It’s really is possible to achieve work-life balance, at least according to Aimee Cohen, a Denver-based career coach. With the help of many of the high-powered female executives she coaches, Cohen has devised this five-point list of how to go about it.
1. Define it yourself.
What balance looks like differs for everyone. A CEO with twin toddlers might want a different schedule than one with teens.
So don’t assume that what works for someone else should be your aim. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” Cohen said.
She suggests thinking through priorities and how time outside work can be attained. Do you prefer telecommuting, or coming in earlier and leaving after nine hours? “Everybody does it differently,” she said.
2. Think of work-life balance from a calendar-year view.
If you work in the accounting or finance industry, before April 15 might be steadily busy. Consider balance in terms of not only the hour, day and week but also month and year.
If you know June might be busy, build some buffer into July or August.
Recognize that needs might change as your family evolves. Employees with young children might prioritize being home for dinner, but with busy teenagers, schedules shift.
Or perhaps a partner or spouse travels, and you want to align trips. “It really is a teeter-totter, you’re constantly trying to balance it out,” Cohen said.
3. Remember, you are not an emergency room doctor.
Be careful how much urgency you allow every e-mail and action. Cohen recalled a marketing director who told employees, “There is no such thing as a marketing emergency.”
Because employees are now so accessible all the time, Cohen said, “There becomes this false sense of importance over everything, because everybody has constant access to you and to each other all the time, and everything is urgent. Is it really? Part of it is being able to have a healthy filter.” Let e-mail slide until the morning.
4. Talk about your family.
Cohen said that for years many high-powered execs didn’t discuss their children, fearing it would look weak to remind bosses of a personal life or needs outside the office.
Their instinct was to not highlight the part of them that is anything but a business dynamo. “The way I describe it is this code of armor,” Cohen said. “You just have to be so tough and so vigilant and so on your game.”
But they learned, she said, that speaking about a child or sibling allowed more of themselves to be at work.
And keeping family photos on a desk, or mentioning a child’s recital, signals that a personal life is something to prize, not hide.
5. No one will provide work-life balance.
You must seek it. Says Cohen, “You teach people how to treat you.” If you are responding to e-mail 24 hours a day, for example, “That’s going to be the expectation.”
So take responsibility for creating a work life that works for you. Use your vacation days. Set e-mail boundaries. Execs she works with might say, “You can send me an e-mail, but I’ll respond tomorrow morning.”
And don’t be afraid to negotiate. In fact, during negotiation for a new job, Cohen says to fold in a discussion on office culture. Do they have flex time? Can you telecommute?
Couple the conversation with your own achievements. Cohen suggests something like, “Here’s what I did for my last organization, and the key to that success was one day a week, I got to work from home. It saved me X hours of commuting.”