Lifestyle experts have great tips, but most don’t understand our UMUC community. We aren’t just balancing work and family. We’re balancing school and sometimes job searches. For this reason, when I sat down to right this piece, I decided to draw on the insights of three of our own. Tamar Thorne ‘07, ‘18 is a wife, mother, employee benefits representative, and recent MBA graduate. Brian Booth is a husband, father in a two career household, Vice Dean at UMUC, and a UMUC faculty member. Cathy Francois is a single mom, Assistant Director of Career Programming at UMUC, UMUC adjunct faculty, and an entrepreneur who finished her MBA while working full-time and job hunting. They’ve synthesized seven strategies to help with our juggling act.
There is a difference between what you need to get done versus what you want to get done. Focus your time and energy on what’s most important to you and what has hard deadlines. And think about quality versus quantity. For example, try lunch instead of dinner with friends. And consider the fact that thirty minutes of undivided attention with your kids beats an hour spent with them when you’re distracted by screens.
Keep a Schedule and Plan Ahead
Create a schedule that includes “must dos” and due dates. Add other things you need to do, like homework and applying for jobs. Piecemeal your tasks by scheduling 30 minute chunks where progress can be made. Cathy will go to bed early and rise at 4 a.m. for quiet time to focus and be most productive, while Tamar ensures her family knows her calendar to minimize surprises.
Think about your projects in terms of a 20-mile march. Even if you accomplish your goal ahead of schedule, don’t stop. Do the same each day to stay on track, be productive, to not let yourself get overwhelmed, and avoid procrastination.
Incorporate Life Hacks
Work smarter at your office. Quick, regular huddles are more efficient than weekly, longer meetings. Shared documents through Google Docs are more efficient and effective than back-and-forth emails. Delegate down to direct reports and up to supervisors. Take action and make decisions during your meetings rather than deferring.
For family, think what’s easy, even if it costs a little more. Consider prepared meals from the grocery store or shop online from Fresh Direct or Peapod. Orders from Target can be picked up the same day or shipped. And consider that Amazon and eBay have just about anything you could possibly need.
Cathy finds using a reminder app to be helpful. Other useful apps you could consider incorporating into your life are those that block social media and help you tackle procrastination.
Leverage Your Support Network
Taking advantage of the support that surrounds you can help you balance it all. For example, Tamar and Brian rely on their spouses to take on tasks at home. Brian also got support from his employer when he needed to complete his dissertation. Ask your employer to reduce your hours or to put you on different projects to help you finish your UMUC work. Build a case as to why it’s advantageous to them that you graduate. You will be a stronger contributor, a better employee, and their bottom line will benefit as a result.
Remember that sharing is caring. Cathy and her sister shared in both childcare and cooking. If seven people in your network each prepared a nightly dinner, you’d only have to cook one night a week!
You should also leverage your network when job hunting. Use LinkedIn and professional associations, and reach out to people you know to find out about job openings. Personal networking is much more efficient, and right now you need to be as efficient as possible.
Perfection Is the Enemy of Good
Brian prefers, “Perfect is the enemy of COMPLETION!” GPA isn’t the end-all-be-all, so if getting a B or even a C means finishing your work and passing your class, sometimes that’s good enough! If you’re struggling to complete an assignment, communicate with your faculty. Let him or her know what’s going on.
That said, when applying for jobs, you do want your resume and your cover letter to be perfect and you do want to be well prepared for interviews. Accomplish your tasks well, but go back to that first strategy of prioritization to figure out what needs to be perfect, and what needs to just be complete.
You’re not going to be your best if you don’t re-energize. Figure out what works for you—whether that’s decluttering, exercising, playing piano, meditation, etc. Cathy would take a vacation day and not tell anyone else to get a needed break, staving off burnout and keeping her fresh and productive.
Don’t skip out on this essential part of self-care! Tamar tried to cut back on sleep and ended up in urgent care. Getting a good night’s sleep without distractions is key. Don’t take your screens to bed, and don’t work or watch TV in bed. Have a separate space at home for your academic work, job applications, and work. Don’t discount how important sleep is for staying healthy. If you’re not healthy, you won’t be able to do your schoolwork, be competitive for new jobs or promotions, do your job, or take care your family.
Now that you’ve reviewed these seven strategies, what strategies have you found to be effective for you? Share those in the comments so we can all be go-getters and manage our work life balance!