As a ‘single’ working parent my presence in the office is confined to the hours of my daycare. However, as a professional there is an assumption of availability that I need to maintain to continue to be regarded as being able to take on responsibilities at my workplace. Although I don’t subscribe to the belief myself, I recognize that this is culture of my workplace and have taken measures to work around it.
1. Control your workflow. The most important thing is to get as much control over your workflow as possible so that you can manage your time. For example, I have set up my work with deadlines and then have weekly meetings with my boss to go over the status of my deliverables. This way he has input into prioritizing which components are most important, but I have control over my day. Having this list of priorities also helps when dealing with additional work that crops up. If some new crisis lands in my lap, I simply pick one or some of the items off my list and suggest I defer these so I can concentrate my efforts on the new crisis. I never suggest working overtime to achieve it all.
2. Leave a buffer in your calendar. I block the first hour and the last hour of my calendar so that if anyone is trying to make a meeting with me it shows as busy. I do this for three reasons. I block the first hour so that if something goes wrong (and it often does) in the morning I am not panicking because I am going to be late for a meeting. I block the last hour of the day so if the meeting runs over (and it often does) I am not worried about being late to pick up my kids from daycare. The third reason I do it is give myself time to work uninterrupted while still being ‘available’ and seen during the core hours of the day.
3. Get your most important work done in the morning. You never know when you are going to be pulled away from work for a sick child or a ‘crisis’ at work is going to land on your plate. For this reason, I always do the most important things I need accomplish first thing in the morning.
4. Delegate and give credit. If you have control over your workflow (see #1) don not be afraid to delegate to your team. If there are people on your team that are better at a task than you, assign it to them and give them credit for doing it. We are not all good at everything and letting your team work on the things where they are most skilled saves everyone time and frees up your schedule. Your boss probably doesn’t care who does it as long as it gets done properly and on time. In my previous role one the responsibilities of my team was forecasting. I had a member of my team that loved data modelling so I gave the forecast to him and simply monitored the results. I then invited him to the senior executive meetings where I presented the forecast and informed them that he was responsible for creating the successful model. Everyone was happy.
5. Don’t offer too much information. I was on a committee at work that needed to extend a meeting after hours. A male coworker said that he had to leave because he was taking his daughter to gymnastics. After he left everyone was remarking on what a great dad he was, etc. A few weeks later the meeting needed to be extended again, but this time it was a female worker who couldn’t stay because she needed pick up her kids at daycare. After she left some members of the team shared ‘knowing looks’ and one made a comment regarding how hard difficult it is for the woman who left to maintain ‘work-life balance.’ I didn’t have children at the time, but was enraged on her behalf. I pointed out that it was fascinating how for the same situation one person was a good parent and the other had ‘work-life balance’ issues. There were a few red faces and it taught me a lesson about sharing too much information. You cannot know all of the personal biases of your co-workers, so I never offer up a reason for declining a meeting unless I am absolutely compelled to do so. My standard line is “I would love to…but I have a conflict.” Most people have enough social grace not to push for further details.
6. Have a back-up plan. If there are duties at work that you absolutely must perform make a back up plan in advance. My parents live out of town, but visit often. If I have to give a presentation at work, I will ask them to time their visit to be here that day so if one of the boys get sick or hurt at daycare they can pick them up for me. I also script my presentations and identify someone who can speak to it in case of emergency.
7. Self-promote. In my department people tend to get wield fire fighting the latest last minute crisis as a badge of honour and are often rewarded for staying late to fix the problem. In my current situation, I cannot be a fire fighter, so those weekly meetings with my boss…I use some of that time to inform him of the steps that I have taken to prevent a crisis from occurring in the first place.
8. Be on good terms with everyone. People want to work with people who are easy to work with. Play nice with others and people will want you on their team even if you have time constraints.Get out of your cubicle and talk to your co-workers, especially those in different departments. Getting a different perspective on the company can give you new ideas make your own work more meaningful. Also, having a broad network will help you get things done faster because you will know who to call in different areas of the company. For example, I have recently been assigned to lead a group in a very tedious and politically touchy project. The individuals working on the project will need to do this in addition to their regular duties. My boss shared the list of potential participants with me and said he didn’t know half the people so how could we cold call them ask them to help out. I looked at the list and I said I would call them…I knew them all.
9. Get rid of the guilt. We all have demands on our time. Do not feel guilty because you cannot take something on or stay late. Do your best work and leave the guilt behind.
10. Keep your commitments. Most people care less about how long you are at the office and more about the quality of the work you deliver and that you deliver it on time. Ensure that you can make a deadline before you commit to it and if it does go off the rails send up the alert as soon as possible.