Updated: Jan 5
Reduce burnout while having more fun doing both work and life with these actionable tips.
I'll never forget sitting in my first, big-girl women's leadership event. I had been selected as an up-and-comer (or a "hi-po" as the HR folks like to call it) and attended a 2-day in-house event that featured several speakers.
And as I sat through the sessions, I couldn't help but continually think to myself, Ok, great, but how in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks do you do all this while managing 6pm meetings and 6pm feedings at the same time?!
I remember asking this same question (in an even angrier/snarkier way) when I read Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In. I was screaming inside, YES, WE KNOW HOW TO DO THE BIG WORK, WE JUST DON'T KNOW HOW TO ALSO DO LIFE AT THE SAME TIME!
Ever since that first women's event, I've been obsessed with talking about the practical things that helped me both be the CEO of a large company and have a life - whether that be with my children, my husband, or myself.
It's also clear that it isn't just women who are craving more practical ways to create work life balance, men want this too.
I was recently giving a virtual keynote talk to a group in Scotland. When I asked the question, "If you could _____ in the next six months, I'd be so happy." the four men who shared their responses, all responded with something that gave them more personal fulfillment.
So as we head into a new year, I've put together a list of my 10 favorite, practical, and tangible tips to help you do it all.
1. Block off your calendar in advance
Ok, I know this one feels like a "duh" but this is the single most anxiety reducing step you can take. But you likely don't.
Last year my daughter started softball for her middle school team. This sudden bomb in my schedule gave me intense anxiety. It's not like this was the first rodeo with sports; my son has played hockey since he was five! But this schedule was different, with random pick-up times and games that started at 3:30 in the afternoon. I felt a wave of panic run over me and it came gushing out of me at our kitchen table and fell right in my son's lap.
He looked at me and said, "Mom, it'll be ok. Just take a breath and a break." He didn't give me the answer, but it was honestly in that moment that I realized I was in control over this situation. I pulled up my work calendar and put a hold on my afternoons from 3:00-5:00 for the following two months (the season is only 8-9 weeks long, I could do this!).
Get out ahead of your kids' events and activities or other important, can't-miss events by setting aside 15 minutes on your calendar (yes, that's super meta) to assess the next ~3 months of events.
If you're in the corporate world with loads of calendar snipers, I can feel your eye rolls forming, but you can control your calendar more than you think. Use the more aggressive "out of office" color (let them think you have a mammogram scheduled instead of a softball game - although both may be equally painful.)
If you're an entrepreneur and often share your calendar via an app like Calendly, there's no reason you can't have people wait an extra day or two to find an available meeting time. Block that shiznat off!
2. Collaborate with a colleague on a "get sh*t done" session
There's nothing that eats more into the "life" part of your balance than when you're not able to get real work done during the day. Whether it's those meeting-palooza days or your own lack of focus, pulling together that big presentation or analyzing important data often gets left to 8:30pm. Laptop open. In bed. Boo.
Collaborate with a colleague or two to create a working meeting where you commit to joining a video call but then you all turn off your cameras (and email!) and do work. You could even make this a recurring event. You can create your own rules to make it both fun and effective, e.g. each person shares progress every 30 minutes, you each bring your favorite, snarky mug with coffee or tea, etc.
3. Ask others to email/text both parents
I remember the moment I realized why I (and so many other moms) take care of 90%+ of the kids' school stuff. Ladies, we are a 300 mph train that's nearly impossible for our partners to jump on!
In order to share responsibility with managing your kids' crazy schedule, your partner needs to know what the heck is on said schedule.
Ask your friends, coaches, school administrators, etc. to be sure to include your partner on communications about upcoming events. You'd be amazed at how much your partner can take on if they know what's going on.
My husband and I also split our children's sports management activities. For example, my husband handles all things hockey, while I handle basketball. It's a HUGE relief to not have to worry about things like tuition or reserving yet another hotel room for a hockey tournament. It makes working the basketball boosters table that much less annoying!
4. Listen to podcasts with your children
My son's home hockey rink is a 35-minute drive, and we're there 4-5 times per week. Not to mention, my son is a taaalker. While I do enjoy chit-chatting and answering hundreds of "Would you rather?" questions, I also admit that it can get exhausting. So one day I decided to pop on one of my favorite podcasts, How I Built This, to mix things up.
I quickly realized this switcharoo was much more than chit-chat relief; it was a powerful way to enrich my son and help shape him for the future. I'm pretty sure my son will be an entrepreneur one day, and listening to this podcast will plant so many powerful seeds for him.
What's more, when you start to do this, you'll naturally feel the divide between your personal development and children development narrow!
Identify or search for 4-5 podcasts that you think your child(ren) would really benefit from (without realizing it, of course.) Some other kid-friendly ones I love are The Great Creators, Affirmation Meditation Podcast, and The Life Coach School. And if you're looking for one that's a bit less PG (we do love our F-bombs), then you can also check out our podcast, b Cause Work Doesn't Have to Suck.
5. Do work while at your child's practice.
Stop scrolling TikTok and use your time more wisely 😠. This way you don't have to do the work later when you're in bed with your partner and can instead... watch TV.
I'm actually writing this blog post while my son is at hockey practice, sitting at Panera. In fact, about 75% of my blog posts were first drafted either in a hockey rink, or in a car or restaurant during a hockey practice.
On Monday, plan out your week, noting any deliverables you need about an hour to get done and then "attach" them to an activity where you'd normally have a wasted hour.
When you start doing this, you'll even start to get excited about being on Joey practice duty. Tonight my son is doing double hockey practices (7:40pm - 9:50pm.) In the past I would have dreeeeaded it. But tonight I was like, Yes! I can use the time to bang out that blog post that's been on my mind.
6. Create an authentic out of office message
"I will be out of the office. I will get back to you..." Blah, blah, blah. 🤮 The day I realized that I had been a robot for 20+ years of my career, sending out the same snoozefest template of an out of office (OOO), is also the day I never sent another snoozefest OOO.
Whether you're heading out on vacation or are just cutting out early to run Sabastian's Boy Scout troop meeting, the more authentic you can craft your out of office message, the more peace, fun, and inspiration you'll create while you're balancing it all.
For example, if you're taking off a day for a big softball tournament, you might say something like, "Diamonds are a girl's best friend. And for the next three days, that's exactly where I'll be - at my daughter's softball tournament."*
Your OOO doesn't have to be funny or clever to be effective. Simply talk like a human. "I am taking a few days off with my family to tour New England. I'll get back to you when I'm well rested." You'll be amazed at how much something simple like this will not just impact you, but will spread like wildfire to others. And who doesn't feel more balanced when you're working in a more authentic workplace?
*This one was inspired by one of my client's employees who wowed me with this fun OOO.
7. Incentivize everyone to celebrate (vs. dread) you traveling by bringing them along
For many working parents in particular, travel is a 4-letter word. The glamour of it all is quickly eclipsed by the preparation and panic of figuring out how just one human is going to get Henry to dance at the same exact time Madison needs to be at soccer. 17 miles away.
The reality is it can all be figured out. But that doesn't make you feel any less stress or guilt.
Several years ago I was hired to give a keynote talk out of town. Although it was just a 90-minute drive away, I realized just a few days before that it was also on Election Day...when there's no school for my kids. I went straight into my age-old panic mode. But then something hit me, there's more than one way to solve a problem. I could take them with me.
Not only did they have the time of their lives (think hotel with a pool and a 7 and 10-year old), bringing them to my talk was probably exponentially more inspiring than anything I actually said that day.
Make travel a win-win for your family by offering to take your children (and/or partner!) with you from time to time. For example, each of my two children get to travel with me to one talk per year.
But I know you may not be a professional speaker and instead may travel to meet with clients. If you're children are old enough to spend a few hours on their own in the hotel, consider bringing them.
I also know of someone who had a work colleague in town for dinner. She brought her daughter and her daughter's friend and let them sit at their own table. Genius! Get creative with it, and remember that people are definitely more accepting of blending in your family with work, post pandemic!
I also talk about a powerful mindset shift - going from a Manage Mindset to a Model Mindset in my book, You Do You(ish). I've heard from so many working parents that this chapter in particular gave them a newfound view of how they could be both an amazing professional and parent.
8. Get help
For the love of God, STOP DOING IT ALL YOURSELF. Each year you progress in your career, you should be investing in yourself. Whether that's investing in your growth through things like courses or coaching, or its investing in help, each year you should up your investment game and budget.
The most impactful and tactical thing I did to be able to say "yes" to the big girl jobs while also staying married and not killing my children was using care.com to find part-time help for my husband and I. We didn't need a full-time nanny, but we knew if we could somehow find someone to give us some extra arms, legs, and a car, we could breathe so much easier. Six years and four amazing part-time caregivers later, we couldn't be more thankful for this matchmaking site.
I know it might feel unreasonable to spend more money from your household bottom-line (especially these days!) but remember...
Successful people don't earn more, then invest. They invest so they can earn more.
It doesn't have to be a caregiver either. I have a coaching client who hired a woman that helps her organize, do laundry, and some other key household things. There are millions of people and companies out there designed to make your load a bit lighter. Google, ask around, post on Facebook, experiment, repeat.
9. Rationalize your meetings
Coming off a 22-year run in Corporate America, this girl knows the meeting grind. I was in it, and I was in it hard.
Now that I'm an entrepreneur, I internally scream at the old Corporate Erin. I played victim, much like you might be doing too. I went to meetings where there were two people in the org below me attending (who could easily handle it), I attended status meetings that had long passed their shelf life, I called meetings to make decisions that could have been made through a well-constructed email. And I wish I hadn't.
And I realize now that my issue wasn't ego, fear, or ignorance. My issue was poor planning. I am not a big fan of planning things out. I would glide from meeting to meeting, just assuming if it were a block on Outlook, then it was where I needed to be. Now that I'm an entrepreneur and the people who work for b Authentic Inc are all paid as freelancers, you'll never catch any of us meeting just to meet (i.e. that costs me moola!)
Mid week take a look at your calendar for the following week. If there are already more than 3-4 meetings in a day (or more than 15 for the week), block off the rest of your calendar. Also, take a look at each meeting and determine if it's critical that you attend (or even have the meeting.)
Or go event bigger, Shopify just announced bold moves to reduce their employees' meeting burnout by banning all recurring meetings with three or more people and big meetings to just one meeting per week.
Be a leader, not a follower and even if you don't have the cojones to go all Shopify on people, at least have conversations with your team or colleagues about forthcoming meetings (who secretly may want to cancel or delay a meeting.) Inspire others to do the same. You are hired to be thoughtful and do actual work, not just to attend meetings.
10. Include your children in your work. Like, really.
You might have noticed I talk here about "work life balance" and not the more modern term, "work life integration." The truth is I do really believe in integration, but integration for reals. Not just for a catchy headline. I actually include my children in my work in tangible ways. For example, both my kids helped direct and play a role in my TEDx submission video.
They didn't just add cuteness, they brought real thought and substance to the direction we took, and ultimately I don't think I would have landed the talk without them. They also know the names and details of my biggest clients. And my 11-year old son is my main audio visual guy, often giving me hacks and tips that I wished I knew five years ago.
When one of your kids overhears a call with a client, whether that be in your home office or the car, don't simply hang up and move on. Talk to them about the call. When you're working on a project, solicit their advice (hey, if they're a baby simply show them a few pictures and let them point!). You'll be amazed at how much their views can positively shape your success. Treat them less like your children and more like your apprentice and/or consultant!
As my hockey-playing, aforementioned son and I were driving to practice this evening, I mentioned something and he just looked at me and said, "That sounds like a you problem."
Work life balance...work life integration, is largely a you problem. And YOU have the power to make it better, not just for yourself, but for all of those around you. Make 2023 the year that you finally put a big dent in your "you problem!"
Erin Hatzikostas is a former Corporate CEO turned Professional Pot-stirrer. She's the founder of b Authentic Inc, a keynote/TEDx speaker, bestselling author, podcast co-host, and
coach-sultant. For more tips on how to stand out and have success, without selling out, you can download her free Authenticity Playbook.