I Don’t Know How She Does It – Part 4

In Part four of this series, medical brought to you by Christine Brown-Quinn, author of “Step Aside Superwoman Careeer and Family is for any Woman”, the topic of work life balance and whether it can be a reality is explored.

If you’re  still enjoying the series, and haven’t yet entered our competition, why not do so today to be in with a chance of  WINNING one of four SIGNED copies of Christine’s book. Simply sign-up to receive email notifications of all my new blog posts straight to your inbox and / or follow me @workingsupermum on Twitter  and  Tweet ‘I want to win with @workingsupermum’ and link to any of the I don’t know How she does it’ posts on my blog / or ‘Like’ the Super Mummy Facebook page via the links on the right or leave a comment with your thoughts below this article.

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Competition closes at 5pm on 15th May 2012 and four winners will be selected at random.  Good Luck!

 

Is Work-Life Balance a Pipe Dream for Professional Women – by Christine Brown-Quinn

If you looked up to working mom Kate Redding as a role model, (Kate is played by Sarah Jessica Parker in the film I don’t know how she does it), I suspect you’d come to the conclusion that work-life balance is a pipe dream.  Kate does a fantastic job taking on responsibility for everything and everyone, leaving little time to do anything for herself. Just watching the film tired me out!  But does it have to be that way? Are there no alternatives if you decide on a career AND a family?

At a recent women’s networking event I was horrified when I heard that one of top tips for getting ahead was to “work harder than your male colleagues, partner, husband, or brother.” Really? Is this what we are teaching the up and coming women in business today? Aren’t we creating this burden for ourselves by promulgating such superwoman behaviour? It’s not about working harder. It’s about working smarter and focusing on a few critical things that matter in building a career. Since we’re not superwomen, we’re only humans, promoting such behaviour as goal surely results in a lack of work-life balance.

Work-life balance is NOT a pipe dream, but there are 3 key ingredients which are often overlooked in making this aspiration a reality:

1. Keep yourself motivated and challenged

WorkingMothers.com 2010 survey Career vs Paycheck revealed that a working mother was happy in all aspects of her life when she had a high level of job satisfaction.  It’s worth noting that job satisfaction was highly correlated to a meaningful career or job – it wasn’t just about the money. Once we lose the buzz we get from our careers, the whole work-life dynamic falls apart.

How many women do you know who come back from maternity leave, feel side-lined, and   subsequently give up. “What’s the point?” they begin to wonder. If they’re going to leave precious little ones in someone else’s care, the job has got to turn them on.  I remember one day when my elderly neighbour saw me coming home from work and how amazed she seemed that I was chirpy and energetic after such a long day in the city. The secret? I felt challenged in my corporate career – the things I was learning made life very interesting.

2. Map out a routine for maximizing your individual level of performance

Organize your easy and tough tasks and challenges around those peak performance times.  Tackle the tough challenges when you feel at your best. For me it’s the first thing in the morning.  My confidence and patience levels are up and my head is clear.

I learned this by trial and error and being aware of how productive I was (or not as the case may be) at which times. There’s a key piece missing here. In order to be at your peak at work, you also need to figure out how much exercise and other activity you need to do (and how to make it happen) to keep your enthusiasm up at work.  What do you really like to do in your personal time that re-energises you. There’s so much focus on time management. It’s misplaced. We need to be focusing on managing our energy rather than our time.

3. Think Like a Business Owner

Point 2 leads really nicely into this point.  At the end of the day, what does a good manager really care about? That’s right, performance. I recently gave a talk about how important it is to invest and enrich in both the personal and professional dimensions of our lives, highlighting that it’s having both parts that can help you achieve optimal performance in each. Huh? Simply put, by having a varied life you avoid getting burned out, whether it’s caring for an elderly parent, hyper kids or a demanding career.

Dipping in out of both lives makes you appreciate each life and the benefits it brings. At the end of my talk an eager member of the audience asked, “But Christine, if I tell my boss how important my personal life is, he or she won’t get it, they won’t care.” I replied, “Well your boss may or may not care, but that’s not the point. As your manager, your boss expects you to organize your life so you can be at your best. That’s YOUR responsibility. Your boss wants to know where you are on your projects.”

The best rule of thumb to use when thinking about how to blend our increasingly complex professional and personal lives is to think like a business owner.  A business owner wants you to be as productive as you can and to manage your life to achieve this. Working 24 x 7, losing your enthusiasm, creativity and motivation isn’t good for you and it’s not good for the business.

Work-life balance is not a pipe dream. Like anything though, you’ve got to be strategic and focus on the most important parts or you’ll get lost in the detail.

This blog is part 4 of a 5-part series: I don’t know how she does it. For other blogs connected to this series, click here.

I Don’t Know How She Does It – Part 3

It’s part three of the five part series we’re running on the blog, sovaldi and this week Christine talks about the guilt we experience as working parents and how our professional life can enhance every other aspect of our lives.

If you’re enjoying the series, troche you might want to  WIN one of four SIGNED copies of Christine’s book. To do so simply sign-up to receive email notifications of all my new blog posts straight to your inbox and / or follow me @workingsupermum on Twitter  and  Tweet ‘I want to win with @workingsupermum’ and link to any of the I don’t know How she does it’ posts on my blog / or ‘Like’ the Super Mummy Facebook page via the links on the right or leave a comment with your thoughts below this article.

Plenty of ways to win!

Competition closes at 5pm on 15th May 2012 and four winners will be selected at random.  Good Luck!

Women in Business: Getting to Grips with the Guilt Trip by Christine Brown-Quinn

How can you possibly have a career and a personal life and not feel guilty that someone is getting short changed?  Is it a no win situation which just can’t be resolved?  Sorry for the cliche, but it’s actually a win-win situation.

First, let’s take a look at your personal life. You have a lot of commitments, right? But isn’t this what makes you feel connected to this earth?  Commitments are a good thing – you may have a commitment to a sports team, a local school, a charity or a family matter. These commitments take you away from work, both mentally and physically. (Again, this is also a good thing which I’ll come back to later). Your instinct is that your priorities are in the right place, but you still feel guilty leaving clients or colleagues with unfinished business.

Now let’s take a look at your professional life.  You are no doubt enjoying the challenge and collaboration of working with other adults.  Knowing you, I bet you’re really throwing yourself into the new job, the new role, or project.  But I hear you. You’re telling me that despite this job satisfaction you still do experience that tinge (or on a bad day, that pang) of guilt that you should be home having a glass of wine with your partner or reading that bedtime story with your kids.

Well, if it’s any consolation we’ve all been there. The point is you’re not alone and it’s not personal – it’s part of the human predicament.  It’s  part of what defines us and you’ve got to stop beating yourself up about it. It’s not your fault, so there’s absolutely no reason why you should feel guilty!

Kate Redding, the working mom played by Sarah Jessica Parker in the film I don’t know how she does it, demonstrates beautifully that so much of the guilt we experience is self-imposed. We set unrealistic expectations of what we can achieve – whether that be at home or at work.  Kate seems to feel guilty about everything and as a result she seems almost scatter-brained and unfocused in almost every situation. Her guilt seems to be driving her to be uber human.  (She really stoops low when she dresses up a store-bought cake as homemade for the school bake sale. She doesn’t want her kids to feel like she’s contributing less than the other mothers. Oh, please!).  In a way we set ourselves up for feeling a sense of failure, a sense of guilt, because we can’t meet a pie in the sky expectation.

Ok, so although you buy into my logic, you’re still not over it.

Here’s the real key to getting to grips with the guilt trip. What you have to realize is that it’s because of your personal life (rather than in spite of!) that you’re a better professional, a better business person. People like to deal with other people. The unique approach, values and integrity you bring to the work environment are your greatest contributions. Your uniqueness comes from your personal life, your upbringing and your personal experiences.  Also having a personal life pulls you away from work – it saves you from burn-out (I saw plenty of this in my corporate life!).  It allows you to break away and recharge your battery, which of course makes you more productive in the long run. Ever notice how much easier something feels once you’ve had that mental break?

Fine, I get all that, but I still feel guilty about not spending enough time with my partner.  I feel guilty about leaving the kids. Did you ever think about how your professional life makes you an interesting person – how it broadens your perspective? Have you ever thought about how your professional life enables you to support your partner’s career (you realize just how tough it is out there in the real world!)  So many skills and qualities that you apply in your personal life have actually been developed in your work life.  You’ve got it – your professional life makes you a better person – you as a partner, daughter, friend or mother. You can help your relatives and close friends get out of those tricky situations because you solve problems at work all day long!

Bottom line?  Although you want perfection, just focusing on that one thing doesn’t get you there either.  Once you accept that you can’t possibly be everywhere and do everything, and also accept that it’s the varied dimensions in your life that might it worth living, you’re well on the road to recovery.  No more guilt.  Time to enjoy life’s variety!

This blog is part 3 of a 5-part series: I don’t know how she does it. For other blogs connected to this series, click here.

Being there

I have just successfully managed to get my boss to agree to me reducing my hours at work.  Obviously I am talking about my ‘proper’ work, sildenafil i.e. the place I go to where I do grown up things like present papers to Executive Steering Groups, engage stakeholders to work collaboratively towards critical deliverables, develop project plans and change the date on my weekly programme status reports. Not the one where I wipe snotty noses, build Hello Kitty jigsaws puzzles with my eyes closed  and iron what feels like the contents of the entire children’s clothes section in M&S on a weekly basis.  As at today, that work still remains unpaid in hard cash terms.

No, this turnaround from ‘Throw it all at me, I can do it!’ to ‘Perhaps I need to redress the balance just a little,’ coincided with Little Princess Pinks’ first week at school. Up until then, much in the way of advice on the matter of mummy working / children schooling had been extremely conflicting, from the ‘it gets so much easier to do it all when they are at school’ to the ‘trying to get everything done, especially when you need to factor in homework now, is just so difficult’.  I decided (in the stubborn way that I often do) that I would make it work.  After all, I’m *ahem* supermummy.

I’d never entered the unknown territory that was the After School Club until I decided that my working pattern would remain as was, and we would quite simply have to make use of said club as a means of childcare for LPP from a Monday to Thursday.  Decision made, but still battling with this voice in my head which would occasionally bellow in my ear – ‘Are you really sure?,’ we set about registering, booking and arranging all childcare requirements from school bell at 3.10 to which-ever-one- of- us-could- get- there- first (but somewhere in the region of 5pm) at the After School Club.  From day one, it niggled and niggled at me.  It just wasn’t part of the master plan.  I have very clear memories of my mum picking me up from school, taking me to the library where I would choose six books (yes, even back then I was a read-y / write-y book geek) and off we’d trot home for milk, biscuits and homework at the kitchen table.  I remember the hours mum spent with me, reading, drawing and answering countless ‘but why’ questions, and so along with primary teachers 1 – 7 and the entire cast of St. Kentigerns Academy, she is to be credited with me turning out fairly okay.

But, we ploughed along regardless.  After School Club it was.  Until day one when I arrived to pick LPP up after her first full day at school and after school club only to find her in floods of tears (despite being dressed up as Snow White which is usually a smile-inducing activity in our house.) I had to fight with myself not to stuff the cheque I’d just written to pay for the month hurriedly back into my handbag, whisk her away in a stealth like manner, yelling ‘Thanks, it’s been lovely, but we won’t be back any time soon’ over my shoulder as we made haste for the door.

Now, I know day one will always be the tough one, and the most logical part of my being says the same as everyone else is thinking – I know she’ll settle and I know it will all come good.  But I couldn’t argue with the part inside me that said, ‘You know what you need to do.’  I should have gone with my gut in the first place.  After a week of number crunching, case building, looking where we could cut the cloth accordingly, putting forward a request to my boss, seeing LPP settle more and more into the After School Club (well, it was always going to happen wasn’t it?) we got to the point this week where it was a done deal.  I’ll be an even parter-part-timer in the workplace and hopefully a there-when-I-really should be mummy.  Conversation with boss and bosses boss was very much in the realms of ‘don’t for one minute think I’m any less committed, because I’m not.’ And truly, I’m not.  In fact I already anticipate that I’ll put in more than I’m contracted to, as it’s an unwritten and unspoken rule that part-timers need to prove their worth, part-timers need to show just how productive they can still be, no slippage of quality, no dumbing down of the old grey matter.  Still on the career ladder, perhaps just teetering on the edge as opposed to two feet firmly on the rung, but still there and hanging on.

So here we are, from next week, I’ll be picking LPP up from school, and after school club will become a great option for us when I just have to be in the office late in the afternoon, or when school holidays come around and between us we still don’t have a enough annual leave entitlement to cover all the days needed.  Little Princess Pink has already expressed some disgust at the new arrangement in the form of “BUT I LOVE THE DINO CLUB – THEY HAVE PICTUREKA!” however, shes coming round.  I’m not sure if it was the grand plans for French on a Tuesday or swimming lessons on a Wednesday that did it, or perhaps it was the promise of Tuesdays being solely restricted to library visits and milk, biscuits and homework at the kitchen table.

One day, I hope she too will reflect fondly on it, knowing that us mummies only ever try to do our best by them.

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