Work/life balance comes up time and time again when I speak to people. We’re all desperate for a bit more time in the day, either to fit in more work or to fit in more slippers-and-TV time or something inbetween.
An extra hour in my day would probably just mean more pushing Thomas trains around the wooden track while sneakily trying to respond to emails without the boys seeing me on my phone.
Read on to see the advice that 6 real project managers have for getting a meaningful work/life balance. For me, the tip from David about how you treat your loved ones was an eye opener but let’s start with some advice from Helen…
Be clear where the lines are drawn. If you’re working, you’re working, so try not to get distracted with personal stuff. The same applies for home life, if you’re at home with your partner and kids then your attention should be there and not checking emails on your phone in the middle of lunch.
Helen Curel, UK
I work three long days a week. The weekend is for my family, the other two days in the week are for my emails, my housework and my chores. There are always competing pressures however many days you work.
Be efficient. Use time effectively. Delegate more but stay in control.
Claire Sezer, FCILEx, UK
I think most project managers are to a certain extent control freaks and find this difficult, but…
- All things are not worth doing.
- All things worth doing are not worth doing well.
- All things worth doing well need not be done by you yourself – there might be someone much more capable around.
- Respect your team members’ time off. A manager who sends lots of email in the evenings gives a subliminal message that every team member needs to be available all of the time. “Do unto others…”
- Try not to check your email for just one evening and see if the world survives. Perhaps the exercise can be repeated another evening?
- If you have to check your email, do you also have to reply to each item immediately? Perhaps the next morning will do just as well?
- Try switching your cellphone off when you get home from work. Perhaps the switch can be used to switch it on the next morning? You never know until you’ve tried!
- Try not to treat your loved ones worse than your business contacts. A sponsor can often deal with rejection much better than a child can.
Sometimes it’s hard. I get so into my work. My favourite tactics are time-boxing and prioritization. These are project management techniques that are also very useful in making sure you stay sane and balanced as a person.
I also have recently gotten into meditation and have learned to turn the computer off at least an hour before bedtime.
Monica Borrell (Read my interview with Monica.)
The 20/80 rule. 20% percent of the work gets 80% of the result. Time and again I have found that 80% is easily good enough and pushing for the extra is not worth it. Why are managers that don’t seem to do very much so successful? This is why. They don’t waste time on perfection and they spend the rest of the time building relationships.
There are, of course exceptions. Some organisations are really fussy with documentation and if this is not your forte then you need to work at it. However I once worked to rule for a while when I was fed-up at work and found that not only was the project just as successful, it actually seemed to improve performance.
Perfection can make things worse and just creates unnecessary work. What this rule means is that by not being a perfectionist you can manage twice or three times as much as a perfectionist and achieve the perception of three times the progress.
Delegate. Staff love to be involved, especially younger staff that see the chance at some good experience. This is linked to the point above as the only way to achieve perfection, as you define it, is to do it yourself. Let go and let someone else do it differently.
Most of the time, arrive a little early and leave a little late (15 minutes each way). Then managers will more than happy for you to occasionally leave early. If you are always in late managers will assume that you are not pulling your weight and give you more to do.
Occasionally take work home but don’t make it the norm. Projects tend to be heavy on the project manager at the start. If you have multiple projects all starting at once then you will have to put the hours in. However don’t assume that managers will notice, or even care, if you are doing this. Most will not.
They say that working late is like wetting yourself in a dark room – You get a nice warm feeling and nobody notices. It is true though. Working long hours does not typically get you promoted. I have met perfectionists who always take work home every night thinking that managers value the work they do only to get upset when a promotion goes to someone else.
If you have a manager that consistently pushes you to work too late or long hours – leave. There are plenty of good organisations out there that love hard working, capable people that enjoy life.
Paul Nicholson, MBCS, UK
I have been very lucky as my spouse is very understanding about my work and what I do like as a profession, therefore it is give and take about balancing out my working and personal life. It can be an all-encompassing career, with highs and lows, but very satisfying.
However, when you have down time, you need to make the most of it. Try and work around projects with holidays as it is very disruptive to a project to bring in another project manager (unless it is a major building project). Taking time out and a balance can be achieved, however, it does take working at it, like any relationship (personal or professional).
Being a project manager is not something for the feint hearted, and sometimes you need to grow an extra skin – but it’s part of the charm of the work. There are times when you do need to take a break – do take that break; and you will come back bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready for anything that is thrown your way.
Lorraine Chapman, UK (Read my interview with Lorraine.)