work-life balance

Eight Work-Life Balance Hacks of a Traveling Saleswoman

I lead a global Sales and Client Services team that is predominantly based in New York. I live in Atlanta. Not surprising, I travel A LOT – usually three to four days every week. As a wife and mother of three children under 11, I’ve spent the past several years living the work-life balance struggles that dominate working mother forums.

I enjoy the travel, love my work and benefit from a supportive husband, employer and community of friends. That said, learning how to juggle professional and personal obligations has been a difficult journey at times. Though a continuous work in progress, my experience has lead me to develop the following “hacks” for striking work-life balance as a traveling saleswoman.

1. Adapt a sprint-work model

When you work with a trainer at a gym, they may have you do 20 minutes of intense cardio buffered with less intense cardio activities. This workout model ensures maximum impact and keeps you from overworking yourself and burning out, while still being effective. This is how I look at my working life.

When I’m away from home for work, that’s my sprint. I begin early in the morning and stay late working at the office. (I am the person whose laptop springs open the moment the 10,000 ft “ding” is heard on even early morning and late night flights!) When I’m home, I work a more natural workday, shutting down when it’s time to pick the kids up from school and through bedtime. I will check email and respond to texts if something time sensitive is happening, but for all practical purposes my laptop is stowed away so I can be mentally, not just physically, present for my family.

I also make efforts to stagger my travel to ensure I’m home for a consecutive 4-5 days at a time. Client meetings and conference schedules don’t always allow perfect cadence, but being mindful of the length of time spent home helps me stay fresh and present for both work and family without getting overwhelmed by either.

2. Make FaceTime and text messages more fun and personal

FaceTime and text is an integral part of any traveling parents communication. Unfortunately, it’s easy for these tools to become basic utilities used to say “good night” and manage grocery store lists. To combat that, I try to make location, timing and topics of calls more interesting.

For example, I’ll FaceTime from a park near my company’s New York office so I can show my kids the musicians, dogs or other interesting visuals. We FaceTime in the morning as my husband drives them to school. We’ll sing whatever song my four year old is obsessed with piping through Spotify. Last week I FaceTimed from a conference I was attending in Palm Springs which spawned a fun debate with my son about how grass (visible in the background from the resort’s golf course) could grow in the desert. FaceTime is so much more than a video app for us!

I also text photos of me in my day-to-day so my family can see where I am and who I am with, whether it be an event I attend or lunch with a coworker. That way instead of the kids feeling like my time away from home is something completely removed from their lives, they can join in on the experience. By staying in close communication with my family during my travels, I feel like I’m still part of family life, and my transition from place to place is as seamless as possible.

3. Draw boundaries firmly, especially for events most sacred to kids

For me, there are some family events that are sacred: birthdays, holidays such as Halloween, and school recitals, for example. I absolutely will not schedule an away from home work event on those days, even if it’s supposedly the only time a client can meet. Birthdays are a given, but even presence at events like the science fair or annual school play mean so much to children and are events I refuse to miss. I draw that hard line and actually stick to it so that I can be there for my family for the most important moments. Once you do that, you set a precedent for retaining control over your own schedule.

I give myself plenty of buffer when traveling around these events as well, making a point to be home at least the day before an actual event in order to avoid the potential devastating impact of a travel delay. Unfortunately, this is something I learned the hard way a couple of years ago when I experienced ‘all flights cancelled’ due to blizzard conditions in the Northeast. My lack of planning caused me to miss my seven year old’s school recital and left me teary eyed at LaGuardia Airport as I spent hours trying to find alternatives home to no avail. Needless to say, I watch weather reports with even greater vigilance than before.

4. When home, be 100% present

When I work, I’m constantly plugged in to provide support to my team. But when I’m at home, I unplug outside of normal working hours so that I can be fully present for my family. I’m content to spend all of my time at home with my family on weekends—soccer games, girl scout outings, visits to the grocery store, etc. It goes back to the sprint-work model. I do intense work followed by intense family time. Keeping the two domains separate allows me to gain the most out of the time I spend in either and prevents burnout.

This is a great benefit for my husband, who can enjoy his own recreational time when I’m at home. Since I depend on him to keep everything together while I’m away, while also juggling his own career, I want to return the favor.

5. Set reasonable expectations for yourself outside of work

When it comes to home-life responsibilities like the PTA, I’m careful to set fair expectations, while also making an effort to be involved. I let my kids and other parents know that while I can’t take ownership of a responsibility that requires ongoing attention, I can commit to volunteering for one event per year per child – one field trip, school party or after school club outing. I’m also a volunteer for a school fundraising committee that requires me to count donations once a year. I want my kids to know that I care about what’s going on at their school – I like to contribute!

If you’re the type of person to volunteer for everything, it’s important to set boundaries that work for you. And learn to say no.

6. Let the small things go

Like a lot of women, I want to both be master of the house and excellent at my job. But succeeding in either means letting some things go. So while I love the idea of hosting a beautifully themed birthday party for my kids, sometimes that’s just not in the cards. I’ve learned to be okay with outsourcing the birthday party to the bounce house place. Less stress, and the cleanup is not left to me and my husband.

Similarly, it’s perfectly fine to order takeout more frequently that you would like during particularly busy times. Accept the fact that the house isn’t going to be in perfect order all the time. Instagram and Pinterest culture has convinced us that everything has to be DIY, picture-perfect, and broadcasted for your network to see.  But how important are the likes and the details in the long-run?

Find peace in not sweating the small stuff, at risk of getting caught up in the details and losing sight of your long-term goals. For me, it helps to keep in mind that this moment is just one moment in time. I tell myself that the compromises and time apart I experience now won’t be here forever. I have a long-term plan and that’s all for my family. With that in mind, it’s okay to cut corners on the things that won’t matter in the long-run.

7. Find time for yourself

While I spend a lot of time juggling both work and family, I find small ways to squeeze in “me time.” I’ve found that it’s hard for me to go straight from the office to a hotel while I’m away. Instead, I often take an hour over a solo dinner to relax between office and hotel. It’s a buffer between work and transitioning into reconnecting with my family. I like having that time to myself.

I also find that plane travel presents quiet time perfect for decompressing. When I’m on a plane, I enjoy music, read news, and listen to audiobooks. Those times are useful for me, and help me stay centered. Occasionally, I’ll take a half day off so I can rejuvenate with a facial/spa treatment.

8. Recognize when you need help and ask for it

A byproduct of being an overachiever is taking on too much. There are times when I realize I said “yes” to too many projects, whether they’re personal or professional. As much as I would like to think I can be Wonder Woman, I am reminded that she is a fictional character. I have gotten better at managing boundaries and not taking on too much responsibility. But still find myself recognizing that I over-committed. Asking for help from family, friends or co-workers doesn’t come naturally to me, but I have learned to have greater humility in doing so over the years. More importantly, doing so helps me avoid overextending in the future by being more mindful of my own limitations.

Final Words

While these practices help me find work-life balance, the biggest thing is to keep everything in perspective. It’s critical to understand how your sacrifices will serve your long-term professional goals and ultimately impacts your family. That helps me to live my sometimes hectic life with a strong sense of purpose and balance.