannot leave work at work, which is because we say YES far too often. Even when you know deep down you don’t have time to do the task. By saying NO, it will help you accomplish and succeed with the tasks and projects that you have committed to previously. Stay focused on the tasks you’ve committed to; succeed at those and say NO to everything else. Remember…by not saying NO, you are in essence, saying yes! This will prevent you from focusing on your “to do list” and will eventually drive worse performance. Is that what you want? Probably not! You HAVE to learn to say NO!
- Productivity –
- Outline a daily schedule. Yes, daily! I use three categories – need, like, and wish list. Prioritize tasks and projects based on the value it adds to the organization and focus on the tasks that are high-leverage activities.
- Physically schedule time on your calendar to focus on these tasks/projects. I call these “power 90” sessions (thank you Darren Hardy). By blocking time out on my calendar, it helps me focus on the “need” and “like” items, so that at the end of the day I feel accomplished and less likely to jump online after hours.
- Spend 30-60 minutes a day to return emails or draft communications. Not all of our activities are high-value and high-leverage; things like emails, communications, and minuscule tasks are part of our routine and are necessary. Do not forget or neglect these scheduled blocks of productive time, make them a priority!
- Support system –
- Enlist the help of your manager and team. Ask them to help “keep you honest”. This can simply mean, they do not respond to an email you send after hours or a kind reminder to keep work at work if you do. In addition, encourage them to refrain from sending you emails after hours.
- Make a pact with your family and friends that you want to leave work at work, spend more time with family and friends, and enlist their support. Do not keep your goals to yourself, let friends and family know so they can help, support, encourage and keep you honest! As an additional incentive, maybe keep a "work jar", similar to a swear jar, money is added to the jar each time you "work" during off hours.
- After hours activities –
- If you have scheduled activities after work, you’re more likely to leave work at work.
- Sign up for a PM spin class or Barre class
- Find a training buddy and schedule a run or hike after work
- Volunteer at your child’s school or extracurricular activity
- Join a weekly book club that meets in the PM
- Schedule a regular “family date night”. (This is my personal favorite. My husband, son and I have a standing date night every Friday, and we all look forward to it each week)
- Volunteer! Whatever you’re passionate about, schedule time after work to volunteer. Soon the enjoyment and fulfillment received from volunteering will overshadow the urge to “work” after work.
- Celebrate Your Success and Failures
- Creating a new habit takes time. Keep this in mind, because during your journey, you will have successes and failures. Don’t worry, we all do! However, recognizing when you’re falling back into old habits is the first step. Once you recognize the signs, begin working towards a solution. Celebrate the baby steps and small strides!
At the end of the day, you simply need to ask yourself, am I working to live or living to work? Everyone has different goals and aspirations, but for me and countless other working mothers, you want to rock the boardroom and be mother of the year. It is completely possible to be both, but it’s 100% up to you! You can only control you, no one else. If you want to have more balance in your life, then make a conscious effort and do it.
Though I struggle time to time with leaving work at work, I can say that I have an amazing support system of friends and family who know my personal goals and help keep me on the right track. I do not thank them enough…so from the bottom of my heart, thank you for loving, supporting, encouraging, and at times, giving me some tough love! Thank you!
Ladies, how do you leave work at work? What tips and tricks have worked for you? I am far from an expert and in no way have I mastered the art of “balance” (though I’m inching closer and closer each day). If you have advice, I’d love to hear it! Please leave me a comment below!