Is there such a thing as work/life balance?  

As I think back to working my corporate job for so many years, I recall how many times I pushed myself (or was pushed by leaders) to work lllloooonnnnnggg hours to get a project completed. It would keep me from having dinner with my family, seeing a kid’s hockey game or just getting a moment to exercise, sleep or have some self-care time.

Many times, I would find myself working until 10 or 11pm, to only feel exhausted, emotionally drained, frustrated and just plain sad.

The worst part… I began to resent my employer and my leaders.  Yet, I enjoyed the work I was doing and working with my coworkers.

I began to had this inner battle between my career accomplishments and my own self-care, which included making a routine that balances both parts of my life… career and personal life.

Instead of feeling like a victim to my job, work demands and time struggles, I decided to control my time!

The only way to make a healthy boundary is to make it yourself!!!

Even though I did this for myself, I also did it for my family and my team as well.

Here are 5 things that helped me take the reins of my life and create boundaries that worked:

  1. A calendar with STRONG boundaries.

The first thing I realized is that I left my lunch hour wide open. (slap my forehead)  That was a moment when I could recharge and have a REAL break.  One day, I stopped leaving it open for anyone to book a meeting over. That was MY time! I was going to keep it that way, unless it was a “SOS/save a baby” kind of meeting.

How did I send a clear message to others? I put a forever reoccurring “purple” (indicates out of office) calendar invite over my lunch hour.  As a Sr. Manager, it was common to have meetings over lunch. I’d end up sitting in the meeting while I scarfing down my lunch.  How lame! I didn’t want to be that kind of leader.  I had zero boundaries for a time was intended to be MY break and what was I teaching others by doing this?

What else did I do to my calendar to protect my time?

I blocked at least 30 minutes at the beginning of my day to do an “email and day schedule review”. This, too, was in purple.  Initially I set these up as “blue” calendar blocks, but I quickly realized people felt that it was ok to book over that time.  I had to make it VERY clear that my time was booked.

Lastly, I blocked the last 30-60 minutes of my day to finish emails and action items, but also plan for my next day’s tasks, priorities and meetings.  Doing so helped me feel more ready for what was to come and allowed it to be off my mind for the rest of the day.

One other important thing I did with this time was to look 1 day to 1 week ahead in my schedule to see what major events, projects or meetings required me to block “project time” (see #2) or slot time in my calendar for meeting prep, phone calls, follow-ups, or even connection time with my teammates.  (Tip: I’d even slot a blue or clear reminder on my calendar of something I needed to ensure was done that day.  The calendar would make sure I had the time to get it completed.)  That way I pre-dedicated time to complete all that needed to be done for those bigger work commitments.  It also allowed me to take it off my mind as I knew the time was slotted in my time now.

Freeing my mental capacity was HUGE!

The more I looked ahead in my calendar, the more control I felt as I could block the time needed. I knew what was expected and knew that if I committed to that dedicated time, the big work would stop consuming my life!

  1. Schedule my work/project time

Here is an example… say I had a big executive presentation for 3 weeks from now.  A PowerPoint presentation needs to be created, I also have to ensure all data is collected, as well as any other pertinent info provided from my team or cross-functional teams.

Knowing this, I would first slot 1 hour in the next couple days specifically to take time to document all that is needed specifically for that presentation.

Even before I had that 1-hour project planning block, I would already start blocking off 2 hour time slots over the next 3 weeks for this work.  Depending on the project size, I’d block up to 6 of these 2-hour times slots. I’d lean on the side “more is better than less” as we know “beep” happens to reduce that dedicated time or issues arise that you don’t expect.

The MOST IMPORTANT KEY TO THIS… COMMIT TO THAT TIME!  DO NOT USE it for something else!  Shut off your email and cell phone notifications.  Put on some headphones to listen to music and tell your team (and boss) you need the time commitment to this work.  (See more on this in #4 on this).

  1. Share your calendar with your boss and team.

Yep.  This may sound counter-intuitive, but it actually is beneficial!

I’d allow my team to see my calendar when they were needed to find me. I allowed them to see what I was working on when.  What this did was give them CLEAR visibility and communication to my time so if something came up that as urgent OR they needed to set up a meeting with me, they could choose the best time possible, WHILE respecting my time boundaries.

I had nothing to hide from them. They appreciated that I trusted them enough to see my calendar.

Plus, if something was critical, they knew where I was and how to best find me.

Note: if you truly had something private, like a doctor’s appointment or private call, then just mark that one thing calendar invite as “private” even to those that have access to your calendar.  Not a big deal!

  1. Decline meetings with no agenda or multiple team members

How often do you get a calendar invite with NO agenda and no explanation to what the meeting owner needs?

How often have you attended a meeting where you left thinking, “That could have been an email and gave me so much time back!”

Yeah, we have all been there, am I right?

To make it even worse, someone may invite you, but they also invite multiple people from your team!  If we work as a team, do they ALL need to be there?  This takes multiple hours away from your team  for a meeting you have no agenda for! That is not good for you OR anyone else on your team.

Here’s how I’d usually handle this…

I’d directly email or message the meeting organizer and say, “Thank you for the invite for the (blah blah) meeting.  Due to large projects and business priorities, I have to have a meeting agenda to be able to accept the meeting.  Plus, in most cases, I will only have one person represent our team in a meeting, to ensure my team has enough time for run-the-business activities. I want to make sure I have to best representative present for you, so having some details of the meeting helps ensure that happens.  Could you please provide me the agenda and what you are looking to get from my team specifically?  Thank you so much! I appreciate it!

Does this seem too difficult? No.

Is it harsh or rude?  No.

Here are some other good outcomes to doing this:

  1. The more you do this, the more you are protecting YOUR time, but also the time of individuals on your team. That is a good leadership quality, no matter what level you are at.  It’s respectful, yet strong.
  2. You are kindly teaching the meeting organizer that they need to be clearer in their communications and expectations when scheduling a meeting and using other’s time. It may also teach them WHEN it is better to just make the meeting a good email instead.  (Just sayin…)
  3. You’re setting an expectation when it comes to working with you. They know if they want your time, they need to be clear on what they need from you or your team.  That YOU, as a leader, respect your time, but also others.  That is teaching others to do the same for themselves as well.

How is that for a leadership skill?  Leading by example, right?

Plus, your team is watching and learning from you too.  You set up a clear boundary that they can emulate and learn from, but also know that you will support them if they find themselves in a similar situation.  They know you can help them through it and learn FROM you on how to best handle it.

  1. Have an open conversation with the boss and your team about your structure and boundaries.

When you decide to make these changes in your business structure, it’s ALWAYS good to create the plan, THEN discuss it with your boss and teammates.  This is NOT to get approval, but more to set the expectation, but to gain their support as well.

Guess what else?…

You are leading by example again.  You are using organizational skills with communication skills to drive efficiency for the team, but also yourself!  Yet, you’re making it clear that it’s ok to work this way and NOT be handcuffed to other’s demands of your time.

When having the discussion, start out with something like this… “I was finding that I was struggling to use my time wisely to be the most productive in my work, but it was negatively impacting my personal time.  I want to do better and I want to capitalize on my time as much as I can.  I want to accomplish my work in a more efficient way.  To do so, I needed to evaluate my current workload and schedule, then come up with a plan that works for me.  

I want to go through this with you and ask for your support as I make these changes.  Here is my plan…

Then walk them through all of the above… how you will block your calendar, how you will address meetings with no agendas, multiple-teammates in same meeting, dedicated project time, email and message notifications, and the expectation on urgent matters that may arise.

Be clear that this is to drive efficiency, but feel free to make it clear that this is also to make you a happier employee that can have more focus and better outcomes. THAT is your main goal.

When I did this, not only did I get lots of recognition for it, but I was also seen as a leader who “walks the talk” by protecting my time, but also setting an example for others who were either newer in their career OR who had struggled with the same time issues.

Everyone I worked with understood why did this and ended up respected my time boundaries. They never once thought I was more difficult to work with.  I made it clear why I set these boundaries, and it was actually very well received… every time!

Do this for yourself, but watch how it positively impacts others.


Do you have trouble with having enough time?
Do you have concerns with how to make this happen due to tough leadership?

Reach out to me to discuss. I may be able to guide you on a plan to help you feel more in control of your time and be a happier and more productive employee.

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