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. Check out step one Say “NO”, step 2 Engage Your Village and step 3 Make a Plan and Stick to It.

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Make the most of your time

Time has become a form of currency in my life. With the addition of children to my already busy life, I have had to pinch and save time like pennies to make ends meet. In the same way that I hate to waste money, I also hate to waste time. I use automation to streamline tasks like email and creating lists. I multi-task to fill the time I would otherwise waste by myself. Most importantly, if I devote time to someone, then I try to be present. Put down my phone, tune out the other distractions in my life, and make the most out of our time together.

How do you make the most of your time at work?

When I first started my career as an engineer I was timid and had a hard time connecting with others in my office. I was 22 years old and one of a handful of women in a sea of men with 25 or more years of engineering experience. My manager pulled me aside one day and gave me career altering advice – never eat alone. Eating with others in the office provides more than a break. This is a prime opportunity for team building and networking. I make the most of my time at lunch and coffee breaks. The personal connections gained in this otherwise solitary time helps me to solve problems, get to the source of issues, and advance in my career.

I also make the most of my time at work by only checking outlook a few times per day. I use a simplified one touch approach like “Inbox Zero”, starting with a series of rules to filter and sort my incoming email. First, I unsubscribe from all the emails I can. Then rules move email notifications that I can’t turn off but don’t care about into folders.

Next, I have a series of rules to sort my emails into categories: Status, Project 1, Project 2, Project 3, and Uncategorized. This allows me to quickly scan and delete the emails in the status category. Anything that catches my eye I move to uncategorized or the related project. Then, I sort by meeting notices to accept or decline. I go back to my calendar later when I am ready to make a plan. The next sort is by subject line. That way I can see what email chains are trending, delete the extra versions, and respond if necessary.

By this point I am usually down to around 30 emails in my inbox. Now I go through the emails one by one. If I can quickly solve or answer the email I take care of it right away. If it will take longer to solve then I flag it for action and categorize it into the appropriate project. This allows me to keep my train of thought and action on one project at a time.

How do you make the most of your time at home?

I try to make the most of my time even on my way to and from home. On the way to work I listen to podcasts or listen to news radio. On my way home I make phone calls. Usually I call my husband. One or two days a week I call my blogging partner, Abbie. I also try to call my mom and dad, but I should make an effort to talk to them more.

At home I use technology to save me time and energy. We have an Echo Show in our kitchen which is the hub for all our home automation. The Echo Show links to my Nest cameras so I can watch my kids play when I am cooking, cleaning, and going through the mail. I use Alexa voice control to adjust the temperature, manage my shopping list and calendar, control music and the TV, and answer anything I would Google on my phone.

Be present

Being present is the easiest and most important change you can make to reclaim your life. After saying “no” to non-value added activities, engaging your village for support, and making a plan for the activities you want to attend you should make the most of your time by tuning out the distractions. Simply put down your phone and live in the moment.

My husband and I put our phones down from the time we get home until the kids go to bed. We get so little time with the family we try to make the time we have count. We keep each other accountable and admittedly things come up, but we try!

When I’m at work I focus on the meeting I’m in instead of checking my email or messaging someone who is not in the room. If you have somewhere more important to be then reschedule or delegate so you can handle the hot issue.

How do you reclaim your life?

This brings an end to the 4 Steps to Relcaim Your Life series. Have you started to reclaim your life? Commit to taking one small action towards bringing your life back into balance today.

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