hard choices: dinosaur dig vs. senior management meeting

working mums parentingWhen you’re a working parent, there are always hard choices.

In the evening when I collect my 4 year old from after school club and it is gone 6pm before we sit down for dinner and do reading, I know she’s too tired to concentrate and to learn.

When I drop them at breakfast club without their hair brushed and don’t walk all the way down the path because I am already late for an early conference call.

When I am listening to them talk about their day whilst simultaneously cooking dinner and checking my work email.

Hard choices are always there.  Being a human is full of hard choices. Today I had to choose between a dinosaur dig or senior management meeting.

As we approached the school, sprog 2.0 in her civvies all ready for day on the school field digging for dinosaur bones, we realised she was the only one without a bucket and spade.  I’d skipped past a couple of kids in their uniform who’s mums had forgotten, thanking God that wasn’t me and feeling fairly smuggety smug and accomplished only to realise, she’d be the kid who had to wait her turn and share a spade.  Instead of throwing herself into the activity 100%, she’d be the only one without her own bucket.  She’s like I was, this kid.  These things matter.  They’re the shit you remember. The shit you remind your mum of when you’re older.

So I drove round the petrol stations and bought a bucket and spade having left child, eyes brimming, at school for the day and dropped it into school for her.  This meant I was late.  Late for an important meeting.

I’d usually choose the meeting but today I couldn’t.

Hard choices. But I think I chose right this time.

making work life balance work

Nice TED talk on work life balance, courtesy of Nigel Marsh, for a Friday afternoon.  In summary:

1. Gimmicks like dress down Friday don’t work. We are working long and hard hours in jobs we hate, buying things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like. That is the hub of the issue.

2. Governments and corporations won’t solve the issue for us – take control for the type of life we want to lead.  If we don’t design our lives, someone will design it forward.  Never put the quality of your life in the hands of ANY corporation.

3. Plan your day — be realistic, you can’t do it all, elongate the timeframe in which we judge the balance.  A day is too short, after we retire is too long.

4. Approach balance in a balanced way. Being a fit 10 hour a day office rat isn’t balanced, it’s just more fit. Attend to all areas….the small things matter.  It doesn’t have to be a huge upheaval – with the smallest investment in the right places, big changes can happen.  If enough people do it, we can change society’s definition of success from who dies with the most money wins to the measure of success being a life well lived.

I would add, make time for each area of your life without interruption.  When you’re home with the kids, turn off the blackberry/computer. When you’re at work, make sure you can focus properly on the job in hand without distractions. And the single most important thing about good work life balance in my opinion is find a job you love and it will feel a lot less like work which can only be a positive thing.

the 10 best lessons about work I have learned

I started work (proper work…the kind where you actually have to go all the time and not just pop in for a shift now and again) when I was 22.  I worked the summer after I graduated doing university tours and clearing support and then landed a job at Giga.  Giga (an International analyst firm set up by Gideon Gartner and later bought by Forrester) was my first foray into the technology-fuelled, transatlantic conference call-heavy, business world.

It was 1997 and I was in charge of flogging the analyst firm’s Inkjet and Thermal Printing reports and inaugural Business Online Conference seats.

Business Online….what an exciting topic that was! It was the first time I had heard about internet business, the doors to flexible working were opening up (only in a thought leaders way, you understand) and over the coming years, after a move into tech PR, the focus on flexible working, remote access and worklife balance came thick and fast.

Throughout my career, I have picked up a number of mentors whose sage advice and support have kept me going…here are 10 of the most important work lessons they taught me:

  1. Always take a big holiday at Christmas, it is the only time in the year you don’t come back to 4000 emails
  2. Always take off your partner, your own and your kids’ birthdays.  Whatever is going on, these days should be spent together
  3. Don’t forget the small stuff….look after your teams, remember their birthdays, kid’s names and stuff that is important to them…it really does matter
  4. Get in early, it is the only time of the day you’ll get real work and thinking time before the phones start ringing
  5. Don’t feel hard done by…it eats you up.  Speak up if there is something you don’t like….don’t let it bubble under the surface
  6. If a friend asks you about work and you can’t think of anything to say other than a moan, it is time for a new job
  7. Change stuff that doesn’t make sense.  If you inherited it from someone else, it doesn’t mean it is right.  Don’t waste time altering stuff that needs to be scrapped
  8. Don’t do guilt.  If you’re at work, you’re there to focus and do 100%, if you’re at home or off with the kids, the same rules apply.  Make time for the important things and don’t feel guilty about days off or time out…works gets enough of you when you’re there…you have earned your time off
  9. Ask if you really need to be there, read it, do it, check it….there are things that can happen without you.  Let them
  10. Keep your personal integrity intact.  Did you *really* confirm that briefing? Did you *really* send out those emails? Did the client *really* not respond despite chasing? Keep your nose clean, operate a transparent working policy and be a trusted employee – trust in business is everything

does worklife balance exist?

According to Jack Welch, former CEO GE last week in the WSJ, it is officially dead. However, i think the problems arise when people try to compartmentalise their work and their home lives.  Wireless data has meant we can be contacted/stay in touch on the move.  Great, whereas once we would have been working til 10pm, we are now sat on the sofa with our partners, watching TV, tweeting with friends and sporadically checking if the email we were waiting for at 6pm has come in yet.  What’s changed?

Nothing.

If anything the lines have been blurred but that isn’t a bad thing necessarily as long as you remember to switch off.  I had a colleague ask me if I had got the plan they sent me Fri night (I don’t work Fridays) and this was Monday….I hadn’t. I didn’t check email all weekend.  I had family down, had a great time and would encourage you to do the same when you can. You’re much more use at work when you are relaxed and refreshed.

I think instead of talking about worklife balance, we need to talk about worklife discipline.  Only you can decide if your kid’s sports day is more important than a client meeting…or if your holiday is more important than knowing what is going on in the office 24/7. Prioritisation is an essential skill….and it is a skill that you’ll continually need to hone.  If you have kids, it changes.  If a parent falls ill, it changes. You get the picture….

People talk about worklife balance as something a company can give you….I believe it is something you must build yourself. The company can provide flexibility but only you know what’s really important each day.