Scheduling time off
As we get into this holiday season, I’m here to remind you that scheduling time off (and self care) is your easiest path toward a relaxing and enjoyable holiday.
We spend a lot of time on here talking about the best way for you to be a great proposal writer or manager or business development professional. That’s all well and good - we can all use tips and tricks to make our work higher quality and more efficient. But in a world where business development professionals are chewed up and spit out every two years, I know that you need more than that from us.
So I’m here to tell you a couple of stories about how I survived the battle between my personal and professional self.
There is no such thing as work/life balance. First off, there shouldn’t be a balance between your work and your life. Your work should only be one component in your otherwise full life. If you feel like your life and your work aren’t the same thing, something is wrong with how you are bifurcating your life and that might be worth reevaluating.
That said, I know that being a business development professional - with all the deadlines and stress and targets - the holiday season can be particularly challenging.
Make a values list
The first time I realized how my work and my family were going to pull me in different directions was the day my sister went into labor with her first child in Washington state. I had vaguely thought that I would want to be there, but it didn’t hit me until I heard it was happening. I was in Baltimore, MD in the middle of a multi-day business development planning meeting during my first year with the company. I remember doing some quick googling and as soon as we hit a break, I approached my boss. I wanted to be on the first flight out that night. I’d make myself available to conference in to the subsequent planning days. I simply told her, “if I don’t go I’m going to regret it forever.” Honestly, I’m incredibly grateful for having a supportive boss in that moment. I was on a plane that night and holding my brand new niece by the next morning.
That was the first time it hit me that I had strong core values and that if I didn’t fight for them I would not be a happy person. Being near my family for big occasions is one of those values. Over the past seven years I’ve made it out for every birth and every first birthday and every special holiday. That isn’t negotiable to me.
Think about what went wrong
Now is a great time to think about the last holiday you planned. What didn’t go to plan? Did you schedule time off, only to get assigned to a project that overlapped with your vacation? Did you swear you weren’t going to check email, and then spend an hour on your laptop every day? Did you simply feel guilty being away from your team while others were working? Did you end up missing a big event because a deadline wasn’t met?
All of these feelings are valid. But if you don’t want to live feeling that way, you don’t have to. Look at each of those things that made your last holiday so difficult. Then write down three strategies you can put in place so that the same thing doesn’t happen again. If you are worried about a deadline cutting into family time, schedule extra cushion and make it very clear to the person concerned that the deadline is absolutely necessary.
Merging your values with your boundaries is key. Just like in my example above, I knew that I needed to be with my sister. But I also knew our team planning meeting was important. I figured out that as long as I could be there holding my new niece, I wasn’t concerned about calling into a meeting at 6 am local time. That was totally within my boundaries, and me being up front about that balance helped me make the argument to my boss.
Schedule your priorities
All my proposal coordinators out there know that if you don’t schedule something, it’s never going to happen. That means scheduling time off. Whether it’s getting your time off request in at work as early as possible, or setting aside time for a regular self care ritual while you’re spending time with family and friends, schedule what you need to feel your best.
Last year when I went to visit family during the holidays, I made a deal with myself that I was going to keep up some active movement while I was there. I regularly take a yoga or pilates class, so I searched out local studios and scheduled in some classes. Having that little set aside reminded me of who I am and what I value, which made me a better and more present person when I was spending time with the kiddos (it also helped my back hold up to wrestling).
Fight off the time suckers
I’d also recommend blocking those times most precious to you on your work calendar. But it’s not enough to block the time. Then you have to practice defending it! Whether well intentioned or not, there are always people who will attempt to get you to move around things on your calendar, and practicing when and how to say no is a very valuable skill. I’d recommend identifying those absolute no-gos for yourself. If it’s no meetings after 6 so you can spend time with your family - do. not. cave. If it’s making sure you don’t have to get on both a 9 pm call and an 8 am call the next day - make it happen.
The important element here is to make it clear to others why you are setting those boundaries. They may not always understand, but your behavior in setting specific boundaries makes it easier for other people to set their own boundaries.
(It should go without saying - but respect other people's boundaries! They also deserve to have as close to the life balance that they are striving for and whatever you can do to enable that, the better.)
As we get further and further into the holiday season, it’s going to feel harder and harder to hold the ground you’ve carved out for yourself. That’s why I’d recommend practicing holding that space for yourself year round. Once you’re in the practice of setting boundaries, you’ll feel more prepared to defend them at the most challenging times of year.
Best wishes for a holiday season free of guilt and stress.