Work Life Harmony
Hello and Welcome back or welcome if you are tuning in for the first time! How are you? How was your weekend? My weekend was extremely busy. It was Maitreyi’s 3rd birthday this week and we had a small celebration for her birthday. She was waiting for her birthday for so many months. She pretended it to be her birthday every single day. Mihir teases her that by this speed you are already 100. So just imagine her excitement when the actual day arrived. She was on cloud 9. All the special treats, attention, gifts, cake and the most important thing for her was the decorations. It seemed like we were in Frozen land. But we had so much fun. We as a family enjoyed her birthday so much. Her happy face makes me so happy that I get no words to describe that feeling. My kids happiness is my joy and pride. Celebrating her birthday was definitely a highlight of my week.
What about you? What was the highlight of your week? Take a moment, close your eyes and intentionally look at the past week. Think about the moment that brought you joy, happiness. Try to be more intentional about the way you look at the things, find joy in small things and you will find not one but many happy moments of the week.
Of course, don’t forget to share it with me and our amazing community over at Facebook group - Morning Cup of Sunshine Community. I will be glad to read some of your happy moments here in the podcast.
Alright, today I am going to talk about a subject that is extremely sensitive and important. This goal is suggested by one of my listeners, Swati. So huge shoutout to Swati for suggesting this topic. It is time to finally work our way to Work-Life Harmony. Is it even possible? Do we need to sacrifice family life to get a successful career? Will there ever be a Win-Win situation? Today, let’s tackle all these and even more questions in this episode. So let’s get to it, Shall we?
What is Work-Life Harmony?
You must have heard the word “work life balance” and wondering why am I saying work life harmony. Is it the error in recording? I will get to in a minute but before that let’s understand what does this commonly known work life balance. Work-life balance is the state of equilibrium where a person equally prioritizes the demands of one's career and the demands of one's personal life.
I don’t know why but whenever I hear the term Work Life Balance, it somehow suggests work vs life. It feels like we have to constantly choose one over another. You have to sacrifice one to have another. That’s why I like to call it work life harmony instead of a balance. Because the word balance has the hint of perfection in it and I don’t like it. But harmony is by nature a combination of simultaneous sounds. It is more inclusive. It is more gentle, more easy going.
I think that the pursuit of balance can be exhausting, instead it is better to embrace the imbalance sometimes.
Do you agree too? But the big question remains how to get to a state where you feel content in both aspects of your life, professional life as well as family life. Today, we will discuss every step in two sections one for your work and other for your family.
The very first step that you need to take is Plan and Prepare.
Step 1 : Plan and Prepare
It is extremely important to plan and prepare in advance if you want to avoid stress during the week. I will tell you decision fatigue is the real thing. It occupies so much of your brain power that it makes you feel tired. So let’s get as many decisions as we can out of the door before even the week starts. Between the high pressure job, two kids , their unending activities and school, and on top of that all those hobbies and interests which I and my husband love to cultivate, we were burnt out by the end of Tuesday. It was hard for me to remember all those small project deadlines for my kids’s science project, my office meetings, my husband’s drama practice schedule. It was hard, But then we started doing one thing as a family. I got a simple chalk board from Target one day. It has a monthly calendar. We all sit as a family on the 1st of every month and write on that board. All small things, like dinner parties at someone’s house, all weekly activity classes of my son, birthday party invitations. All our events and engagements are written clearly on that board for everyone to see. Now we don't have to worry the entire month to remind each other of what we are doing that day. It helped us plan our month.
Same thing for the week, on Friday evening, we spend 10 minutes taking an account of our pantry and fridge. We together plan our meals for the week, every single meal. Breakfast, lunch and dinner at least. I have another white board in the kitchen, I write down the menu for the week on that board. Finally, I make a list of things we need to buy for that meal plan. Saturday is our day of groceries. Sunday is a day for meal prep. I make sure I prepare at least a few things in advance to make my week easy. But as you know, we Indian people love to eat so it is not possible to cook everything in advance on Sunday. It is not feasible at least in my family. Because, if I start cooking all meals for the week on Sunday, then I will have to be in the kitchen for the entire Sunday and I don’t want to spend my Sunday like that. Instead I will make the preparation and spend the rest of the day with my kids and family.
Do everything on weekends that you can do to make your week easier. My husband is in charge of laundry and I generally iron my kid’s clothes. We do these activities on weekends to save time during the week. Once upon a time, when my kids used to go to school. Literally it feels like ages. But when they used to go to school, I used to hang their 5 outfits, complete outfits for the entire school week. So the only thing that they have to do is take one for the day and wear it, No decisions to be made on rush mornings.
This goes for your family life. What about in your professional life? I have a disclaimer here. Everyone’s profession is different here so some of the tricks that I am telling you right now may not be applicable to you but the main idea behind it will still be valid. I just want you to plan the week in advance. So as far as my profession goes, I am in the software industry and I always have some kind of deadline waiting for me when I start the week. I sometimes work on multiple projects at the same time. I work with entirely different teams. So it becomes extremely important to plan in advance. But contrary to family life, I don’t plan my week in the office on Sunday. I actually start my Monday a little early and spend the first half an hour planning for the week. I wrote down every single task. It is a kind of brain dump. Keep some room to include some unexpected tasks because you know, they are going to show up on your doorstep anyways. Once your list is prepared, keep that tagged to your desktop for you to track the entire week. This will help you set realistic expectation, increase your productivity. It will help you to state realistic timelines for any new incoming tasks. I am all for visual reminders so this works great for me. Added advantage is you feel good at the end of the week when you see that you finished the tasks you planned for this week. But there is one important catch here in both your worlds. This planning and preparing will work only if you follow the second step along with your planning and that is - prioritize.
Step 2 : Prioritize
Do you know there is one thing common between you and me, in fact everyone around you. Irrespective of our background, job, family, we all have one thing which is exactly the same for every one of us. We all have 24 hours in our day. We all get 24 hours to spend in a day but how you spend those depends on each individual. If your to-do list is too big, you either have to keep on working for all 24 hours which is not realistically possible or shorten your list. I have an easy tip for organizing your to-do list. Divide your to-do list for work as well as your home into 4 parts. 1. Must do. 2. Should do 3. Good to have 4. Not urgent enough. Split your tasks in these 4 categories and try to finish at least Must Do and Should Do. Set your as well as others expectations in the same way. You can not run around the block for every small thing that comes your way. You will burn out. If you want to have a productive week. Say yes to must dos and no to not so urgent tasks. That does not mean you keep those not so urgent tasks pending forever for them to become extremely urgent. Be efficient with your time at work. When we procrastinate, the task often grows in our minds until it seems impossible to tackle. So when you face a big project at work or home, start by dividing it into smaller tasks. Complete the first one before moving on to the next. Focus on results not time spent.
But for now, stick to your list. You have to be extra objective and vigilant while making this list though. Your health, exercise routine can not come in the Good to have category. It is Must do. Remember to exercise in any shape or form for 30 minutes every single day. Reading a bedtime story to your kids is a Must do, vacuuming every day can surely go in the Good to have category. You got my point right? Prioritizing your day to day tasks is an extremely important step. It takes extra time and effort but once you fit that in your routine, it will be cake walk. But to fit this into your routine, you need to work on the next step.
Step 3 : Designate
It is necessary to have clear boundaries, designated time for your professional life and home life. I understand, it might be difficult for some. If you are running your own business or if you are always travelling for your work, I can understand that the boundaries might not be very specific and clear. But you still have to maintain some kind of boundaries so your both worlds, the worlds that you love so dearly are thriving. But for us 9-5ers, we need to designate a very clear boundary between our both worlds. Please don’t think about your pending project while playing with kids. It will make no one happy. I understand, it is extremely difficult to compartalize like that. I still struggle a lot of time with this. If the work pressure is too much and you are weighing down under it, it will affect your family life. I would suggest talking to your family about it, tell them that you are under tremendous pressure and I am sure they will help you feel better. When I feel like this, I always play with my daughter. She is always in her pretend world, it is so beautiful there with all those tea parties, dolls and picnics that I feel better in a moment. It is my happy place. Find your happy place that makes you leave your worry behind. Designate time for that thing everyday. Designating the time for your work is what you always do, in fact you have to do it to keep your job right? But designating time for your family is equally important. I know you can not be present for all class parties, playdates for your kids if you are working full time. But just by being present when you are actually with them makes up for the lost time. I read somewhere. It was a story of one family. They have a spot in their family where they keep their phones, ipads etc. They have a board there which says - 6-9 your phone is mine. I loved this idea so much. Keeping your phone aside, focussing 100% on what you are doing right now is such a liberating idea. Designate your time to read to your kids, have a hearty meal together. Being a working parent, there are few things you might miss but when you are there make sure you are actually there. You are not getting these days back. Your kids are not going to be little for long. They will not remember the gift that you brought them on their third birthday. But they for sure will remember the time you spent with them baking their favorite cookie, playing the board games every Friday night. Start your family rituals like Friday movie night or Board Game night, Pancake Sunday, Bake a cake Sunday something like that and I guarantee you, your kids will remember this for their lifetime. They will cherish this memory for years to come. You just have to keep doing it persistently. Pick one family ritual and follow it without a miss. Bedtime stories are non-negotiable things in my family. I absolutely love to read them books and have some extra snuggles before bed. But what if there are still things on both fronts that you want to do but just can’t find time to complete? What then? That’s where the next step comes.
Step 4 : Delegate
Know your strengths. Recognise what you are good at. Instead of trying to do it all, focus on the activities you specialize in and value most. Delegate everything else. Delegating will free you from the work that you don’t love and help you focus on the work where you excel. Anywhere you go, it is always teamwork. Even in a single player sport like Tennis or badminton there is a team working behind the scene. Imagine, Roger Federe managing everything from his fitness routine, to practice schedule to scheduling, do you think will it be possible? No right? It is okay to delegate your work and appreciate the help you are getting. You are building your team, growing your network. All these people that help you are your team, your trusted tribe. It is okay to ask for help. Grow together. If you are really good at designing the functionality of the application, let the technical team take the decisions about the underlying technologies, you guide them on functionality but let them handle the technical decisions, you will build trust by giving them the freedom of decision making. You will feel less burdened as you now have the support of your team. It is a win-win situation.
If you really don’t like cleaning the house week after week and you rather spend time with your kids than scrubbing the bathrooms over a weekend, hire help if you can. You will feel good about spending time with your kids, your house will still be clean and you are helping someone by giving them a job. So it is a win-win situation. Isn’t it?
It is also important to say no sometimes. Learn to say no in both the work and family world. You can not fulfill everyone’s wish at their command. You are not the genie in the lamp. You need to set a clear expectation whenever possible. I totally understand that it is hard saying no to something that you actually want to do but just can not at this point. Let me tell you my own story. I used to work from home for a few years. It happened a few times that I and my son were invited for playdate along with lunch date with mommies. This was Wednesday afternoon. It was impossible for me to go. I felt sick to my stomach looking at my son and the fun that he was missing out because of me. But I simply could not step out of the house in the middle of a work week. I felt guilty saying no to my friends. I am sure they understood but I still felt guilty. I talked to my son, of course he also was sad but then I realized it was momentary. He was busy playing with his toys and neighbor kids in the next 5 minutes. But I tell you it was one of the hardest working mom moments for me. There are few things you need to accept and just move one. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and delegate. Involve your family in your daily chores. You can spend time together while working on a chore. Ask for help, work with your partner to share the responsibilities. Involve your kids in the chores too. A three year old can help you empty the dishwasher or maybe your older kid can make his or her own bed or vacuum his roomThe next two steps are more of an internal work that you need to do to prepare yourself for this hard balance.
Step 5 : Spend time for yourself
This is absolutely a non-negotiable thing for me and my sanity. That does not mean I get this time without any effort. I have to be extremely creative to get time for myself. Waking up early will give you an extra hour to work on yourself, your hobby. Put that phone aside and work on something that makes you happy. You will have the best start of the day which will give you energy, a boost to go on with your day. Waking up early gives you a complete uninterrupted time for yourself. You can choose how to spend that time. I love to write my episodes early in the morning. I love to look at the sunrise from my balcony. I love to drink my first cup of coffee with my husband, sitting in peace and quiet just chatting about our day, even if it is just for 10 minutes. But by the time my kids wake up I accomplish so many things. Before this pandemic, I used to have my workout for the day done before 6.00 in the morning. But now I started doing my workout in the evening and working on my podcast in the morning. I am a big believer of self care and mental health. There are small things that you can do to squeeze just 30 minutes for yourself. Waking up early is definitely one step towards that but if you really are not a morning person, try to take a quick 15 minute walk after your lunch or after your work day is over. Spend some time after your kids go to bed on your hobby, maybe read a book. I told you in one of my previous episodes to avoid multitasking but in today’s episode, I am going to tell you a strategy to replace multitasking with something more productive. Instead of multitasking, try overlapping. Instead of working out alone on your treadmill for 30 minutes, go for a walk or hike with your family. You will squeeze in your workout and family time together at the same time. Your free time does not mean available time. If morning 5-6 or evening 7-8 is your free time that does not mean you work on your pending tasks in either of the fronts. This is your time, you choose to spend it on yourself. If you keep your mind refreshed by nurturing it in that time, you will find more energy to tackle upcoming tasks with more enthusiasm. But again, there might be days where you can not spend an entire hour on yourself, what then? Then,
Step 5 : Be realistic
As I always say, give yourself grace. There will be some days where you won’t be able to find that harmony. There might be days when the project deadlines occupy you so much that even to think about meal planning will be next to impossible. There are going to be sick kids, unexpected guests, urgent deliverables. This is all part of life. Strive for a realistic work life balance not a perfect one. Let go of perfectionism- dirty dishes can wait on Friday night if your kids are waiting for you to have a family movie night. It is okay to have a sink full of dishes, it is okay to have a messy room, it is okay to say no to your kids if you really don’t feel like playing the pillow fight for the hundredth time. No mom guilt. You are only human. Also, at the same time, no mom shaming. If you see another mom in a similar situation, no mom shaming at any cost either in front or behind her back. You are the best mom for your kids. You are the best person for your job. You are the best cheerleader for yourself. We are here to lead a happy and content life that does not mean you have to run around frantically just to fit everything in the schedule. If you follow the steps we discussed, you will have about 90% control over your work life balance, but if somehow those remaining 10% goes wrong on some days, give yourself grace. Accept that you are human and not a robot to have everything perfectly accomplished every single time. Accept that there is something beyond your control and try to learn from what went wrong and move on. Everyday is a new day, a new beginning. You can always start from the scratch. But no self loathing or negative talks about anything. You promise? You will never ever feel completely satisfied with your work until you are satisfied and content with your life. As they say, never get busy making a living that you forget to make a life.
On this note, let’s recap today’s episode. In this episode, we discussed how to achieve a work life harmony. There is no perfect work life balance. Try to be best at work, try to be best at home, if you can’t be present for all small things in your life all the time, be perfectly present when you are present. Live that moment, make a memory, cherish the warmth. Be in harmony. Today we discussed 6 steps to achieve this harmony.
Step 1 : Plan and Prepare
Step 2 : Prioritize
Step 3 : Designate
Step 4 : Delegate
Step 5 : Spend time for yourself
Step 6: Be realistic
Today, we discussed some very important action items which we should work on in order to achieve work life harmony. .
Prepare for the upcoming week on weekends. Make a meal plan, meal prep.
Make a to-do list
Allocate designated time for work and home responsibilities.
Spend at least 30 minutes on your hobby and your happy place.
Always, remember, life is a journey, there are going to be challenges, ups and downs . You have to work through these challenges to find peace and harmony. Taking time for your family will give you the boost you need in your work. It is all about quality of life and finding a happy place in your work and your life. I love this quote - You cant do a good job if you don’t love your job. Love what you do and do what you love.