Hi, Maddie here. I used to laugh at the term work-life balance. As a young professional my idea of work-life balance was to work, then figure out how to fit the rest of my life around it. Then, in my late twenties I decided to add graduate school to my more than full time job. At this point I thought I had work-life balance all figured out. I could dial into my classes wherever I happen to be in the world, I worked on homework whenever I could fit it in, and I could do cardio while reading. No problem!
Then entered my first management position and a year later we decided to start a family. At this point I had finished graduate school and I wasn’t traveling much. It seemed like as good a time as any for our first child. I was so unprepared to actually manage my work-life balance!
In this 4 part blog series I will detail the techniques I now use to reclaim my life when things get out of control. It is an ongoing battle, but one I happily fight to stay sane and fulfilled.
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Say “No” to Reclaim your life
It sounds so simple, just say “no” to the added stressors and everything will fall into place. We all know this can not be farther from the truth.
There are things in your life that bring you more joy than others. The first step in reclaiming your life is to cut (or at least reduce) the things in your life that take more time than they are worth.
How do I say “no” at work?
At work I am fiercely protective of my work statement. I will not take on more scope unless the work that’s already assigned to me is well under control. Last fall my manager asked me to step in on a high profile project. I gladly accepted. Then we had the difficult conversation of what to do with my existing work statement. We agreed that some of my work would be handed off to my peers and some would no longer be supported. I retained a small piece that no one else could take on. Most importantly, I documented the conversation and emailed it to my boss. Later, when one of my peers dropped the ball, I had a written record of the decision to transfer that work off my plate.
I find that the best way to say “no” is to communicate early and often. I constantly prioritize to ensure that I complete the important things first. And sometimes there are things that don’t get done. I am transparent about my decisions and communicate my priorities so there are no surprises. Then, at the end of the day I go home.
If you find that your job will not allow you to make priority decisions, then it might be time to move on.
How do I say “no” at home?
At home I strive for balance in my priorities between self care, my husband, and my children. It has taken me years to reduce everything that doesn’t fall into one of these three categories.
I stared by eliminating time sucking activities which did not add value to my life. Dropping cable TV had the added bonus of saving us $200 per month. Grocery delivery and Amazon Prime replaced my weekend schlog from store to store. I also stopped attending big social events and hosting elaborate parties. My social obligations had become more stressful than enjoyable.
After dropping the obvious non-value added activities, I still felt like I needed more time for my priorities. This is when I had to start making hard decisions.
Next, I sat down with my husband. Together we listed all our commitments and time consuming activities. We ordered them into two priority buckets: Required and everything else.
Honestly, there wasn’t much in my “everything else” bucket. This was the year I decided to give up my greenhouse. I replaced my solitary, time consuming garden with trips to the farmers market with my family. My husband decided it was time to give up his obligations to the community band. He replaced his weekly rehearsal with trips to the playground, allowing me to get to the gym one extra night a week.
Next we started setting limits on the tasks in the required bucket. We realized that we were spending 2 hours a day making and cleaning up from meals. We decided to simplify our food choices and found ways to use less dishes. My au pair was really helpful in this transition. By simplifying our food preparation, she was able to help more. Don’t have an au pair? Check out our blog about au pairs.
Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing motivated me to simplify the objects throughout my home. I simplified my morning routine by simplifying my wardrobe. Also, with less clutter I have fewer things to waste time putting away.
Eventually, we decided it was time to move. It didn’t make sense for us both to commute over an hour to work in the same direction. The time we saved by not commuting was worth more to us than the added cost of living (and the loss of space).
Prioritizing your life is humbling. It will require you to make decisions that are right for you and your family that are not popular with others in your life. This might mean declining invitations from your friends or extended family. It might mean that you eat off paper plates for a while. When you look back at your life, you will remember the time you spent playing with your kids, not the fact that the laundry didn’t get folded.
How do you reclaim your life?
Have you made hard choices to bring your life back into balance? Leave a comment for us below or join our group of au pair host parents in the My Au Pair and Me Facebook Community. We would love to hear from you!