Work/Life Balance Tips: 5 Tips for Adjusting to a Reduced Schedule
I always see advice written for moms on re-entering the workforce after a maternity leave or extended time at home; but, I’m not sure I have read anything that offers guidance on how to navigate adjusting to a reduced schedule of work hours after years of living and breathing a full time schedule. I think it’s time to break the silence and start a conversation. Let’s talk about the challenges of trying to adjust to abandoning the 40 hour work week!
This fall, I reduced my work schedule from 40 hours to 30 hours and shifted to having three days at home and two in the office. With having a daughter starting kindergarten and feeling a need to focus a bit more on family, making the decision to scale back seemed like a no-brainer. The schedule allows me the flexibility to maintain my same level at work and contribute in a significant way, but also have the availability to pick my daughter up from school, bring her to after-school activities, and be more present during our home time. (Unfortunately for my husband, this extra time has not included me deciding to take on cooking dinners…)
Considering that I have worked 40+ hours in an office for more than 15 years, you would think this changed schedule would feel like a blessing; however, much to my surprise, negotiating how to stay connected to work while spending more time working remotely has been a huge challenge for me.
It has taken some work, some tears, and some soul-searching, but here is what I have learned in the four months that I have reduced my hours. Hopefully, this might help you too:
1. Curb the Guilt: It doesn’t matter what your reason is for asking for a flexible work arrangement. If you asked for it, there must be something important in your life prompting you to make the change. Whether it’s children, family, pets, personal sanity – whatever – it’s important. Just because one of your colleagues has 19 kids, two family members needing around-the-clock care, sits on a board, and runs a marathon every week and still manages to come into the office five days a week doesn’t mean her schedule will work for you too. Everyone has their own definition of balance. In order to be successful, you’ll have to start learning how to focus on yourself, and stop comparing yourself to others (refer to point #2 in my recent post: Why the Sandwich Generation Needs Yoga).
2. Own It: There’s nothing worse than reducing your hours (and pay) to only feel that you are still working full time and getting paid less for it. If you want a reduced schedule, you will also have to take ownership of ensuring your actual work time stays reduced. This will mean physically shutting down your computer during your off hours, resisting the urge to constantly check your blackberry, and being vigilant with updating your calendar with your actual working hours so that meetings do not get scheduled during your personal time. No one will do this for you. In fact, if you bend the rules on your availability too often, people will not remember you work a reduced schedule. You, and you alone, own this!
3. Make Your Office Time Count: Be smart about how you spend your time in the office. Reserve this time for one-on-ones, important meetings, and the crucial “walk around”. “Walk around” is a term I use meaning: planned time to physically get up and out of my chair, and walk around the office so that I have a chance to personally connect with my colleagues. This time is critical for maintaining and building relationships – something that can easily get lost when you spend time in a remote office.
4. “To Do’s” Will Become “To Morrow’s”: Get ready for it – reducing your hours will mean that things on your “to do” list won’t get done. There. I said it. Does it make you cringe? I don’t care how amazing and perfectionist and efficient you are. You will have to leave things untouched and get to them the next day or the next week. If your day finishes while many of your colleagues are still working, you WILL get emails asking for your action or response. You WILL have to learn what can wait until tomorrow, and what will warrant you sending a quick message.
5. Remember the Purpose: There was a reason you asked for a reduced schedule or more time at home. When you are not working be present and remember the purpose of your changed routine. It’s a gift to have extra time – use it wisely, and don’t be distracted by what you haven’t done, or the feelings of not being good enough, or the guilt of changing your schedule. I have experienced all of those things, and it is a battle to maintain my equilibrium – but all I have to do is look at my daughter and then I remember why I’ve made these choices and I find some peace.
Changing your schedule is arguably as challenging as returning to work after having a baby. Remembering to be kind to yourself (and then practicing that kindness) is crucial in surviving the first months. If all else fails, make a list every once in a while of the things that ROCK about having more time at home: 1) I get to wear yoga pants all day, 2) I see my dogs more, 3) I avoid that crazy commute, 4) I can listen to 80s music without having colleagues laugh at me, and 5) My laundry actually gets done!