The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: “How do you manage a heavy workload?” is written by Evin Shutt, chief operating officer and partner at 72andSunny.
Managing life with a heavy workload, and more importantly, avoiding high levels of stress, guilt, or feelings of inadequacy while doing so, came for me once I stopped trying to chase after a “work-life balance.” Unless you’re in a career or lifestyle where you don’t interact with other humans or you’ve reached a master level of zen, then there will always be moments where you feel out of balance.
So the trick becomes making sure the pendulum keeps swinging while finding an equation that works for you. Here’s what I’ve learned and am continuing to learn:
Schedule. Schedule. Schedule.
Looking ahead and managing my schedule vs. letting it fill up is a game changer. This isn’t a new approach, but it’s hopefully a good reminder. Inside the office, I prioritize my time into chunks to be more effective. Instead of trying to do everything at once, I schedule time to dive into work that requires serious thinking (and I know I’m best at this in the morning), and then schedule time to respond to “easy” emails (usually later in the afternoon). This approach helps me create structure from the chaos of the day.
And when it comes to my life outside of the office, I like to counter an intense workweek by prioritizing time for a date night with my husband and walking my kids to school. I also look for ways to cheat—date night with my husband can buy me time to take a later meeting before our dinner reservation. When I take ownership of my schedule, it’s empowering—I find I’m way more effective at work, I feel like a way better mom, and I have way more built-in time to recharge my batteries.
Keep ‘em separate
We’re all juggling different roles inside and outside of the office, and each comes with its own responsibilities and expectations. To avoid getting overwhelmed, I’ve identified the biggest stress triggers in each area and then work to avoid or counteract them. For example, I learned early on that taking a work call at home is a huge stress trigger for me. Inevitably, my kids are crying or needing something and I can’t attend to them when I’m on the phone. If I have an early or late call, I make sure I’m out of the house before it starts, or I just stay late at work. I can’t always avoid the collision, but I try to keep them separate as much as possible so I can be my best me in each scenario.
See also: 8 Ways to Manage a Crazy Workload
Acknowledge that you’re human
As a leader, I think it’s incredibly important to offer insight into our lives and how we navigate the work-life equation so we can create an open and supportive culture within our company. I try to be open about dialing in for a meeting because I’m attending a school performance or a dentist appointment. It lets my employees know that they can, too.
Too many companies have created a culture of looking down on people for missing a meeting for personal health or sanity, or have created a hierarchy of what’s an important or valid excuse. I think the more transparent leaders are about prioritizing health and life, the more the rest of the company will respect and reflect this. We can’t expect other leaders, managers, and people to support each other in these areas if the leaders of the company don’t model it.
What worked this week might not work next week. And that’s okay. The second I realized that what worked three nights in a row to put my newborn twins to sleep wouldn’t work the fourth night and that would continue throughout their lives, I was a much better parent and leader at my company. I realize that what works for my life-work schedule one day won’t always work the next day. Admitting, and embracing this, helps me to keep coming up with new solutions and approaches. The work-life equation can get out of whack if you only allow yourself to see one solution, especially if it’s the same go-to “solution.”
Know that it takes a village
As we have all heard before, great leaders surround themselves with people who are better at the things they can’t do themselves. They champion other people’s superpowers by allowing them to grow that talent. By leaning into this and frequently asking myself if I’m only doing stuff only I can do, I find I’m way more efficient and effective and providing growth opportunities to others. And, by the way, this works at home, too—embracing this approach can also help you prioritize what event, phone call, or story-time you can’t miss. Realizing I don’t have to be superwoman all the time and relying on a village doesn’t make me weaker. It makes me—and my team (at work and home)—stronger.
Keeping in mind that I’m aiming for well-balanced pendulum swings—not a tightrope—changed my approach to managing my life, both at home and at work. I don’t always get it perfect, but knowing and looking for ways to proactively swing it the opposite way makes my life feel much more balanced.