While cleaning up my computer hard drive I found the following blog post I wrote almost exactly four years ago. As I read it over, I realized its as pertinent today as it was then. Only then, I was not a coach, and I didn’t contemplate the value of coaching in addressing the problem of not enough time. I am also impressed that even coaches feel the pressure of time (made clear in a recent group coaching session that I was part of), and that as coaches we interact with many clients who face these issues. So, I present the original post (in black), with changes and additions (in green) that I now recognize are important.
Do you ever feel as though there is not enough time in the day? Or the night?
I am right with you there, friend.
I often think back to the days when I had young children, was trying to get through fellowship (advanced medical training in a subspecialty), start an academic career, take care of my household, cook, clean, study and even get some sleep from time to time. I see young women and men struggling with the same issues now as I did then. Some are medical students, some are nurses, some residents, and some are young or mature attending physicians (now, some in my life are coaches). Even some people who have already mastered the juggling act once, are facing these issues again at another time of their lives, as grandparents caring for young grandchildren. Others are trying to figure out how to care for aging parents while still attending to their spouse, career and self.
Although we are each different in our needs and wants, our goals and resources, I thought I would share some of what worked for me many years ago in trying to maintain some sanity while also trying to be all things to all of the important people in my life, and not lose myself while trying.
And clearly, I cannot claim to have mastered the skills involved, since I still sometimes struggle with efficiency and multi-tasking, but I have survived those early years, with an intact marriage, and three grown children who seem to actually like their mother.
1. Stop thinking about “work/life balance”. This will make you crazy. If your time and energy are perfectly balanced between life and work, you will never go anywhere. There is always some tension there, there is usually the sense of being on a teeter-totter. One day you are ALL work, and the next you are ALL home. Your work is a big part of your life, and your home life contributes much to who you are in the workplace. Embrace the variation.
2. Do learn to be present in the moment wherever you are, whatever you are doing. Will there be times when you can’t stop thinking about your kids during your work hours? Sure. But the more you can give your all to whatever you are doing, whenever you are doing it, the better you will be able to keep those balls in the air. And the more likely you will be to feel like the peace lily pictured above.
3. Engage a partner or helper. So maybe you are a single mother or single father. Don’t try to do it all alone. Make arrangements with family, friends or someone you employ to be there in an emergency. I was “lucky” that I have a loving husband who was as helpful with the kids as possible. Nonetheless, there were times when he and I were both on call at the same time, or at least we couldn’t always guarantee that one of us would be at home. He as a surgeon, and I as a pediatric intensivist, had to be available for emergencies at work. So even as we were starting out with a new baby, we hired a nanny, or Au Pair who could be there as a parent surrogate if we couldn’t.
4. Be organized. I can’t stress this one enough. I have told colleagues stories designed to make them laugh, about how obsessive I was about our schedules. But even in 1986, when I bought my first PC, I had a computerized calendar program. I made detailed home schedules for myself, my husband, each of the three children and the nanny. Each person’s items were listed in a different color. I plugged in the known school activities at the beginning of each school year. It was no surprise that the Winter Sing would occur on a particular Friday of December. So on to the calendar it went. Unfortunately the school would occasionally change a date for a performance. Actually, I think they only did it ONCE in the 36+ child-years we lived through. Since my schedule and my husband’s were made months in advance, it was NOT acceptable to me for the school to arbitrarily change a date two weeks ahead of the scheduled performance. By being and staying organized (I was like the schedule Tsar) my husband or I were able to attend every single important event at school. Usually we were BOTH in attendance. This included back-to-school nights, sporting events and performances.
5. Celebrations can happen any day. So, although I was obsessively careful about scheduling so that we could be there for our children, I also took a bunch of liberties with the calendar when necessary and where possible. So, instead of trying to be sure we were always off on every child’s birthday, we chose a date to celebrate that enabled us to be present. As health care workers and part of a team our entire working lives, we had to work on many holidays. Our children were actually quite able to understand that although Christmas might be on Tuesday this year, our family celebration under the tree would be on Wednesday.
6. Which brings up the importance of being flexible, and prioritizing. Choose what is most important. Although you are juggling several things, they may not all have equal weight in your world. If you have a partner who is willing to help do the laundry, don’t complain when it’s not done to your specifications. Instead, make it easy to do it the way you think it needs to be done. Or not. So I have always kept a separate hidden hamper for what I termed “special wash.” Into this hamper (hidden inside my closet) went items that could have easily been ruined by someone doing the laundry who didn’t do it “my way.” My husband and I also decided early in our marriage that whichever one of us was cooking could rule the kitchen and would do things his or her way, regardless of how much the other person might have wanted to say “use a different knife” or “that’s not how you are supposed to melt cheese.” If you want to share, you have to share and stop being bossy. I am still grappling with this one. Easy to say, hard to do.
7. Be generous, kind and loving. To everyone. Whether you are at work or at home. A smile and a kind word go a long way. Everyone yearns for a pat on the back and an acknowledgement of a job well done, or just an attempt. In fact, I recently learned from my husband that I rarely practiced this at home in those years. Reflecting back on my behavior then, I realize now that I felt so overwhelmed by life that I really wasn’t very nice to him, no matter how hard he tried to meet my expectations.
8. Forget about being perfect. None of us is perfect. None of us ever will be. End. Of. Story. Oh yeah, I haven't mastered this one either.
9. Give as much as you can but learn to say “no.” I have to admit, I still have trouble with this one. “No” is hard. Much harder than “yes,” “sure,” “probably,” or “I think I can.” Then starts the guilt. Live your life as guilt-free as possible by learning your limitations and letting the person asking know you would love to help them out, but right now this is not the time you could give your all to whatever it is. However, if you do wish to advance your career, you can’t always say “no” to everything. Look for a middle of the road position. Look to do things that you like to do, but will stretch you (like writing a chapter in a text book for instance, or giving a talk at a conference). These are tasks that might be difficult, but will lead to positive outcomes for your career. Give one talk and you will be asked to give more. Write one chapter and you are suddenly an expert. That will get you on task forces or regional/national committees, etc. This, in turn will help provide the “national recognition” that is often helpful for promotions in academic institutions.
10. Learn how to ask for help. I believe this is the single most important thing you can do. You can ask your partner or spouse, your sibling, your boss, your colleague, your neighbor, your friend, your minister, your mentor, your physician, your mother. It doesn’t matter. Asking for help helps you to acknowledge you are not perfect. Asking for help helps you to organize your thoughts, helps you to figure out what you can’t do and why.
11. Hire a coach. Although we may cognitively know that we should do some or all of the above, it’s often hard for us to see our own roadblocks that won’t allow us to do them. I hear a lot of “but I can’t….” REALLY?
If that sounds like you, then you need someone who has the courage to show you that that is an excuse—perhaps an excuse you have used multiple times in your life and is now a pattern. You need someone who can help you have the courage to make needed changes in your life and/or work, and the curiosity to ask you the types of reflective questions that will facilitate your recognition of these patterns, and see more clearly and creatively how to overcome them. You may feel you have no time to add coaching to your already busy life. But I would suggest that if you don't start doing something different than you are now, things will stay as they are now. You will remain overworked, overwhelmed, and less happy than you could be at work and/or at home.
OK folks, what have I missed? Please add some techniques that work for you in the juggling experience we call life. Also, what specific questions would you like me to answer? This post couldn’t possibly describe every approach to every situation, but I do hope I hit some of the highlights. In what ways do you think a coach could be helpful in wrangling with these issues and finally getting them under control?
Thanks for reading! I value your time and presence. Please come find me on Twitter at @CoachingADA, or on LinkedIn. Or send me an email at Alice@adackerman.com