ORGANIZED WORKING HOMEMAKER

I was a working professional earlier but 10 years ago due to personal reasons I quit and became a full-time homemaker. Last year I tried doing some work from home assignments but it didn’t work out satisfactorily. Now after a huge gap of 10 years I started working at a school.

And I tell you my confidence in myself was very low. All sorts of apprehensions were there in my mind both on the work front and the home front. And my biggest worry was “How will I manage both together? Both the fronts being equally demanding.”

Let me share whatever little I learnt.

  • Compartmentalize:

This is the first thing I learnt when I started working again. My work life and personal life are two compartments in my head. When I am at work I leave all my worries about home in the other compartment. And at home, I don’t worry about my school work, students etc because I think if you have to give your hundred per cent to something then all your thoughts should be centred on that. This has come naturally to me. As in school we teachers are away from our phones most of the time, its only after the students leave that we can use our phones so the distraction is not there. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule like if someone in the family is not well at home then you need to check on that person from time to time. Or vice versa, being a pre-primary teacher there is a lot of craft work to be done and at times I need to bring craft work home to complete. But still, I try that they remain the exceptions and not become a practice.

  • Plan Ahead:

This I tell you is the most important rule. And most difficult for me to implement. I have always been a last minute person. I could never make timetables and plans and if I made I wouldn’t be able to stick to them. But I realised the importance of this when I joined the school. Here we have weekly plans for all subject and all topics are divided so that we are able to cover them through the week. I realised how easy life becomes when you plan the whole week. Life is sorted, everyday morning we just need to check the work for the day and move ahead. Every time need not worry about the big picture. I am trying to implement this kind of planning at home also. If the menu etc is set for the week then groceries can be bought at one go during the weekend and last minute rushing to the supermarket can be avoided. Saves a lot of time and headaches. This project of mine is still work in progress but I have met a few homemakers who plan menus etc in advance and it really works for them.

  • Build a support system

If you are a working professional and have children at home you need a support system. I have two teenaged kids ideally they should have been pretty independent by now. But maybe me being at home has made them quiet dependent on me. Now I am working on making them responsible for their own work as I am not always around to help them. I am blessed to have my parents-in-laws staying with me who help in making my house run like clockwork even in my absence. Your husband, other members of your family, your friends and your maid they are all part of your support system. Build a strong connection with them. A strong support system is very necessary for a worry-free work life.

I am sure all the other working mothers would be able to add a lot more to my list I am still learning and discovering new rules of being a working homemaker. It is tough at times but still at the end of the day makes me feel satisfied that I am known by my name also not only as mother of so and so or wife of so and so.

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HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR WORK LIFE BETTER

Strange, that I am writing this article now when my work-life is so much of a mess. There are emails to be sent, clarifications to be made, multiple releases to be closed, issues to be fixed, customer complaints to be handles, plan for 2019 to be done and much more. This is usually the case every year end because there are just too many things to close for the current year. And the show stopper question is “Did we meet our year end targets?” Things that were ignored and postponed all through the year need to be closed before the magic date – 31st Dec (For us, it is 24th Dec because last week of the year is work shutdown).  

Well, how to organize the work-life? I am not talking about work-life balance here because that is a different story all-together. I am only talking about managing work within working hours.

I am fortunate enough to work for an organization that has amazing work-culture. We can avail enough opportunities to manage our work life balance. Targets are flexible, negotiations are easy and deadlines are strict but are not insane. Something amazing happens when the organization gives its employees the ownership to manage their own work – employees are empowered and motivated to do the work and never really take advantage of a flexible work culture. That is what happens with me and my team. We have the option to work from home and take unlimited sick leaves. However, I hardly see people take undue advantage of it.

1. Ownership

Ownership is the key ingredient to manage your work life well. If you are not given ownership or you are not willing to take ownership – you cannot climb the ladder. Go beyond what is expected out of you. Take control of your career. Like one of my mentors always says – “Do not ask your manager, what is the next role for me. Figure it out yourself and if nothing existing invites you, then create a new role”. The very obvious question comes, “How can I create a role in an already established organization”. The answer is very simple, there are always problems. Identify the problems of your customers, peers, managers, subordinates and pick one and start solving it – in no time you have created a role for yourself. If you really create value, people around will see it and appreciate it.

So ownership is the key. Not just in your current role but go beyond what is expected out of you. See ahead what is next for you and create your own roles.

2. Time- management

Find a tool for time-management that works the best for you – it could even be a simple To-do list, need not be complicated tool. But have something that works and motivates you. If you do not have such a tool, you would invariably always end up working on wrong things. And if you really want to be able to spend no more than 8 hours at your work – time management tool is a must.

I am a Product Owner and one of the key responsibilities of my role is to set the priorities for my team members. Indirectly, I am sort of doing time management for my team which is 6-7 people. Sometimes, it drives me crazy. If I don’t do my job properly, the whole team will end up working on something that nobody needs, which is indeed a big disaster.

3. Urgent work vs. Important work

This is an important matrix that can help you decide what the right thing to work on is.

First quadrant shows work that is urgent and important. While working on these we are usually in the fire-fighting mode. If you spend too much time in this quadrant – you will end up stressed out.

Second quadrant is the place where ideally you must spend most of your time.

Third quadrant is the work that is urgent but not important. This is the kind of work that you should be able to delegate or decline.

Fourth quadrant is the work that is not urgent or important. Try to eliminate this kind of work as much possible.

4. Communication

It is very true that human beings are experts in partial listening. We listen/read only what we want to listen or read. This creates a huge barrier called miscommunication. Multiple options can be used to resolve this problem – always summarize the agreements at the end of each meeting, send out minutes of meetings at the end, when in doubt ask and ask more and keep the emails limited to the people who really need to know things. There are a lot of other ways also.

The key here is that when you listen, listen clearly. Do not already start thinking of your own response. When you speak, speak clearly. Ask and ask again, summarize to ensure that communication has happened like it should have.

5. Think win-win

Like every other relationship, trust and respect forms the foundation of your work relationships as well. The key to succeed to think win-win. If you want to step over somebody to get to higher position, then chances are that you too will get stepped upon. Think of making your team win and think of ways to make each person that you work with get to higher and better position. This would help create a healthy work culture in the organization or the team, which works for everybody in the long run.

There are many more that can be listed down. But these are the primary ones that each person working in a professional environment must keep in mind.

All the best for your endeavors!

WHEN PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL LIVES COLLIDE

Many of us lead two lives – personal and professional. Our day is split between these two lives. The two sides of us are so intertwined that a problem with one without a doubt affects the other. Small disturbances like occasional fights with significant other, kids falling sick as well might affect us at work temporarily. Can something more severe in degree take away our concentration and dedication towards work? It might be the death of a family member, end of a friendship, breakup or a family member suffering from an illness like cancer. The answer to this mostly depends on whether or not we are passionate about what we do. If we are passionate, we won’t give up on the job but find a way to deal with it.

The last three years of my life had three negative moments which were very personal. The pain of those is still there in me, deep down. There are days at work when I am sitting at my desk with tears rolling down. During that time, I can hardly concentrate on whatever I am doing. I must agree that emotions can engulf us at any time. If the pain is unbearable, I walk up to the restroom, have personal time to cry out. It is very important to acknowledge but not resist the confrontation to our own feelings. It is better to let them out. Shed the tears, holding on to them could be counterproductive.

Some days are a little worse. Either I would have had a bad dream or wake up and feel very low. I pull myself out of the bed, walk up to my plants, water them, talk to them and sometimes I just break down before them. I know that unlike pets, plants cannot understand us, but there is no other soul who I can talk to. Such days when I cannot control my thoughts, I usually opt to take leave from work. It certainly helps to sort out the thoughts and return back to work with clearer self the day after. It would always help to take a break from work, not a long one, but a day or two does benefit us in many ways.

There is one more thing that really helped me over time. Disconnection from social media. It is better to have lesser distractions when we are already fighting to concentrate. Not only that, say, for example, you had a break-up. A few days later your ex posts a picture, is it really important to see that? I don’t really think so. Once we give up on someone or they give up on us, it is always better to let them go not just from life but from the radar of our attention. We don’t really need to spend our valuable time on someone who doesn’t really value us.

Most of the times I pulled it through but there was a time when I just could not deliver at work. I was feeling very guilty. At the same time, I did not think it was appropriate to talk to any of my colleague’s. I was struggling, literally, nothing was working. I could not read a design document or a requirement document to understand them. After some time, I thought it might be better for me to resign, sit at home and return back to work when I feel better. I walked up to my manager’s cabin to tell him to accept my resignation. I tried once, twice but I couldn’t do it, my inner voice was shouting at me to just do it. I finally gathered courage and told my manager the decision. He did not react much but listened to my problem with great interest. He said, “You know what, while I agree that you need a break, I do not agree that you need to resign. This weekend please sleep well, take good care of yourself and we shall talk on Monday”. In our next meeting, he said many encouraging words and gave me feedback which brought me back on track. That is when I understood he was observing me. Our managers/supervisors are not always our go-to people, but they have the right to know why we have been under performing. A good leader would show the right path, so, it is always better to talk to them. We have to be careful about how much we let them into our personal territory.

While on the personal front things weren’t good, things weren’t great at work either. No person used to talk to me (I was new in the team). People had their own doubts on me. Every design of mine was going through several levels of scrutiny. My ideas weren’t even seconded by another person. The problems I raised were unheard. There was neither recognition nor a word of encouragement. I had been through a lot to prove what I am capable of.

From leading one crucial module in our product, two years down the line, today I am technically responsible for the entire platform we are creating for our new line of products. There is an onus on me to deliver. I work for a healthcare company, the first thing I see in the morning is a visual of a happy mother holding her newborn (Imagined visual). The joy in the moms’ eyes keeps me going, on and on. This is possible only because I am passionate about what I do. No matter what happens, how many people say that I should leave my job to get back to my family, my job brings satisfaction to me. I do not need another person to acknowledge how good I am, the added responsibilities at work speak for themselves!!

ARE YOUR EMOTIONS RUNNING THE SHOW ?

Six months ago….

After a long day at work, I was waiting for my manager in his cabin. It was 8.10 PM and I was in a mood to close the 1-1 as soon as possible with him and get back home.

He came in, was quite serious. “You seem to have lost your rhythm at work. You have grown to be irresponsible. You haven’t been concentrating on the quality and there is no transparency with you. I am forced to question your dedication, commitment and your willingness to work along with this team. I was not expecting this from you.” – This was only the gist of what he said. It was one-sided conversation for more than 40 minutes, all of it in negative and I did not utter a word in-between.

By the end of the conversation I was feeling as if I am dead and strongly felt the need to introspect. If my manager is saying all this, there must be a reason. I couldn’t sleep the entire night; this is the first ever time he has displayed disappointment. In fact, the very first time anyone has, in my entire career. I was very upset with myself.

After a couple of days of this conversation, I was at home when my phone rang – my manager. It was almost 10 PM and I wondered what complaints he has at this hour of the day, “Please, not again!” was my thought.

“I am sorry Aastha. I am quite disturbed from the day we had our 1-1. I am very sorry for all that I said. Can we meet for lunch tomorrow?”, said he. I agreed.

Our conversation during lunch the next day:

Him: “I didn’t mean to hurt you or I never meant anything of what I said. I tried to irritate you a lot during our last 1-1 and it was deliberate. I was studying your facial expressions and expected you to react and at least defend yourself. Why didn’t you react?”

Me: “You were giving me feedback. Either you learnt about me from someone or you have observed the change in me over time. Negative feedback isn’t bad.”

Him:  “You weren’t even angry. I could guess you were upset, but that’s all. I am actually confused now.”

Me: “What is that you are confused about?”

Him:  “If the same would have happened between you and your Architect?”

Me: “Now, I understand where you are coming from. I would react and I have reacted too”

Him:  “Why didn’t you react in the conversation between us?”

Me: “That’s because I respect your opinion”

Him: “You came and told me that you lost your temper. I also got to know that you apologized to your architect for the same, but I fail to understand why is it that you cannot handle him ? You are quite balanced, this is surprising to me.”

This conversation triggered a lot of thoughts in me. Yes, I do agree that I lost it, lost it completely. I have been listening to continuous blames and taking a lot of insult. This wasn’t in a closed room or a face to face discussion, but a lot of people were involved. Lack of trust can piss off anyone and so was it with me. A fine mix of all of these feelings boxed in me over a period of time result in the ‘REACTION’. I was not happy with myself, but what’s wrong with me ?

If we observe carefully, very often it is the person or the place more than what he/she said. Either we love the other person and weren’t expecting such statements or we dislike the other person and cannot stand what he/she said. If it’s a public place, that’s worse. In either of these situations, we are on extremes. Because in ‘that moment’ our response has nothing to do with logic, understanding or intelligence and everything to do with emotion (insecurity, anger, fear, resentment). We don’t actually think, consider or plan, we just react. When our emotions are so deep rooted it is hard to not react. It takes time to gain willful control over our emotions and more importantly holding on to the impulse to not react.

“What made me react ?” –  This is the very first question we should be asking ourselves when we realise we reacted. Once we know the why’s that have been controlling our emotions, it is easier to handle them. Find out your why’s, that’s the key !!

I asked myself if there is anything I can do to make the situation better ? Once I realised that my architect is hopeless, I gave up on him. I barely talk with him, I don’t find it very necessary because it is impacting me in negative ways. My life at work is more sorted out now and to my surprise my architect came back to me asking, “Why haven’t you been voicing out your opinion, you should”. I know his intentions, and I am not gonna fall prey again …

Let’s be a little honest here, even after we react, we try to handle the situation by responding. Because a thoughtful response is the only way to make things better. As we learn this, we would tend to prefer responding than reacting.