In just weeks, my sister’s youngest son will put on his high school graduation cap, walk across the stage and soon head out the door to his college dorm. Watching her confront the impending reality of becoming an empty nester has me a little unnerved. I’m about to begin the college application process with my oldest child and we both are pondering where the time went.
At big milestones in life, we wonder how change will affect our work life balance and as parents, we hope that we’ve spent enough time with our kids to mold them into independent adults. Yet, I’ve noticed at every turn of our journey, from having kids to handling health issues to caring for parents to sending kids off to college, there are people for whom navigating life changes seems effortless.
What are they doing that the rest of us haven’t figured out?
Cali Williams Yost studied the “naturals” and found they innately understand that major life events matter, but they focus on deliberate small adjustments in their daily lives to make work and life fit together with ease. Yost, an expert on workplace flexibility and author of Tweak It, calls these small actions “tweaks.” She convincingly argues: “With the smallest investment in right places you can radically transform the quality of your relationships and your life.”
Here are seven small changes that, suggest Yost and others, will lead to a better work/life fit.
• Regularly update priorities. Set 15 minutes aside weekly to reflect on your combined calendar (personal and work) and ask yourself what you want to change. What is missing and what do you want less or more of in the next seven days? When you see a gap, make small changes to close it. If you want more sleep, then you need to start go to bed at a certain time. If you want to work toward landing a new job, spend 10 minutes updating your LinkedIn profile.
Nina Madoo, a hospitality industry executive, put time on the calendar to look at December and be thoughtful about work and home priorities. “I actually thought through what I was able to do. As a result, we decided not to have a family holiday party, which was disappointing to my family but saved me tons of stress and running around.”
• Question your daily choices. If wellness is a priority, you have to be more deliberate about asking, “Do I leave work a few minutes earlier tonight to get to the gym, or prepare for a meeting later in the week? Do I really need to work through lunch or should I go for a walk?’’
One day, Jackie Velazquez, owner of Smarttarket Marketing in Miami, asked herself whether she was going to arrive early at work to get more done or add exercise into her day. She combined the two, jumping on her bike to go to work. She found an added benefit: “It gives me some ‘me time’ because my husband and I own two businesses together and we are together 24/7.”
Now, almost daily, she confronts choices and tries to stay committed to exercise. She recently entered a bike race and tries to take longer rides after work. “It has been extremely difficult as we all know how easy it is sometimes to stay at the office.”
• Look at adjustments as temporary. You are less likely to meet resistance at work and home if changes, particularly with flexibility, are considered short term. At Ocean Bank in South Florida, department managers grant employees schedule changes for 90 days at a time, offering flexibility in start and end times. “Everyone gets a chance so it doesn’t become an entitlement,” explains Yuni Navarro, senior vice president/head of Human Resources at Ocean Bank in Miami.
• Communicate to succeed. One of the most important small actions you can take to make work and life run smoothly is to communicate with the right people. Yost says if you plan a long weekend away, coordinate with your co-workers or staff.
They may be aware you’re not a work, but don’t know how and when you want them to cover for you. As a result, you end up answering emails and phone calls that they could have handled. “All it would have taken was a 15-minute conversation updating them and giving permission to take over for you.”
• Build your army. Luly Balepogi, founder of Luly B Inc, a Miami mentor to mom entrepreneurs, found “naturals” at work life balance usually have a team behind them — at work or home.
Balepogi built hers out of necessity. After chaotic afternoons juggling afterschool pick up, kids activities and work calls, she brought her mother and mother-in-law on board to help her. Now, they pick her children up after school, giving her three extra hours of office time.
“It’s a small thing that made a huge difference. You have to admit you can’t do it all and that it’s OK to have an army to help.”
• Avert a crisis before it happens. Yost says naturals are proactive, not reactive and weave small actions into their schedule that prevent chaos. This might include finding a primary care physician or pediatrician who is open early, late and on weekends. It could be scheduling a meeting with a geriatric care manager.
One accountant, a rabid football fan, would talk to the office/ scheduler on Monday morning and explain how he needed to be off on Saturday, recounts Yost in her book. He would then take on extra work during the week so he could be at the game. “In the past, when there were walls and clocks, workers could get away with less deliberate planning ahead,” Yost says. “Today there isn’t that clarity so we all need an extra layer of coordination.”
• Make 70 percent your goal. For competent jugglers, the goal is not perfection, Yost discovered. “They didn’t beat up themselves when expectations for the week didn’t happen. They were happy with what they got accomplished.” Aim for 100 percent but make 70 percent of your week’s targeted actions your goal. “If you get 50 percent done, that’s better than nothing.”
Workplace columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit worklifebalancingact.com.