Keeping a Steady Pace: Balancing work, volunteering, and family life
Derek Yorek was a complete stranger until he appeared on television this year, leading the world-famous Boston Marathon at mile one. He savored his accomplishment for literally five minutes of glory; then suffered for three endless hours until he crossed the finish line.
One doesn’t have to be a marathoner to know that pushing oneself to the limit from the very beginning is rarely the best approach. But we tend to quickly forget about these words of wisdom, until we find ourselves gasping for air —whether figuratively or otherwise.
This is exactly where I found myself when January 1st 2015 arrived: I already had an agenda packed with plans, projects, and self-imposed expectations. I was ready to tackle them all, full of energy and enthusiasm.
I had made a big commitment to my local professional organization, ATIF, by assuming the role of Vice-president of the Interim Board. I was getting close to wrapping up the revamp and redesign of their website—a titanic task in itself that started in mid-2014, when I was still Secretary. Next up were all the plans for the upcoming ATA Conference here in Miami, where, naturally, our local chapter will play a big supporting role.
At the same time, I started to notice a shift in my client portfolio, and some local organizations approached me with rather interesting (should I say irresistible?) projects that demanded a lot of work, but have proven to be very rewarding experiences.
Perhaps the closest to my heart was the HistoryMiami museum exhibit, Operation Pedro Pan. This was a unique project where I had the opportunity to apply my subtitling skills, indulge in creative translations, and take advantage of my Cuban heritage when writing. The exhibition offers an interactive experience, unlike anything I’ve seen before. It was very exciting to see it all at opening night, as I had never had the opportunity to experience my work in 3-D (if you come to Miami, you’ll have to visit the exhibition to see what I mean!).
Aside from this professional-related landslide, I am also a wife and have two daughters, one of them in school. This translates into homework, playdates, extracurricular activities, and sometimes even volunteering or attending school functions, all of which I enjoy very much and wouldn’t miss for the world!
Have I mentioned I love cooking? Oh, yes, and I also like exercising, reading, and enrolling in the occasional online class.
Similar to what happened to Mr. Yorek, the fact that we have the ability to run close to the limit of our capacity doesn’t mean this is the best plan. After about three months, no matter how excited and happy I was with my accomplishments, I was already exhausted. This is when I took some time to rethink and redefine my strategy:
- Define your priorities. Ask yourself what is the most important thing in your life right now. (Hint: The answer doesn’t have to be business-oriented.) To identify my priorities, I applied a reverse approach: Instead of finding what I wanted to do, or what made me happy, I identified what made me unhappy at the end of the day, what caused that feeling of emptiness or dissatisfaction. That is what I was really craving for, that’s what I wanted. Our priorities change as we grow and go through different stages of life. But we must identify what these priorities are, and use this knowledge as the guiding principle of your life at this time. Try to limit your priorities to a manageable number (3 or 5, for example).
- Assign weight to these priorities in terms of time. Define the number of minutes or hours you want to allocate to each priority on a daily basis. For example, during my work day, I spend about 1-2 hours replying to emails, and I set aside at least 30 minutes of my day to do professional-related volunteer work (The Savvy Newcomer, ATIF).
- Use a time-tracking app. I downloaded the free version of RescueTime to help me keep track and see where my time was going while working. I am almost ashamed to admit I see RescueTime as my boss—when I have it running, I focus more and work more diligently, because I hate to see my daily averages dropping, or the red bars rising to indicate I’ve been wasting time. There are many other great tools like this to help you plan and achieve your time goals.
- Develop a daily routine. It’s hard to predict when the next big project will land in our email inbox. But it really helps to plan out at least the bare bones of your day to fill in with new projects, tasks, or the inevitable unexpected. I find that having a structure works best for me. Don’t forget to include in your daily routine some type of physical activity or another pastime you enjoy. This is your “me time” and this should be accounted for in your day.
- The unexpected happiness found in the word “no.” We should all set limits, but we must know what these are. When in doubt, it’s a good idea to revisit the priorities you set in #1. This doesn’t mean I immediately dismiss things I don’t want to do, but if after repeatedly trying I find that a certain project, company, or scenario isn’t working for me, I try to find a happy medium. If I still can’t solve the issue, then it’s best to free up my time for a more fulfilling experience.
After I completed this self-analysis and designed my game plan, I started to notice how—as if by magic—I had more time to do other things, even free time! I became more efficient and less stressed. Work hasn’t slowed down—in fact, we’re about eight weeks away from the ATA Conference, and things are starting to get hectic around here. There are still nights I have to work, but just by managing my time more effectively I get much more accomplished without neglecting my personal life.
As I compared my time-management strategy to that of Derek Yorek I realized we didn’t have as much in common as I initially thought: While he ran so that his family could see him on a TV screen, I want to sit on the couch with my girls reading stories with them or playing their favorite games.