Shortly after I graduated from college, the idea of work/life balance felt a million miles away — and was the last thing on my mind. As a consultant at The Boston Consulting Group, I was traveling for business four days per week and frequently working past midnight to keep up with everything my clients needed! Because I was constantly learning and hungry for more opportunities, I took no issue with my desk chair and airplane seats feeling more familiar than my pillow.
There’s no denying that this sort of hustle often gets the job done, but neglecting balance is not the only way to succeed in the business world. These days, I’m a Vice President at a fast-paced tech startup, but I’ve found ways to preserve my work/life balance even during the craziest days on the job.
For me, it all begins with intent. By being intentional about every area of my professional life, I’ve managed to find a formula that works for me, my spouse, and our two young kids. Here are six ways I’ve protected my work/life balance while working for exciting companies in Silicon Valley.
1. Choose employers that respect your boundaries
My ability to balance comes, first and foremost, from being extremely deliberate about where I choose to work and which roles I accept. I knew before joining the Handshake team as VP of Marketing that this job would be demanding, but I also knew that I could keep my hours in the office to a reasonable level and wouldn’t be on call regularly. Handshake, as well as my past employers Intuit and Thumbtack, have really supported me in working reasonable hours in the office. Flexibility and understanding from leadership are huge factors when I’m deciding where to work.
I’ve also doubled down on working for companies with a strong mission that I care about. I’m motivated to keep leading teams and growing my career when I know the work I’m doing is making a difference — like at Handshake where we’re helping college students find meaningful work.
2. Prioritize fitness — even in nontraditional ways
It’s important to me that the minute I walk in the door from work, I’m in full mommy mode. Whether it’s playtime, dinner, bathtime, homework help, or bedtime stories, I want to be fully present with my kids during the few hours we all get together after work and school. In order to avoid spending precious time in the gym after work instead of with my kids, I’ve gotten really creative about my exercise. As a parent, it’s not always realistic to book a daily fitness class or take 60 minutes to go to the gym. However, you have your body for a lifetime and it’s important to care for it!
Whether it means taking the stairs at work, skipping the conference room in favor of a walking meeting, or doing pushups while my little ones build train tracks in the same room, making a place in your day for physical wellness is a great way to achieve balance. I’ve also started walking to work whenever I can — it helps me clear my head and get organized for the day as I get in a workout!
3. Be realistic about your unique situation and know your bandwidth
Since my husband and I both work full time, we’ve had to be realistic about the ways we manage our weekdays. My husband’s job is travel-heavy, so I have opted to work in jobs where little travel is required and my schedule can flex. Whether or not you’re able to split family obligations and unexpected events 50/50 with your spouse, I’ve learned someone needs to have the capacity to be the “flex factor.” At least one partner has to be able to handle the unexpected broken arm, a midday dental appointment, or any of the little surprises that life sometimes throws our way. And when my husband’s travel slows down, we take advantage of extra family time during the week.
While sometimes I miss the work trips and the ability to grab dinner with friends on a whim, I ultimately feel very grateful to be with my kids in the mornings and evenings — it aligns with how I want to be involved as a parent. And when I need extra space, I get extra childcare or plan in advance with my husband so that I get time in the evenings that I want and need. Figuring out the right flexibility and support structure is personal to each family and relationship, and getting clear about what makes you as an individual and a family thrive is really important for the longevity of your career.
4. Use weekends for “we time”
Because we’ve all got a lot going on during the week, we love spending the weekends focused on family bonding and relationship-building. In our household, it looks a little something like this:
- Friday nights are for the kids. We regroup, close out the week, and spend the evening reconnecting as a family.
- Weekend days we’re all together. Soccer games, museums, running around the park — it’s all about having fun and relaxing as a family.
- Saturday nights are all about our marriage. This might mean a date night, or it might mean spending time catching up with friends together. This lets us reconnect, catch up on what’s happened over the week, and just relax and laugh for the evening.
- Sunday nights are more family time! Typically we try to cook a meal with the kids’ help. It’s easier to enjoy time in the kitchen with an enthusiastic preschooler after two days spent decompressing from the previous week.
We also plan ahead and think about what trips and experiences we want to have as a family every quarter. Planning ahead and being proactive is important when both parents have busy schedules and the kids have school! Intentionally investing like this in ourselves and our family makes us all healthier, happier, and more balanced.
5. Carve out creative space
In order to thrive in every area of my life, I find it important to end my days with dedicated personal time once the kids are in bed. Having a spouse who travels during the week means that my evenings are truly my own, which allows me a little extra space to practice self care and prepare for the following day.
This “creative space” takes many forms, depending on the night — sometimes, it’s getting into a serious workflow and going head-down on a work project. Other days, it might mean organizing my closet, breaking out watercolors to paint something new, or catching up on a show!
6. Honor your personal time and your working time
As with most other areas of my life now that I’m both a parent and a corporate leader, I’m extremely intentional about the way I organize my calendar. In order to maximize my waking hours and operate at my most effective level, I do a few things:
- I put work blocks on my calendar one to two weeks in advance to avoid being scheduled in solid meetings all day.
- I color-code my calendar based on event type: one-on-one meetings, recurring meetings, work time, and more. Being able to step back and see the balance of my days helps give a sense for which areas I might need to scale back on, or where I should focus more energy.
- I make sure to block off hours on my calendar for my commute, and block hours for “family time.” This ensures no one is booking meeting when I actually need to be dropping off my son at kindergarten.
Work and life become so inextricable because you’re balancing energies. Until I had kids, I didn’t feel like I was slicing the pie in such a finite way; now everything’s a tradeoff. You have to figure out what makes you happiest each day, and carve out the time for it. Once you’ve decided what you value and prioritize it, everything else becomes an exception!