I started my first business at age 23 and never looked back. By many standards, I would be deemed successful. My first enterprise sold for a profit and continues to thrive under new ownership. My current business is in a growth phase and has enjoyed significant revenue jumps two years in a row. I have raised three fantastic daughters, my marriage is rock solid, and I have a core group of friends that can keep a secret and have great taste in wine.
Occasionally, I am asked how I have managed to achieve what many describe as “work-life balance”. I detest the question because it is always asked of women and seldom asked of men.
Feminism aside, I find the concept itself disturbing. It is based on a warped theory of measurement in which the singular act of earning a living is idealized to bear equal weight to the myriad of relationships and activities that constitute one’s “life”. That is ridiculous. If all the elements of my existence were measured in such a manner, I would hope that the results would be decidedly unbalanced, with “work” dangling on the high side of the teeter-totter and “life” planted firmly on the ground.
In fact, I believe that prioritizing “life” is what has allowed me to achieve consistent career success. I love my work. I think about projects and clients and new ideas all the time – because that is what most successful people do. But I do not work all the time. This is a critical distinction!
Putting work on the back burner, even for a few hours a day, can be difficult, especially if you are a Type-A personality (like myself) and you are truly interested in what you do for a living. But it is a skill worth learning, not only because you need more “life” in your life but also because over-working is counter-productive.
A recent study by John Pencavel of Stanford University reveals that work-related output falls so sharply after the 50-hour point that a person who puts in 70+ hours a week accomplishes virtually nothing more with all those extra hours.
Each life is unique. Your responsibilities and your challenges are yours alone, and what works for me may not work for you. That said, I have a few tricks up my sleeve that help me enjoy my life more fully – which is ultimately good for my health, my family, and my business. Feel free to try them out:
- I keep a notebook with me wherever I go. When I get a good idea, or remember something that I need to do the next time I am in my office, I write it down. I also write down other things – interesting recipes, and titles of recommended books to read, and reminders about upcoming sales on the Kate Spade website (I have a purse addiction. Don’t judge me). But I don’t stop whatever I am doing and suddenly race to my office, or the grocery store, or the book shop, or my laptop. Moving a thought from inside my head to my notebook clears up mental space so I can stay focused on the moment – and deal with those other thoughts when the time is right.
- I do not go to my office at night or on weekends. I check my emails a few times and I might even reply to a message or two, if it is something urgent. But physically, I am at home. The temptation to stay at work a few more hours, or to go back to work after dinner or on a Sunday afternoon can be strong. There is a twisted inner voice that tells you this will help you “catch up” or even “get ahead”. But that inner voice is lying to you. The best way to stay on top of things is to be clear-headed, well-rested, and full of energy, so stop working – and enjoy living.
- I out-source household chores. I used to find being at home more stressful, and busier, than being at work. By the time I had the laundry done and the pet hair off the furniture, I was too tired (and resentful) to enjoy the company of my spouse or my children. Data tells us that working women and men are spending too much time on household activities. One of the best things you can do for yourself is out-source some of these tasks. Unless you are one of those people who truly enjoys house work – in which case I encourage you to party on – and feel free to clean a friend’s house as well!
I pay a professional. She cleans my house faster than me. She does it better than me. And knowing that I am going to be dug out of the pit of dust-bunnies every Thursday lets me relax. Note: I also make teenagers do their own laundry and send hubby to the grocery store on his own (even if this means that we have green bananas and too many hot sauces, and frequently run out of toilet paper).
- I exercise every day. Studies show that people who exercise have better mental fitness. At noon hour, instead of cramming a sandwich into my face while I keep whittling away at my keyboard, I go to a nearby pool and swim for 45 minutes. Alternatively, I take my dog to the park for a rigorous walk. Either option does what it needs to do – shakes up my brain and my body – and lets me re-set. I always come back to work more focused and productive. Often, I get the best ideas when I am paddling in the pool or huffing and puffing in the park!
- Sunday dinner is non-negotiable. No matter how busy we all get, on Sunday evenings family and friends gather at my house. Sometimes, I create a gorgeous meal with pasta sauce that simmers on the stove all day and homemade linguine. Sometimes, I just BBQ whatever meat was on sale at the grocery store and pair it with french fries from the fish ‘n’ chip place around the corner. It’s not about the food. It is about gathering to laugh, and share stories, and debate important issues – like global warming, and feminism, and the plotline of Game of Thrones.
I do not waste time trying to “balance” my life. Instead, I focus on making sure that every day has moments of joy and moments of stillness. Some days are harder than others. Some days no matter how hard you try, that 45 minutes of exercise just isn’t going to happen and dinner is going to come in a takeout bag. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Life is a marathon – not a sprint.
This article was written by Kim Scaravelli. In her work life, Kim is the CEO of Trust Communications Inc. She serves on the Women’s Business Enterprises (WBE)-Canada Advisory Committee and is the Managing Partner of The Canadian Diversity Initiative. She also writes about life as a working woman, mother, spouse, and owner of unruly pets. If you want a laugh, check out Stuff My Dog Taught Me.