My calendar is full.
I absolutely cannot take on anything else and still be effective. As it is, I feel strained on some evenings.
I spent most of last weekend making and breaking resolutions. First I pledged to prepare several articles—in the evening, then the next morning, then in a few days... surely before the deadline. I spent quite a few days promising, promising, and promising while I ran around juggling tasks and making little headway at anything.
I swore to take the kids to the pool and was thankful when the rains came so that I could remain lodged at home completing work. Of course I felt guilty when I saw my sons' crestfallen faces, but I promised to make it up to them another day.
I paused near the end of the weekend when I realised that my elder son had become such an expert at marking my time that he began to chant the days of the week when I promised to do something in the future. He had also taken to monitoring my time away from the house.
"Promise you would get back early this time," he told me that Sunday as I attempted to dash out of the house, note pad in hand. I promised, but heard him mutter as I raced to the door, "Another promise again."
That is when I knew.
Time stood still.
Though my legs still raced, and I struggled to grasp control of my thoughts which had hurtled pell mell ahead of me, a tiny part at the back of my brain registered and hammered home my son's disillusion. That was not what I was working towards.
At the end of the day, my ultimate aim is to secure my family's comfort. Of course I want professional and academic success. Who doesn't? More than that however, I want to ensure that my family is happy.
As my dejected son looked on, I skid to a halt. At that point I made the immediate decision to cancel my appointment and return to play with my sons.
At first I was afraid of the repercussions. I was not in the habit of turning down work for family.
My client was actually very understanding and agreed to reschedule and in the end, the decision was worth it. As I closed the door and took off my shoes, I was greeted with excited yells, warm hugs and wet kisses as my sons contrived to keep me busy for the rest of the day. I guess I am finally on the road to finding work-life balance.
Working mothers, you would understand.
Until recently 'work-life balance' was just a catch phrase to me—a term designed to make struggling parents feel inadequate or guilty, shining meaningless words pointing to the Utopian world that I just could not find.
See, I thought work-life balance meant finding and enjoying the perfect life where nothing went wrong. I did not appreciate that it simply meant learning to fairly separate the different areas of your life so that one does not unduly suffer for the other. Because I did not understand and combined with the fact that I am a workaholic, my family and personal life has suffered dearly.
In my quest to build a better life for my children, it also became increasingly difficult for me to respond to their needs as my nerves were often stretched thin. I convinced myself that my ultra-thin temper and weak nerves were just collateral damage... par for the course, the price one paid for success. After all, how could I look my supervisor in the eye when he or she is trusting me with a massive project, the opportunity of a lifetime, and say, 'No, I can't do it' or 'I just can't focus, I am way too tired, my son was ill last night'? To acknowledge weakness in the workplace is to put stumbling blocks in the way of one's own development. So until my son openly expressed his dissatisfaction with my schedule, I refused to accept defeat. I kept on struggling to become Super Wife, Wonder Mother and Bionic Worker all in one. I knew I could do it.
Then I read a column by former US State Department's Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" and I was reminded once again that I was not alone in my plight.
Many females in the workplace face similar challenges to find balance in the job and at home when they are required to perform multiple roles as wives, caregivers and educators at the same time as they chart new courses as professionals.
So how do they do it? There are two options. They could leave it up to the employer to help find that balance, and in some instances, organisations do take the female contribution and needs in the workplace into account. The second option is to prioritise by order of the important things in your life and just make it work. Most women opt for the latter.
"You have to set your priorities," said businesswoman Natasha Miller. "You must have time management skills. You can't let the different areas of your life consume you and it helps to have a supportive family."
Miller acknowledged that maintaining balance was often difficult, but she said had managed to make it work.
"I am a big Stephen Covey fan and I use his time management skills," she said. "You start with the end in mind. You also get all of the things you least want to do at the beginning of the day so your day gets easier and by the end you are not as stressed."
Insisting that the work environment had always been competitive and demanding for females, Miller said this does not prevent one from separating one's personal and professional needs.
"I was a stockbroker for almost 17 years," she said. "I started my own business about two years ago. The most important thing about balancing life and work is to look at the way you set your goals. When most people set goals for work, they do it in terms of money. If you set your business goals and relate them to your family's needs and what you want for them, you will find the balance."
Yasha Tiwari, who works as a trainer for a medical institution said finding balance became even more important to her when her father suffered a stroke.
"I work from home a lot so the lines get blurred often," she said, "But I have learnt to separate. Come around six in the evening—just to be generous—my phone goes off. I learned that from a co-worker. Another option is to put the phone on silent. On weekends, I turn my phone off from Friday and I don't turn it on till Monday morning. I shut down my laptop and try not to look at my phone for email."
Kim Maharaj, a student, said, "You make a time budget in pretty much the same way you make up a financial budget. That might be the easiest way to handle everything efficiently when you have a lot of things going on. When something comes up, you schedule it in, and you don't overbook yourself or overwork yourself. You should schedule at least one hour downtime perhaps for exercise or just taking a mental break from your commitments. It's important to do that so you don't go into mental and/ or physical fatigue. You don't want to get burnt out especially when you need to be at the top of your game."
My strategy for the past week has been to devote uninterrupted time each evening to my family. That has certainly been a stress reliever and I realise that I have missed out on a lot. I intend to keep the window open for family time each evening.
How do you find balance?