In the event of a mid-flight emergency on a plane, oxygen masks drop out of compartments above the seats. This in itself would be terrifying. But, add to it the responsibility and stress of traveling with a child in such a crisis. Do you help the child first, by putting their mask on and making sure they are ok? Or, do you take care of yourself?
The flight attendants tell us to...put yourself first!
On the surface it sounds terribly selfish. You’re going to deprive your children sitting next to you of oxygen while you give yourself all you need? That’s right. If you spend precious time taking care of someone else and YOU pass out in the process, your usefulness is gone. Who knows what lies ahead in the moments to come. You are the best person to lead the child through this crisis, but, you need to be conscious to assist.
How to Know If You are Taking Care of Yourself First
In your role as a Project Manager or PMO Leader, are you giving, giving, giving to the point you become unconscious of and unavailable to others, whether colleagues, family or friends? It’s the oh-too-familiar conundrum of figuring out how to balance Work with Life.
Many have flipped the script and put Life before Work. That’s a good start, but there’s still much to do to get dialed into actual life experience. For example, a successful executive from a Fortune 200 company was asked if he had any regrets upon his retirement. “I didn’t spend enough time with my family,” he said. How sad. This person is now in their late 60s, his children are grown and gone, and there’s no way to recover that time. He made a lot of money at the expense of a lot of memories.
When do you know if you are striking the right work/life : life/work ratio? It’s different for everyone, but here’s a question to ask to see how you are doing.
- Does your job bring you joy and satisfaction, or stress and damage to your relationships?
If it’s the latter, your ratio is out of whack. You’re putting the oxygen mask on those around you first while you slowly slump over in your seat and pass out.
4 Ways to Take Care of Yourself First
If you are feeling a little light-headed from the stress of your position and its negative effects on your relationships, start with these 4 suggestions.
- Have a Separate, Dedicated Place to Work - COVID changed the way we work. Many project management or PMO professionals now can work from home, if not full-time, certainly a couple of days a week. Is the place you WORK at home the same place you relax, watch TV, or spend time with the family?
Candid glimpses into people’s home setups reveal a vast number of less-than-ideal environments. Professionals are conducting business at kitchen tables, or while leaning back on recliners, or even sprawled out on couches. If there isn’t a clear physical line between Work and Life, how can there be a clear mental line between Life and Work?
If you struggle in this area, consider heading back to the office. Not only will it give you a dedicated place to work, but the commute does wonders for processing and clearing your head for the day.
- Disconnect When at Home - See if you can put your phone down when you walk in the door and not pick it up until you leave the following morning. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Just try it. Project manager evenings are often filled with mindless tasks such as scrolling through work emails, seeing if anything new has come in or if something needs a response. Newsflash: 99.99% of the time everything can wait until the morning. If your manager needs something that badly, you’ll get a phone call.
- Increase Efficiency at Work - When you are at work, WORK. Work hard, work focused, and work efficiently. Focus on closure. It’s easy to get something 90% of the way complete, and then that final 10% takes up mental space in your head until it’s done. You’ll end up thinking about all those loose ends at home in the evenings, while scrolling through email.
Work on clearing your plate with 100% completion of one task, before moving onto the next. Don’t multitask. Block enough time to focus on one deliverable, and only work on that during that time. Project managers and PMO Leaders have the autonomy to structure how they work. Now, just bring the discipline to work that structure.
- Take Care of Yourself - Finally, you can physically and emotionally take care of yourself by exercising, eating right (preferably not at your desk) and connecting regularly with friends and family. Schedule a break during the day to take a walk and get out in the fresh air. Exercise first thing in the morning to make sure it happens. Treat these activities, including vacations, as non-negotiables. It’s your way of putting on your oxygen mask first so you can be able to help others.
It Comes Down to One Word
Most of us have to work. All of us have to live. Whatever you call this ratio of work to life, the key to doing both with no regrets is BALANCE. Work, but then do the things that bring you joy and satisfaction, be it traveling, hobbies, or time with friends and family. BE BALANCED.
Here’s a litmus test. If you lost your job tomorrow, what would your life look like? Would it be a blank slate with no hobbies, interests, friends and family? Or, would you say, “YES! I have more time to enjoy life, and be with friends and family.”
Just make sure to carve out some time to find your next job!