On Monday, I did two seemingly contradictory things. First, since my kids had the day off school (we get the major Jewish holidays off in our district), I took much of the time they would have been in school off work. Second, I worked close to a full day.
This was possible through the miracle of work/life integration. In the morning, after I did about half an hour of email and logistics and scheduling, G (nanny) and I loaded the kids in the van and drove to the zoo. The big kids got to do a camel ride, which possibly made me the fun parent, given that my husband refused when he went to the zoo with them recently. We came home by noon, when I had a half hour conference call. My brother and his kids were visiting Villanova University (as a potential college for one of his sons), so they stopped by around 1 p.m. I left for the airport at 1:55, and arrived and got through security by 2:40. From that point on, I was working, making phone calls while in the gate area, and then doing email and writing various things while on the plane. I logged about 2.5 hours of work before landing and walking through the airport. I took Uber to my hotel (the Gaylord Opry – that is one crazy place!). Then, once in my hotel room at 5 p.m. central time, I started working again. I tackled the more intense stuff first, then I went to dinner, and did the lower intensity stuff after.
By the time I went to bed, I’d logged about 7 hours for the day, which is the equivalent of working 9-5 with normal length breaks. This was interspersed with seeing tigers and flamingos and hearing from my brother about my niece’s adjustment to college life. Some things I do must be done at a specific time and place. To give two speeches in Nashville I had to be in Nashville at the place my audience expected me to be. But because much of the kind of work I do does not need to be done at a certain time and place, it is possible to work reasonable hours and still fit in a lot of personal stuff too.
This provides a segue into one of the more interesting stories in the Working Mother 100 Best Companies list package, which was released last week. My friend Katherine Lewis wrote about why there were so many professional service firms (e.g. consulting and accounting firms) near the top of the list. Many of these firms are known for frequent travel and grueling hours. None of that seems all that great for working moms, or anyone who might want a personal life.
But the reality is more complex. Especially after the first 3-4 years in many of these places, you can be contributing to multiple projects. That means you go to meetings at various places, but you generally don’t have to be in an office during set hours. You have to meet very demanding standards, but you get a fair amount of control over your schedule as you meet your various clients’ and teams’ needs. When you are unavailable for a phone call, is it because you are meeting a client? Or are you on a plane to visit a different client? Maybe. Or maybe you’re at the zoo. The flexibility to move work around means that personal stuff can happen even as the hours add up. People who read I Know How She Does It will recall Vanessa Chan, who worked 60+ hours the week she logged, but also worked out, went to her daughters’ dentist appointment, hung out at their school for a while, had a coffee date with her husband, had family game night, went skiing, etc.
If work must be done at certain times, and home is home, the only way to do the personal things that must happen during 9-5 M-F is to work less. That is an option, but it is not the only option. In general, much work, even entrepreneurial work, benefits from putting in a reasonable number of hours. I can tell myself that my hours are far more efficient than corporate hours — which is probably true — but I know when I cut my hours too much I stop doing much marketing and networking and, for that matter, practicing my speeches. These things are all investments in keeping me going for the long term. I also know that working reasonably long hours does not keep me from going to the zoo when the kids have the day off. These things are not either/or as long as, in the mosaic of life, you can move the tiles around.
In other news: I spoke today at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women. It was a lot of fun! We had several hundred women in my solo session on my favorite time management practices. If you heard me speak today and have come by to visit, welcome! If you’re looking for my time tracking spreadsheet, you can download directly by using this link.