Blog Post

Making a Life: Advice for Managing Work-Life Balance

Heidi Spirgi

Chief Strategy and Growth Officer at Cornerstone

With Labor Day weekend in the rearview, it’s finally time to face that the fall is here. In previous years, it meant students returning to school and many of us resuming a more consistent routine, uninterrupted by summer trips and time off.

Of course, this summer looked nothing like summers of the past—and this fall will be different, too. Back in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I remember discussing reopening with our leadership team. It seemed very plausible, then, that we’d be returning to the office in September. Or, at least, that child care challenges might let up when kids go back to school.

For many, however, neither is true. Many U.S. schools will begin school years remotely, or follow some sort of hybrid model. At least 40% of the U.S. workforce is still remote as well. For now, January seems like another possible reopening milestone, but only time will tell.

Still, September’s arrival always brings with it a sense of fresh opportunity to reset and renew. And that’s all the more important during the pandemic: Whether you’re feeling the wear of remote work; navigating change; feeling pressure at work; or grappling with the stresses of this unprecedented time—or everything at once. Here are three ways to reset your fall routine and close out 2020 with better work-life balance.

1. Don’t "double click" on every good idea.

At Cornerstone, we’ve been talking a lot this year about building a business that’s unconstrained by the processes of the past. There’s a huge amount of opportunity here for entire organizations to rethink the way they do things, as well as pursue new and exciting ideas—whether something as simple as a new strategy for remote meetings or as big as a new product that redefines a company’s trajectory.

But the reality is that most of us have more good ideas than we have time to execute. And often, time spent chasing new ideas can prevent us from working as a team toward shared goals. For the sake of everyone’s time and productivity, don’t feel like you have to onboard or investigate every idea, no matter who in the organization raises it (leaders, managers, peers, etc.). Have the courage and conviction to say no. Feel empowered to share the tradeoffs associated with an idea (we can do this or this, here are the benefits/drawbacks). Go ahead and explain how your plan as designed gets the company where it needs to be.

2. Communicate clearly about work.

We all have a lot on our plates these days. Some companies are impacted by the economic slowdown and reducing their workforce as a result. Others are in the process of pivoting their business in the name of adaptability. And still others have more business to handle than ever before. Across the board, employees continue to face a daily challenge to balance home-life and work life. Communicating clearly about workload and priorities can help.

For example, it’s easy for leaders to assign tasks thinking they will take less time than they will. Maybe they ask for something expecting it to take a couple hours when, really, the employee will have to spend the better part of a day. I’ve made it a habit to ask my team how long they expect something to take when I ask for it. Sometimes, when I understand more fully how long something will take, I might decide against it.

Communicating about priorities when assigning work is also critical—and the responsibility falls on both managers and employees. For managers, it’s important to denote priority when assigning a task: this needs to happen ASAP, or this is important but not urgent. And on the employee’s part, there’s nothing wrong with saying, "I have too much on my plate; help me prioritize." In fact, that’s an excellent and responsible action.

3. Block your calendar for life.

The inability to separate work and life is one of the biggest contributors to burnout, according to Gallup. As we move into the fall, it’s critical for all of us to recommit to having a rewarding, fully present life outside of work—and in doing so, everyone’s work-life will improve, too.

For many of us, our calendars dictate the pace and flow of our days. But without the separation of leaving the office, it’s all too easy for the workday to continue to bleed into life outside of work hours. Make a point of scheduling time at the end of your day to force you to walk away from your computer—whether it’s a date with your child or a daily walk. It might also be time to rethink your work-from-home setup: is it possible to arrange your workspace so that you can more definitively step away at the end of the day?

And even if time isn’t blocked off on your calendar, start getting comfortable setting work aside for the most important things. Recently, my son arrived home from college for a short, unexpected visit—surprising me by knocking on my office window. I told the person I was meeting with that I had to prioritize greeting my son and I’d connect with them later. And I was so glad I made that time: I got to enjoy a big hug and watch him reunite with our Bernese Mountain dog. It was a priceless moment for me and made him feel important and loved.

I wasn’t always as good at taking time away from work to prioritize these moments as I am now. For me, this perspective and wisdom to live in the moment came with experience (read: age—yikes!). Double down on this particular learning curve–you will never regret it.

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