Proof It’s Possible to Achieve Work-Life Balance

Mixed race businesswoman using tablet computer
Mixed race businesswoman using tablet computer
Photograph by Jetta Productions — Blend Images RM via Getty Images

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “How do you create balance in your professional life?” is by Sandy Shirai, vice chairman at Deloitte LLP.

As a vice chairman responsible for running Deloitte LLP’s technology, media, and telecommunications practice, I have a lot on my plate. But I wouldn’t change it for a minute—I love what I do. I also have a wonderful husband and am the proud mother of a 13-year-old daughter. I’m also a guest lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where I speak with students about how to have a high-powered career with a family.

I’ve learned a lot about work-life balance over the course of my career, not the least of which is that “balance” means different things to different people. With that in mind, here is my recipe for achieving balance:

Don’t sweat the small stuff
After my daughter was born, I decided that I needed to prioritize. That meant letting some things go. I didn’t need a perfect house and garden or a beautiful wardrobe. Instead, I decided that my focus would be on my family and my career. I figured that if I concentrated on doing a great job in these two categories, I would consider myself a success. As a result, I am both happy and fulfilled. As for the other stuff—I find it all manages to sort itself out.

See also: Why It’s Okay to Stop Checking Email on Vacation

Schedule the work
As any busy professional knows, work has a way of creeping into every nook and cranny and edging out the rest of your life in the process. That’s why I use technology to schedule not only my work life, but also my life outside of work—including my time to relax. I schedule my vacations in my calendar the moment plans start to formalize, whether they are “stay-cations” or traveling vacations. Blocking out time on my calendar for personal activities is my way of preventing work-creep and protecting my private and family time.

Plan for spontaneity
It seems like an oxymoron, but sometimes spontaneity needs a bit of a nudge. For example, I love to dance. When I first became a consultant 26 years ago, I stopped dance due to travel and gained 18 pounds. I tried running and going to hotel gyms, but it wasn’t my thing. For me, ballet is a great source of cardio and completely takes my mind off of daily stresses, so I decided to start dancing again. I enrolled in classes in various cities where I traveled—like New York and Chicago—and whenever my schedule permitted, I was at the barre. I am also registered for classes at three studios near my home; that way, when I can sneak out, I always have a class available. With just a little planning, I’m able to achieve a lot more personally.


Maintain a sense of humor
Here is an inside story: I use code words in my calendar for my family and personal events. For example, when my daughter joined the math olympiad team and I needed to pick her up after the competitions in the middle of the workweek, I titled my appointment “Meeting with Bill Algebra” or “Interview with Trapp E. Zoid.” Whenever I see notes like that in my calendar, it makes me chuckle and gives me a little boost. They say laughing a lot will help you live longer. I don’t know if it’s true, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

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