Making the Most of Your Time

In our career series we’ve been focusing on work-life balance. We’ve discussed how the concept behind work-life balance is a myth, and gone into the tactical steps to improve how you’re spending your time. This week, we’re talking about how to make the most of the time you do spend in the office.   

Now that you’ve decided you want to create a little more “me time”, what can you do to stay productive while you’re at work so you don’t feel guilty at the end of the day?  

1. Prioritize what you really need to be doing

With a laundry-list of things to do, how do you know where to start? There are plenty of models people train on to help this process, but one of my favorites is the Eisenhower decision matrix of urgent versus important. This model has you sort your work by urgency and importance, as shown in the example below. Another way to do this is to consider what will happen if you don’t get each of the things on your list done. Whichever item has the biggest “downside” to not getting done, start there. You should always speak to your manager if you’re unsure of your priorities, but the biggest thing I recommend is just knowing where to start. So often people try and do everything on their list without considering what would have the biggest positive impact on them.  Don’t do just to do - work deliberately.

 
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2. Delegate what you can

In that same vein, if there is certain busy-work that you can automate or delegate - do that! Whether it’s using an app to more efficiently complete your expense reports or asking for someone else on the team to take over a client call, this is a big one. You can make so much time in your day by doing the work that you can have the biggest impact with. For the items that are not in your realm of greatness, try and think about a third route where you can move it off of your plate all together.  In that vein...

3. Learn to let go

Many people struggle to delegate because of patterns they’ve learned in the past. If they receive praise for always being a team player, for example, it’s understandable to pick up some bad behaviors. Especially in this day and age where many people answer the question, “how are you doing?” with “good, but so busy” that it’s somewhat become a status symbol. That leads many professionals to feel like they have to take on every task and can’t ask for help out of fear that it won’t be done to their calibur. Perfectionism runs rampant in the work world, but really when you refuse to delegate you’re not only hurting yourself but you’re hurting your team. You’re taking opportunities to learn and grow from someone more junior who would love the experience, so try delegating one thing and seeing how much of a win it is. You’ll free up time in no time and be able to focus on the work you can contribute to the most.  

4. Think before accepting

Instead of immediately accepting any work in a group setting or from your manager, take a moment to consider what you have on your plate. It’s in everyone’s best interest for you to say yes to only what you can handle. One tactic I used to employ was creating a list of everything on my plate. If a big new project came up that I knew I could offer a valuable contribution to, I would share my list with my manager and ask her what I could de-prioritize to focus on the new task. You can’t have 10 top priorities! Along with thinking before you accept, also give other people the opportunity to consider. With high-achievers, I often see them immediately offer their help in a group setting when there’s even a moment of silence for volunteers, and then resenting it later. They wish they didn’t take on the task, but didn’t think anyone else will offer.  As tough as this is, it’s important to wait for other people to step up. In the past I’ve employed the idea of counting to ten in my head before offering up my support to give someone else a chance to step up.

5. Set up habits to hold you accountable

Do your best to force yourself to leave by a certain time, and respect your time as a non-negotiable. I used to always schedule a 5PM workout class so that I would be forced to leave the office. Even if I had to get back online later, the workout allowed me to clear my head and come back to my list of to-dos with a bit more perspective. I’d typically be able to cut my list down from 5 things that needed to be done that night to 2.  

6. Set up mini-sprints

Give yourself breaks when needed. Set your work up as mini-sprints and put the pedal to the metal during those work sessions. One tactic I’ve read about and employed successfully is the Pomodoro technique. It recommends you determine your tasks for the day, set a timer for 25 minutes, and work uninterrupted those 25 minutes. Mute your phone, silence your slack notifications, and don’t click out into random emails. Then, you get a 5 minute break! This sounds simple, but when I started using this tactic I realized just how much time I was wasting by jumping around on items. Focused mini-sprints allow you to do your best work so you earn your break.

7. Log those hours and ask for help if needed

Last but not least, keep track of your overall time and how you’re spending it. Start having conversations with your manager if you feel like the amount of work you’re being asked to do is too much for a single person and warrants another hire. If you’re getting serious about it or feeling like you may burn out, it’s your responsibility to talk to them and make it known. You can log your time and come to them with a business case to get the ball rolling. Maybe they’ll surprise you with approval.  

With all the tips above, start having the conversations and putting the tools in place to respect your own time at work. Once you’re freed up to do the things you love, work-life balance won’t feel so impossible.

Creating the Work-Life Integration You Need

Recently, I talked about the myth of work-life balance and how the term can throw us for a loop. Now that we’ve considered that there may be a third option where your work and life can co-exist, it’s time to do some digging.

How do you create the life balance you’re looking for, then?

As I touched on at the end of the last article, it’s important to consider what works for you and what doesn’t. What is your best case scenario for the life you want to have? Map it out. Follow these steps:

  1. Spend 10 minutes writing out what your ideal week looks like and how you want to be spending your time.  This isn’t a schedule you need to strictly stick to, necessarily, but identifying what your dream schedule looks like is a first step.  From here, you can make small changes to get more of it.

  2. Determine what boundaries you need to put in place or what habits you need to form to make that “best case scenario” easier to uphold. If you need to start leaving work at a certain time to make it to the workout class you like, or waking up 5 minutes earlier to get your journaling in during the morning, figure it out.

  3. Ask. Start asking for what you need to make it possible. If you need to have a conversation with your manager, rip the band-aid. The worst they can say is “No”.

And just to get this part out of the way because I’m sure this is coming up for some of you: there is no need to apologize, and no need to feel like you “should” be doing more of something that you don’t want to do. You’re a strong independent woman who doesn’t need to explain her ideal life to anyone. At least I assume so if you’re reading this.


Would Beyonce apologize for doing what she wanted to do with her life?! Didn’t think so. Channel more of the bad babes you know and remember that you can create the life you want.

I do the “wheel of life” exercise with all of my clients before we start coaching, and throughout our work. This helps them to identify where their life may be out of balance, and where they want to be spending more time. These small changes are where you’ll see the biggest difference. I know because not only has it worked with my clients, but it’s worked for me too.

With that in mind, go forth, ladies, and figure out how you want your life to look!

The Work-Life Balance Myth

What do you do when you start to feel stressed about how stressed you are?  

When you hear your GOOP-loving friends talking about how balanced and zen they are, it’s easy to feel like you’re not where you need to be.  “I’m just trying to get through the work day without pulling my hair out” you might think. Winning by 5 PM would be a win.

Work-life balance is a funny term.  It’s a bit of a myth, and sometimes that extreme calm attributed to balance seems like something reserved for those who work far fewer hours than you.  So where did the idea of work-life balance come from, and why are so many people getting it wrong?

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A majority of the issue with the term “work-life balance” comes from the word itself.  Work-life balance was coined when work and life were two different parts of life. Before iPhones made it possible for that line to blur.  Before it became more common to get a text from your boss outside of the office, or for you to read that client email right before you were about to go to bed.  Now we work in a time where that’s no longer the case, yet we still use the term work-life balance as if it’s something we need to uphold.  It still rests on the assumption that as an employee, it’s better for you to keep those parts of your life separate.  

In a workshop I ran a few months back, I asked attendees what work-life balance meant for them.  I received a range of answers, starting out with “not having to do work after 5PM” and evolving to “being able to make dinner plans without having to cancel them”.  Based on how much that boundary had been encroached upon, it meant something different to everyone. There were a lot of emotions connected to this term too. A majority of the women in the room felt guilty about how much or how little balance they had.  They felt like they weren’t being the best friend, mother, or employee they could be.

The issue with these assumptions was that they didn’t take into account how the office dynamics have changed over time.

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So how do we fix it if the term as we believe it is a myth?

Start by figuring out what works for you.  Reframe the idea of work-life balance to be more of a delicate dance and a deliberate trade off.  Don’t draw your line between work and life in black and white, look for the shades of grey. Are you OK with working later at night, as long as you’re able to do school pick-up at 3 PM?  Do early morning hours with international teams work if you can get your lunchtime workout in?

I know this because I’ve gone through this same process myself.  While I currently own my own career coaching & development business so I can create my own hours, I originally came from the advertising world which is notorious for struggles with balance.  The ad agency model is based on client billable hours, which means that employee time is maximized; often to over 100% utilization which doesn’t give much time for all the work in between. When I was struggling to figure out how to make my hours work for me, I considered a third option.  Maybe I could stay at the company and work hours that were a better fit for my needs.  I considered what I was willing to give up and what were my non-starters.  I went to my manager and said to him, “I work a lot with the New York team and I know I do my best work in the morning.  What if I start earlier and end earlier. Would that be OK with you?”.

And guess what?  He said yes!

While I was lucky to be at an agency and on a team that respected and trusted me enough to give me that opportunity, I considered something that was a win-win for both ends and made it happen.  While I would sometimes get online later at night if an email came through, I knew I could always make my 5PM workout class and that kept me going.

The reason this worked for me was because I started to make more conscious decisions about how and where I wanted to work.  That’s just one of the building blocks which got me to where I am today, helping professionals with the very same thing.

My suggestion to you is to think about work-life balance as something different all together.  What are you willing to give up, and what are your non-negotiables? From there, the possibilities are endless.   

How to Know if You're a "Work Martyr"

You land your first job post-grad and you can’t wait to prove yourself. You volunteer for every special project you can, join the social committee, and slowly become “the dependable one”.  Your manager comes to you for every project she needs an extra hand on, and why wouldn’t she? You always deliver.

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The scenario above sounds great, but it’s a slippery slope...and one all too common to those starting out in their careers. While it’s great to prove your value to the team, there’s a fine line between being a high-performer and being a martyr.

What exactly is a martyr in the work world? It’s someone who’d rather prioritize the larger team than prioritize themselves. You’ll typically be able to spot the martyr as the person who stays late but grows resentful, saying that they’re burned out. There’s nothing wrong with taking on a lot of work, necessarily, but when you start doing it to prove yourself as an employee, that’s when we see martyrdom show through.  

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What’s so bad about being a martyr? It often ends in people burning out and shutting down, either becoming apathetic or leaving their jobs all together.  Martyrs think that it is the only way to work, and they go along repeating this cycle again and again. This behavior often comes as the curse of the high-achieving perfectionist.

How do I know so much about this?  I get it because I’ve lived it too.  This used to be me on a good day...

I’m a recovering perfectionist.  I struggled to say no because I felt that I couldn’t, and I owed it to the larger team to get it all done.  Then I learned that it’s part of your job to do it in a way that’s sustainable. Being the person who always takes on the heavy load doesn’t make you a savior, it makes you so exhausted that you’ll burn out and leave.  It’s a losing scenario for everyone involved.

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I’ve seen this habit with employees at all stages of their careers. If you don’t work through this and start saying no when you’re young, the hurdle will only feel more insurmountable as your career skyrockets.  

So here’s my advice to you: it’s like pulling a bandaid. Begin thinking about the kind of work life you want to live, and create it accordingly.  You’re not doing anyone favors by constantly taking one for the team. Personally, I have used tools such as the urgent versus important matrix to prioritize, as well as a program I’ve developed around mindfulness, the growth mindset, and communication to detox from perfectionism.  Find what works for you, and start there.

I’ve had to put in a great deal of work to get to the place I am today.  Now I am able to step out of the cycle and create the balance to live the life I love. There are still times when my inner monologue tells me that I need to take on things for the greater good, but I remind myself of one guiding question: “who will I really be able to help serve if I can’t even take care of myself?”