17 Top Administrators Reveal Secrets To Work-Life Balance

by Angel Britanico on October 2, 2015 and last updated on August 24, 2016

There is no such thing as a typical day for an administrator. It doesn’t matter which country or industry they are in—administrative professionals go over and above their job description, almost on a daily basis.

With work hours that go from exciting to exhausting in seconds, how do they juggle responsibilities both at home and at the office?

To find out, we asked the following questions to top consultants and assistants who worked for presidents, Fortune 500 executives, and non-profits:

  • What does work-life balance mean to you?
  • What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?
  • How do you achieve work-life balance (i.e., best practices, productivity hacks, apps)?

These women have built communities in the administrative services industry, with many of them giving back as motivational speakers, trainers and authors.

Click on the thumbnails below for more insights and experiences on work-life balance from each high-profile respondent.

1. Zelda la Grange

Former Assistant to President Nelson Mandela

  • The most valuable commodity of this century is time, and for one to be able to function at optimum productivity when needed, it is necessary that you create a space and opportunity to recharge.

Read more

2. Peggy Grande

Former EA to President Ronald Reagan

  • You get out of life what you put into it – physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. You must be “present” to win.
  • I believe in work-life PRESENCE – NOT work-life BALANCE. I seek to be present – not just to survive, but to thrive! Rather than living in a constant state of guilt about being “out of balance,” I seek to be my best by being present.

Read more

3. Bonnie Low-Kramen

Former PA to Actress Olympia Dukakis and Founder of The Ultimate Assistant

  • I am a person who believes that we can have it all. We just can’t do it alone. We absolutely need others.
  • I’m not a fan of excuses or blaming others for our situation. I want to approach life by shining a bright light on the problems and then gathering the smartest people I can find to talk out solutions.
  • We need to say what we need. Speaking up is the #1 challenge in the workplace and is the enemy of work-life balance. Too many stay silent when they know they should speak up.

Read more

02

4. Sue France

FCIPD, INLPTA, FInstAM and Owner at Sue France Training

  • You need to be proactive in seeking out ways to be efficient as well as effective through time management, stress management, building relationships and understanding yourself and other people.
  • Make sure you take brain breaks of at least a few minutes to revive your rational and logical thinking skills and be more productive.
  • If you ensure your boss has a good work-life balance, then you can expect to have a better work-life balance too.


Read more

5. Jennifer Magana

EA at Addepar and OfficeNinjas Ambassador

  • Life balance means making space for the time for myself. Time that is needed to rejuvenate, re-inspire, recharge, and refresh myself.
  • I have one dedicated Balance Day, where I work remotely on Friday.
  • I wake up, I intentionally start my day, I do not just jump out of bed… Rising with intention and gratitude is healthy.


Read more

6. Michele Thwaits

EA to President and Head of Africa Cluster at Novartis and President of PAFSA

  • Before I leave in the morning, there is an hour to spare – and normally in that hour I go through the loads of emails which have come through since I left the office the previous day, go through them, and make notes on what is to be done. That way when I get to the office, mails are done and I can just start off with whatever is on the list.


Read more

7. Kimberly Snodgrass

Former EA to Co-Founder of Asana and Founder of REACH

  • Take initiative to do more for executive. Take the lead once trust is built.
  • We are creatures of habit, so having SMART goals can change your life for the better and also provide clarity on your purpose in life.
  • I personally like to share my life and work goals with my colleagues so that we can all support one another and have ultimate transparency around deliverables and expectations.


Read more

8. Cheryl Larin

Senior EA to President and COO at Walters & Wolf

  • As far as challenges are concerned, get out of your own way! If I could give you one piece of advice that has repeatedly worked well for me over the years, use your resources.
  • Don’t be so busy that you allow life to pass you by.


Read more

9. Nomvula Violet Moloko

Director at Moloko Speakers and Associates – Mentoring and Coaching for Executive PAs

  • Work-life balance means my principles guide my priorities…Work is what I do — life is who I am.
  • Be an empowerer. Give people opportunities to grow by delegating some tasks where they wouldn’t ordinarily get an opportunity.


Read more

 

10. Joanne Linden

Chief EA at Synopsis and Master Trainer at AdminUniverse

  • Ask yourself, “If not done, will it lead to significant consequences?” If the answer is no, then it can wait until tomorrow.


11. Shonna Dawson

Senior EA to the President and CEO at Rambus

  • ”Look at the day in terms of hours available and tasks to complete. Now I organize my time based on tasks, and also when something can be done.


Read more

12. Denise Terbil

EA to Vice President of Network at Verizon Wireless

  • Work-life balance to me is finding that happy medium between my work and personal life. It is all about making choices and being able to accept things as is, while knowing that I have given it my all.
  • The most critical aspect of having a resource connection is remembering that paying back that support goes a long way in offering to help your peers on projects they need assistance with as well.


Read more

13. Linda McFarland

EA to the CEO at Sophos and Founder of Admin2Admin and Ascend2Success

  • Do you know your strengths? Use that information to help you determine your productivity limits.
  • As an administrative professional, I get interrupted all day long with various requests and tasks. What helps me is that I’ve determined certain times in the day when I am most productive. That’s when I do my focus projects and tasks.


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14. Julie Perrine

Founder and CEO at All Things Admin

  • I actually prefer the term work-life blend because I approach it like a recipe — you don’t need the exact same quantity of all the ingredients all the time. In fact, if you did have the same quantity it would be a disaster.
    Instead, I’m looking at what the right combination is for the situation.
  • I achieve my work-life blend by practicing focused self-care. This means challenging myself to do one thing each day to take care of myself – whether it’s an errand or a personal item that needs to be taken care of, or treating myself to something.


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15. Julia Schmidt

EA to CEO and CFO at Basefarm and Board Member of EUMA Norway

  • I have all meals daily, starting with a calm breakfast. Spending time to prepare food is crucial and one of my best ways to achieve work-life-balance.
  • My work-life balance “hack” is having an empty agenda on weekends. It gives me a lot of time to myself, my readings, long sleeping and “strolling-around-doing-nothing-moments.”


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16. Lucy Brazier

CEO of Marcham Publishing and Publisher of Executive Secretary Magazine

  • Because I am so passionate about my work it has blurred into the rest of my life somewhat. It doesn’t feel like work.
  • I travel – a lot! Last year I spoke at 173 events in 26 countries. All my time away could be classed as work but a lot of it is a joy! I get to meet so many extraordinary people and see places that I had only dreamed of.


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17. Anel Martin

Personal Assistant to the Managing Executive of Sales & Distribution (Consumer & Mobile) at Telkom SA

  • I don’t really believe there is such a thing as work-life balance, I think there is compromise and compensation. When one sphere of your life takes up time and energy you need to balance out the others when time allows. I do not believe that we can achieve perfect balance but I do think that we need to strive to look at our lives more holistically.
  • I make time to rest and also time to do things which are creative, this helps me to recharge myself and improves my productivity when I need to work again.


Read more

Responses

1. Zelda la Grange
Former Assistant to President Nelson Mandela 02

What does work-life balance mean to you?

Finding enough “down” or alone time in between busy periods and being selfish about that in order to recharge. The most valuable commodity of this century is time, and for one to be able to function at optimum productivity when needed, it is necessary that you create a space and opportunity to recharge.

What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?

My inability to say no to people.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

The only way to achieve this is to decide on rules and then to stick to it yourself. I’ve started by declaring my Sundays sacrosanct and will only see someone or do anything if I am one hundred percent certain that there is no alternative.

Back to Highlights

 

2. Peggy Grande — Former EA to President Ronald Reagan02

What does work-life balance mean to you?

We have all entered those drawings that say “must be present to win,” yet have you ever considered what great symbolism that has for life in general? You get out of life what you put into it – physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. You must be “present” to win – at the dinner table, in the board room, working alone at your computer or collaborating with peers.

There is so much talk today about work-life balance. I don’t know about you, but that puts a ton of pressure and guilt on me. Am I in balance? Am I out of balance? For most of us, due to the nature of our jobs, this is a tough question to ask ourselves because we know the answer before we can even focus on the question.

Which is why I believe in work-life PRESENCE – NOT work-life BALANCE. I seek to be present – not just to survive, but to thrive! Rather than living in a constant state of guilt about being “out of balance,” I seek to be my best by being present. So what does that mean?

Be present. Be where you are and Be There Fully. To me, work-life presence is all about being where you are and being there fully. When you are at work, be fully present at work, giving it your full time, energy, attention and focus. When you are home, set aside time to be present, fully focusing on the relationships and the responsibilities there.

What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?

As a business owner, speaker, writer, consultant and project manager, there are not enough hours in the day professionally. And as a wife and mother of four children, home life is demanding personally as well. Work-life Balance is unattainable and unrealistic.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

Now I’m not saying that when you are at home you can’t ever focus on work, but for me, I try to manage expectations for my family and myself, purposefully planning time to be present. For example, I will tell my children, “I’m expecting one phone call – when it comes I will have to take it, otherwise my calls are all going to voicemail right now.” OR “I need to work at my desk for one more hour. Pick out a game that we can play together as soon as I’m done.” OR “I have to finish up a few things at 10 pm. Let’s see if we can get your homework done and get you in bed before then.” Then stick to it!

You can focus on your work without guilt because you know you have planned time to be present elsewhere. You can focus on work because you know you have planned time to be fully present in your personal life.This applies whether you have kids, are married, or just are managing your own life and needing to balance health, wellness, fitness, relaxation, and relationships outside of work.

Be present where you are and give – and get – the most out of being there. Seek to be present. In that, you will ultimately find greater balance in life.

Back to Highlights

 

3. Bonnie Low-Kramen — Former PA to Actress Olympia Dukakis and Founder of The Ultimate Assistant02

What does work-life balance mean to you?

It means going to sleep at night knowing that I did something today not only for my work but for my family, friends, and community. Striving for this has been the challenge of my life and there have been weeks when I think I do one well and not the other and sometimes, I am terrible at all of it and I think, what am I doing?! I am a person who believes that we can have it all. We just can’t do it alone. We absolutely need others.

The most successful people you can think of did not get there alone. Sheryl Sandberg is right when she writes in her fabulous book “Lean In” that the most important career decision a woman makes is the choice of a partner. And that has everything to do with work-life balance. For me, I got the partner part right the second time around. I took action and I got lucky.

What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?

Those pesky 24 hours in a day and I need eight hours of sleep so do the math! My to-do list is always longer than my available time and energy. And our high tech 24/7 world is filled with buzzing and light-filled time-consuming distractions. Plus, everything about life is related to attitude and mental mindset. As Henry Ford said, “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t – you’re right.”

I’m not a fan of excuses or blaming others for our situation. I want to approach life by shining a bright light on the problems and then gathering the smartest people I can find to talk out solutions. We need to say what we need. Speaking up is the #1 challenge in the workplace and is the enemy of work-life balance. Too many stay silent when they know they should speak up. That’s a bigger conversation but I’ve got lots to say on that!

How do you achieve work-life balance?

I wake up by 5 AM since I do my best work in the morning. I make lists, I’m a planner, and I have efficient calendaring in my DNA. After all, I worked for 25 years as the assistant to a very busy Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis. In 1988, we handled her Academy Award for Moonstruck, Mike Dukakis’ Presidential campaign, and I gave birth to my son Adam – all without a computer or a cell phone!

If I survived and prevailed through that year, I can do anything. My secret “hack” was to take some quiet time each day to just think and be. I would take a walk around the block just to get some air and some perspective at the same time.

Guess what? The world was still there when I got back as was the work. Here’s my best advice. Take your vacations and really unplug. You need it and your family/friends/whoever cares about you need it too. I promise you the work will still be there when you get back. You will respect yourself and so will others.

Life is too short. Olympia Dukakis would say, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” Life, that is. Make every minute count. Be present. Wherever you are, be present.

So how are you going to make today better than yesterday?

Back to Highlights

 

4. Sue France — FCIPD, INLPTA, FInstAM and Owner at Sue France Training02

What does work-life balance mean to you?

Work-life balance is being organised using skills and your ability to meet deadlines, being successful at work and at the same time feeling healthy, happy and stress free as you spend enough time on each area of your life that you choose – apart from work, whether it is for family, self-development, networking or simply yourself so you feel fulfilled.

What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?

Lack of self discipline, not being self aware and lack of understanding others can get in the way of your work-life balance and so can lack of organisational skills. You need to be proactive in seeking out ways to be efficient as well as effective through time management, stress management, building relationships and understanding yourself and other people.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

If you are feeling overwhelmed due to genuine excessive workload then you need to speak up and either delegate the work short term or ask for permanent assistance. If it is a matter of organising yourself so that you are time efficient, then one thing you should know is that neuroscience says we cannot multi-task when using the conscious part of the brain – what we do is switch-task which wastes time, so make sure you focus on one thing at a time and get it done and don’t try and do more than one thing at once.

Our brain can only concentrate well on something for a maximum of 25 minutes as it uses its glucose energy very quickly, so make sure you take brain breaks of at least a few minutes to revive your rational and logical thinking skills and be more productive. This can simply be getting up from your seat and moving to make yourself a cup of coffee, pick up your printing or do some photocopying, etc.

Movement also helps your brain light up in different areas, allowing more creativity and innovation to take place. Sometimes we need to “incubate” issues that we get stuck on by leaving your subconscious brain to think about it while you go and have lunch, etc.

It is also important for an assistant to make sure their bosses have a good work-life balance too, as you can help save marriages as well as their sanity. If you ensure your boss has a good work-life balance, then you can expect to have a better work-life balance too.

Therefore, you need to understand their other commitments outside of work and organise their diary in accordance with this information – such as making sure you don’t put a meeting in the diary which may go on longer than expected and make them miss their commitment and reminding them that they need to leave to be on time.

Back to Highlights

 

5. Jennifer Magana — EA at Addepar and OfficeNinjas Ambassador02

What does work-life balance mean to you?

To me, life balance means making space for the time for myself. Time that is needed to rejuvenate, re-inspire, recharge, and refresh myself. Holistic health care/wellness, family, and living in the present are all balance moments.

Work balance means collaborating efficiently and positively with colleagues; having trust and communication is key. Work balance means having time to experience self-development/career improvement modalities as opportunities arise and being able to have the support to enjoy a Work-Life Balance Day.

What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?

Timewasters and “fires” can get in the way of work-life balance. Not using each opportunity to the fullest, getting easily side-tracked or distracted can throw off balance. Everyday life adversity and the way I react to it can easily throw off my balance.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

I enjoy work-life balance on a daily basis throughout each day. As well, I have one dedicated Balance Day, where I work remotely on Friday. At the same time, on Balance Day, I help the environment by reducing my carbon footprint and minimizing my stress level of a non-commute day…it’s a win-win!

When I wake up, I intentionally start my day, I do not just jump out of bed. I position my tongue on the bottom palette of my mouth, immediately my shoulders soften/drop and I am relaxed. Then, I take a deep breath in, hold for 3 seconds, and then exhale for 3 seconds. I do this 3 times. Rising with intention and gratitude is healthy. Smile. This is also a stress-relieving wellness technique.

When I am at work, I make time to sit in the massage chair for the 15-minute cycle. I eat lunch outside in the sun with colleagues. And at home, I digress by tending to my plants, downloading my daily thoughts in my journal, and enjoy listening to the Omvana app. It’s really meditation for everyone. It helps me meditate, focus, relax, and sleep.

Back to Highlights

 

6. Michele Thwaits — EA to President and Head of Africa Cluster at Novartis and President of PAFSA 02

What does work-life balance mean to you?

For me this is rather important although not always possible. It is important to try and “cut off” from your work at a certain time of the day. For me, once I have left the office, as soon as I get home, my phone goes into my room and I don’t look at it till the morning. My boss and colleagues know that if there is anything urgent they can call me or text me.

However, if we have travel or a meeting or any project which is in progress and would probably need my attention if and when anything comes through after hours, I will then check my phone and email regularly.

If you find you are taking work home every day and working to who knows what time at night or on weekends, you are heading for burn out. I have been there, done that and never want to go down that road again. My health is important to me so I plan and try and work to that plan as best as I can during the day.

What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?

You know when the boss comes to you with a last-minute travel plan or last minute meeting request – this sends one into crisis mode. And that is my challenge daily. I plan and have a to-do list however not always possible to achieve everything I set out to do on a specific day. So I work around it.

In the industry I am in, it is extremely stressful, lots of pressure with no time for relaxation other than our lunch time or a walk to the kitchen for a cup of coffee or something. My hours are generally longer than the norm only because at the end of the day, most people have gone home, it is quiet and that is when I plan for the next day or do whatever I can to cross off as much of the “to-dos” that I can. That which is not extremely important or a “have-to” on that particular day, I leave to the next day. And I usually get it completed then.

Also working for more than one manager does present its challenges too. Everyone also has their days where last-minute rush jobs are required, and so we have to adjust our to do list to accommodate this last-minute crisis. After all, that is what we do on a daily basis.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

Plan, plan, plan. Whether I do this at the end of the day or early in the morning. I now have a note book next to my bed and as soon as I think of something, I write it down and add to the to-do list for the day. I am old school, so writing something down somehow remains in the subconscious mind. Or I write an email to myself as a reminder of what to do. I am fortunate to have my phone connected to our network so whether on phone or PC, I am able to connect and do whatever is required.

Also before I leave in the morning, there is an hour to spare – and normally in that hour I go through the loads of emails which have come through since I left the office the previous day, go through them, and make notes on what is to be done. That way when I get to the office, mails are done and I can just start off with whatever is on the list.

Back to Highlights

 

7. Kimberly Snodgrass — Former EA to Asana Co-Founder and Founder of REACH02

What does work-life balance mean to you? What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?

How I practice work life balance is setting clear boundaries and realistic deadlines around my purpose in life and purpose at work. If it’s not urgent, it can usually wait until tomorrow! I also aim to only use my desktop at home so that I do not work in bed. I’m also very strict about getting at least 7.5 hours a sleep every night.

That means closing the computer an hour before bed, making it known that you’re not available to work while you’re sleeping! We are creatures of habit, so having SMART goals can change your life for the better and also provide clarity on your purpose in life. I personally like to share my life and work goals with my colleagues so that we can all support one another and have ultimate transparency around deliverables and expectations.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

  • Collaborate and create tangible goals — Take initiative to do more for the executive you’re working behind the scenes for. Take the lead once trust is built (usually around 6 months and beyond). I like to record and track my OKRs (Objective Key Results) with Asana or in Google Doc.
  • Plan the to-do items in your calendar so you have time carved out to get those items done — Protect precious time to focus on goals. Project manage internally, but selectively.
  • Start earlier — Check email first thing in am and at night. Keep a fine balance and use morning syncs with your executive no matter what.
  • Restructure e-mail — Help your executive with drafts, starred, unread, labels around a process tied directly to your goals for the quarter and year.
  • Pre-process decisions and sync at least once per week — Discuss admin-related work weekly to avoid interruptions. Gather to-dos and sync. If you can anticipate needs, write them down and ask questions.
  • Start meetings on time with prep in advance for your executive — Organize to-do list in advance with Asana. Do research if needed, including background on person, company or concept. Give yourself real due dates for prep. Remind attendees ahead – email 12-24 hours in advance and go in person five minutes beforehand for internal meetings.
  • Maintaining goals and relationships — Make lists of people and events based on region to keep in touch. Make them sync based on goals for that relationship. Use the calendar to track and Followup.cc as your reminder tool in your email.
  • Enable remote decision making — Draft all emails. Keep inbox down while traveling. If too delayed, forward and respond as yourself.
  • Keep in mind to build relationships too — Keep internal team connected and in sync. Remind team when executive is out-of-office (OOO). Direct their inquiries. Create a to-do action item for executive and carve out time in calendar to follow up when needed.
  • Keep projects on track — I recommend the communication tool Asana. Have regular check-ins with due dates and use Slack for urgent items. Use Salesforce IQ for relationship management. Contactually works too on a smaller scale to email groups of people the same message in a personal way.
  • Negotiate everything — Don’t take the first response. Realize what goal you are trying to achieve, and negotiate to get that goal. What’s best is if you can negotiate your way to an even better goal than you originally planned!

Apps that can change your life:

 

  • Sunset – Beautiful calendar
  • Asana – Real-time to-do list
  • Evernote – To have notes in the cloud and to scan business cards
  • TurboScan – To scan and email documents
  • WhatsApp – To chat internationally
  • Studio – For design
  • Uber – For getting around in the city

Books:

 

  • “Getting Things Done” by David Allen
  • “Extreme Productivity” by Robert Pozen
  • “4 Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss
  • “Creative Confidence” by Tom & David Kelley

Back to Highlights

 

8. Cheryl Larin – Senior EA to President and COO at Walters & Wolf02

What does work-life balance mean to you?

There’s a fine line, and it’s a critical one, to balance work and life AND maintain your sanity in the process.

For me, it’s been relatively easy during my career. Because you spend more hours in the day with work colleagues, it is imperative that you enjoy those around you and more importantly, your job duties. If you can find that winning combination, it makes your eight hours of work fly by!

What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance? How do you achieve work-life balance?

As far as challenges are concerned, get out of your own way! If I could give you one piece of advice that has repeatedly worked well for me over the years, use your resources. If you’re not great at PowerPoint, find a guru in your office and ask for help and vice versa. You’d be surprised at how many times I’ve “asked” for help and been given so with a friendly smile. And by vice versa, I am always more than happy to assist others, usually offering before even being asked.

As for your evenings, everything in life goes by the wayside and there’s nothing more important than quality time with your family. Your house and chores will survive if you decide to walk to the park and toss a ball around or sit and watch a movie with your kids.

Don’t be so busy that you allow life to pass you by.

Back to Highlights

 

9. Nomvula Violet Moloko — Director of Moloko Speakers and Associates – Mentoring and Coaching for Executive PAs02

What does work-life balance mean to you?

Work-life balance means my principles guide my priorities. I currently work for myself after almost 20 years in corporate. Earlier on in my life, it was all work and life got out of balance. Then I had to ask myself, which principles were being violated by my out-of-balance life? When I allowed myself to answer honestly, I drew the line.

As a single parent, I had an excellent support system but my responsibilities as a parent were non-negotiable. School events and life celebrations were prioritised. Work is what I do — life is who I am. That’s how I got the work-life balance.

What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?

When I over commit myself and cannot be the best in any area: both work and life. I get anxious, feel out of control and then I am forced to go back to the drawing board and re-prioritise. I also used to be obsessive-compulsive. That didn’t help matters also!

How do you achieve work-life balance?

I am not one for apps but these tips have helped me.

  • Write what you love doing first, then what you have to do and lastly what you need to do — The first motivates you to get going and gives an illusion of “no work,” then you want to do the second part so that you can do the last part – in order to get to do what you love again.
  • Learn your optimum productivity time-frame — Use that time for planning, organising and strategy formulation.
  • Connect with people –Help others with their big-ticket item and they will willingly do the things you don’t like doing for you.
  • Be an empowerer — Give people opportunities to grow by delegating some tasks where they wouldn’t ordinarily get an opportunity.

Back to Highlights

 

10. Joanne Linden — Chief EA at Synopsis and Master Trainer at AdminUniverse02

What does work-life balance mean to you?

To me it means not being connected 24/7. When I started working with my executive 17 years ago, the 24/7 mentality had not taken a firm hold yet. My executive did not expect me to respond to emails after hours or on weekends and that practice has continued. However, to keep up with the rapid pace of business, I do check my emails when I know there are deadlines involved or when my executive is traveling. However, he also knows that if it’s urgent, he can call me at any hour and I will accommodate any request.

What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?

Working for a global company requires flexiblity. I try to be in the office during the same hours as my executive as much as possible. So if he has a conference call early in the morning with Europe or a late conference call with Asia, I will try to be in the office during those times.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

I’m fortunate that my executive also believes in work-life balance in his life and is usually out of the office by 6:00 PM, so that makes it much easier for me to keep the same schedule. But the best method to achieve work-life balance is to make sure you complete all your priorities that you have set for yourself that day. If that requires reprioritizing throughout the day, then that’s okay too. Ask yourself, “If not done, will it lead to significant consequences?” If the answer is no, then it can wait until tomorrow.

Back to Highlights

 

11. Shonna Dawson — Senior EA to President and CEO at Rambus 02

What does work-life balance mean to you?

Work-life balance is an idea that I believe to be constantly changing and evolving as my career and life evolve. With the workforce and world being digitally connected and easily accessible, the dynamics of work have changed — the 40-hour work week has morphed. Now that I can work from my phone while cooking dinner for my family, I find that I am doing both at the same time. When this type of behavior really became my style, I gave more of my time and effort to my work, rather than balancing it out.

What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?

Until even recently, I struggled with achieving personal goals (even something like giving the dog a bath) because, let’s face it, two days over the weekend just isn’t enough sometimes. I began to think about what I am responsible for in all aspects of my life, and what I would like to aspire to going forward. What would that mean for my time? My personal time? My balance?

I quickly recognized that I had been looking at it from a split point of view. On one side, I had adapted entirely to the extended or blurred lines of work, letting that part of my life enter into my personal side and time. However, if I had to do anything personally, I struggled with feeling it was appropriate to do during work hours. What I decided to do instead is look at the day in terms of hours available and tasks to complete. Now I organize my time based on tasks, and also when something can be done.

For example, if I need to go to the doctor I book it during the week since they’re not open on weekends. If I need to call another country for work, I wait until it’s an acceptable time of day for them, regardless of what time it is for me. I catch up on email items that aren’t critical during the evening hours after I have put my daughter to bed. I use my commute time to listen to podcasts, audio books, or catch up with family over the phone.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

The only way I can achieve a balance for myself is to just do it. I balance my checkbook at the office when I have downtime, work on school registration, make personal appointments, etc. The shift between thinking of work in terms of the 40-hour week versus tasks has been challenging. I now look at my role in terms of accomplishing goals and objectives I am accountable for, and passionate about. The life of an EA is not defined by an eight-hour shift. Most EA’s I know are on call 24/7 no matter what. Therefore, it only made sense to me to take charge of all of my life’s accountability and combine forces. Once I started to look at things from this perspective, I began to have a greater sense of satisfaction. I am getting more done, and I am happier and less stressed.

Back to Highlights

 

12. Denise Terbil — EA to Vice President of Network at Verizon Wireless 02

What does work-life balance mean to me?

Work-life balance to me is finding that happy medium between my work and personal life. It is all about making choices and being able to accept things as is, while knowing that I have given it my all.

What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?

Challenges can differ from position to position, company to company and thus, these comments are based upon work experience throughout the years and not just at one organization.
Challenges can range from having to make difficult decisions about staying at work to finalize a project or leaving that project to picking up a sick child from school, and/or having to go to a doctor appointment, and at times, the decision process is very mind numbing.

Working as an executive assistant to senior-level executives and above, our role is important in the support we provide. Our punctuality and reliability are a priority to our executives. However, if you have small children or taking care of elderly parents who are not well and do not live near immediate family, getting back up support when you or they are ill or the day care they go to closes for a holiday or other reasons, we are at a loss.

While we are in a technology-set world, most can work from home while others do not have this luxury to do so. I have seen where more and more organizations are now providing a back-up service provider for such last minute requests for our elderly and child care, this is truly awesome!

Not to mention, but very important, everything outside of work life is based upon a Monday–Friday schedule, such as doctor offices, schools, etc. Having to take personal time can be hard as some requests are very last minute (illness, family emergencies, etc.) and frowned upon by management.

Unless you are blessed to work with management that promotes work-life balance, this can put more undue stress on an already stressful situation in having to go outside the norm of a work day.

How do I achieve work-life balance?

Work-life balance is driven by circumstance and attitude. How we combine our work and personal lives brings us to the power of “balance.” For me, I live by the philosophy that there are those who “work to live,” yet I “live to work.”

I make it a priority to align myself with those with:

  • A positive outlook – very important!
  • Someone who could challenge me to be a better person and vice versa.
  • Someone who shares the same work ethics.

Balance at work for me is not only having the proper alignment but having a clear understanding of projects and their respective deadlines.

  • Setting up project plans that outlines the respective project timeline is critical. Having some form of a project plan will help determine my priorities.
  • Having key resources at my fingertips — From a resource perspective, I make it a point to understand what everyone’s capabilities are from a skill set such as: Who is skilled in PowerPoint? Who is skilled in Excel? Who is skilled in Event/Project Management? Who within my realm of resources am I able to trust with confidential information? There will be times when I have a confidential project and I need to find someone that both I and my executive can trust with this information.

By understanding my resources and their abilities, I will know whom to go to when I need additional support for a project.

The most critical aspect of having a resource connection is remembering that paying back that support goes a long way in offering to help your peers on projects they need assistance with as well. By doing such, this keeps a balance within the work place.

Balance with my personal life is equally important. You need to have a great support system with your family and close friends to be there for you.

There will be days when you are at home and work finds you and vice versa. However, hopefully these are few and far between and the company that one works for understands that and is open to the ever challenging work-life balance position within everyone’s life.

Back to Highlights

 

13. Linda McFarland — EA to the CEO at Sophos and Founder of Admin2Admin and Ascend2Success 02

What does work-life balance mean to you?

To me, work-life balance is more like work-life integration. I have a full-time job supporting a CEO of a UK-based company which requires me to be connected 24/7. That doesn’t mean I am always working every minute of the day.

What it means, is that when there is a big project, offsite event, board meeting, acquisition, or something that requires more than a normal eight hour workday, I have learned how to integrate and be flexible with work and my home life.

For instance, if I’m gearing up for a board meeting, it might require me to travel as well as coordinate lots of logistics for executives attending the meeting. On the other hand, there may be another day during the week that I have flexibility to leave work early or get to work a little later than normal. It can give me a great start to a long weekend or to visit with family members or friends. This balancing act works well for me.

Another passion of mine is coaching, training, and developing administrative professionals. I find time to fit this into my busy schedule because it gives me great satisfaction to share my knowledge and experience with other professionals in my career. It allows me to use my problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and gives me perspective and understanding to challenge me to think strategic and learn new skills.

What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?

My biggest challenge with work-life integration is that I often don’t know from day-to-day if I’ll be working an eight-hour day or a fourteen-hour day. When you support a C-Level executive, you don’t always know about compressed deadlines – there may be a critical acquisition that needs to happen quickly or a critical hire that needs to happen before your boss takes off for an international trip. What I’ve learned about myself is that I am flexible, adaptable, and patient. Do you know your strengths? Use that information to help you determine your productivity limits.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

I want to share with you some work-life balance tips, ideas, and techniques that help me be successful and keep my sanity.

    • The Time Buddy App — This app is amazing if you have to work in multiple time zones. I deal with the UK, Germany, India, Japan, Singapore and other countries. This app helps me know the best times to communicate with my executives and other team members as well as determining the best time for a meeting when different time zones are involved.
    • Top Six Priorities — Every day I put together my top six priorities to help me focus on what’s important for the day. After reading email, I might need to adjust the top six priorities as things change constantly in my job. Once I’ve identified those top six, I work on my list and go back to it often during the day to make sure I’m focused on the topic priorities. At the end of the day (or first thing in the morning), I move over the items I didn’t complete and evaluate the top six items for the next day. I learned this technique when I was teaching a time management course. It works. To learn more about it, Google the story about Charles Schwab and Ivy Lee and the success they had with this technique. Try it for 30 days. You’ll be amazed at how much more productive you can become.
    • Find your most productive time of the day — As an administrative professional, I get interrupted all day long with various requests and tasks. What helps me is that I’ve determined certain times in the day when I am most productive. That’s when I do my focus projects and tasks. It’s so much more productive for me to do these projects during that time period instead of attempting to do it when my day is more interrupted. Determine your best time to focus and experiment with it.
    • Use a mantra — I actually have a mantra that I use when I just can’t seem to focus. I’ve found it to be very useful. If you don’t have a mantra of your own that gets you settled and focused, try this one: “Go back to your desk, settle down, focus and get it done!” I actually have some hand gestures that go with this mantra. There’s something about physically doing the hand motions while I say the mantra that makes it stick. Those hard to manage tasks and projects get done much faster when I use this mantra.
    • Collaborate or find other resources to help you manage your workload — I manage several offsite meetings per year and lots of video conference meetings during the day. I’ve formed collaborative relationships with executive assistants, office assistants, and IT support and we share a mutual purpose. We support each other in a way that makes the office run smooth and meeting set-ups aren’t as stressful. We communicate schedules, important upcoming meetings, assign tasks as needed, we talk about how to handle hiccups in technology, and resources that can help us be productive. These teammates are invaluable and critical to my success. I also have built relationships with vendors and have other resources where I can delegate or offload tasks to help meet deadlines.

Back to Highlights

 

14. Julie Perrine — Founder and CEO at All Things Admin 02

What does work-life balance mean to you?

I actually prefer the term work-life blend because I approach it like a recipe — you don’t need the exact same quantity of all the ingredients all the time. In fact, if you did have the same quantity it would be a disaster.

Instead, I’m looking at what the right combination is for the situation. Sometimes there’s more work in my blend, and sometimes there’s more family and personal time. I’m looking for the right blend of the two based on the needs of the day or time period and they don’t have to be equal to be “balanced.”

What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?

It’s easy to get so into something you enjoy that you forget to put the necessary amount of time into the other components that keep your life running smoothly.

One big challenge for me is all of the demands for my time. I like to say yes as much as I can. But saying no is required for maintaining a healthy balance. Then the challenge becomes prioritizing the requests for my time.

My overall energy level is also a challenge. If I don’t stop, hit refresh, and pay attention to that blend, my enthusiasm for what I’m working on fades fast. This is why it’s so important to have good self-care guidelines that keep me focused on the entire blend.

How do I achieve work-life balance?

I achieve my work-life blend by practicing focused self-care. This means challenging myself to do one thing each day to take care of myself – whether it’s an errand or a personal item that needs to be taken care of, or treating myself to something. Doing this helps me take better care of myself and the people and things that are important to me.

I’m a big proponent of good systems and solid procedures to support all aspects of your personal and professional life. I have solid systems in place for managing my time, team, and projects. But it still requires constant evaluation to identify areas for improvement and increased efficiency.

Back to Highlights

 

15. Julia Schmidt — EA to CEO and CFO at Basefarm and Board Member of EUMA Norway 02

What does work-life balance mean to me?

Work-life balance means having my life under control. It means distributing the 24 hours in a way that makes me happy both at work and at home. Happiness in a work-life balance way is finishing my duties and leaving the office without bringing it with me.

I shall organize my agenda in order to perform within the 7.5 hours I dedicate to my executives and some two extra hours I know I will have to work after or before the office hours (reading and answering emails and preparing meeting material). When I arrive home I need to be relaxed enough to focus on leisure and family activities. It is easier to say than practice, but I am aware of the necessity of attaining this balance.

What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?

The biggest challenge is my iPhone and the emails coming in after office hours. I have worked globally and it means being available for business and meetings happening in other time zones. It is always challenging to wait until the next day or Monday morning to reply to an email that came after my office hours, and whose senders do not expect you to answer it promptly.

How do I achieve work-life balance?

I meet friends during the week, after work. It makes me have something extra to look for during the workday. I have dinner with my partner at restaurants also on weekdays. I plan well my workweek and have both business and private appointments in Outlook. It allows me to have all my plans on hand. I have all meals daily, starting with a calm breakfast. Spending time to prepare food is crucial and one of my best ways to achieve work-life-balance.

I also have friendly alarms coming from people around me. My partner, family members, friends and colleagues are there to tell me: “Julia, now you have to relax.”; “Julia, today you can leave the office earlier, because you worked some extra hours this week.” Or “It is time to go home.” I respect a lot these warnings.

My work-life balance “hack” is having empty agenda on weekends. It gives me a lot of time to myself, my readings, long sleeping and “strolling-around-doing-nothing-moments.” This recharges my batteries. I learned that we should plan “do nothing” to really detox from our busy workdays.

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16. Lucy Brazier — CEO of Marcham Publishing and Publisher of Executive Secretary Magazine02

What does work-life balance mean to me?

I have worked in publishing for 27 years. For many of those years, I travelled to London every day – two hours there and two hours back. I left home at 7 AM, was rarely home before 9 PM and worked weekends to catch up with myself. Either that, or I was so exhausted that I couldn’t enjoy the time that I was at home.

I am not sure that I work any less hours now that I am self employed, but the four hours a day on public transport have gone. I work from home so am able to cook for the team at lunchtime, do bits and pieces of household stuff as I go along that would previously have waited until I got home (loading washing machine, dishwasher), and stop for a cup of tea with my young adult children. It’s wonderful to be able to go into the garden when I take five minutes and if I have a particularly late night working, I can get up later in the morning.

We took the decision a couple of years back to rent an apartment in Spain too. It is very inexpensive and it is my sanity. I go for two months in the summer and do all my planning for the next year there. I still work every day but for eight hours a day instead of 18. I walk, swim and read every day. We return at Christmas for a month and at least a couple of weeks at Easter.

What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?

Because I am so passionate about my work it has blurred into the rest of my life somewhat. It doesn’t feel like work.

I travel – a lot! Last year I spoke at 173 events in 26 countries. All my time away could be classed as work but a lot of it is a joy! I get to meet so many extraordinary people and see places that I had only dreamed of. How do you separate the two?

People ask me occasionally how I motivate myself when I work from home. It’s so easy! Why would I want to go back to the hamster wheel?

How do I achieve work-life balance?

I have to be sure to put time into the diary to go to dinner with my husband, or spend a day with one of my adult children or go for a walk – otherwise I could be working 24/7.

But they do say, “do something you love and you will never work another day in your life,” so it could be argued that my whole life is “life” and not “work.”

I feel very blessed!

 

17. Anel Martin — Personal Assistant to the Managing Executive of Sales & Distribution (Consumer & Mobile) at Telkom SA 02

What does work-life balance mean to you?

I don’t really believe there is such a thing as work-life balance, I think there is compromise and compensation. When one sphere of your life takes up time and energy you need to balance out the others when time allows. I do not believe that we can achieve perfect balance but I do think that we need to strive to look at our lives more holistically.

I think many of us neglect our health and sleep more than we should, in the modern world there seems to be a misconception that these things are not important to maintain, work and the act of “busy” is glorified. Work-life balance to me means that you accept that you are a whole being, you need to eat, sleep, play, work and look after your spirit and you need to make time for each of these.

What challenges get in the way of your work-life balance?

I suppose my biggest challenge is the mobile phone, being “on” and contactable all the time. It has blurred the line between work and leisure time to such an extent that many of us no longer make the distinction.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

I try to focus on more neglected areas of my life when trying to achieve balance. I try to get out into nature and detox from my mobile phone. When I am with people, I focus on them, not the device next to me.

I really plan very well and I am very disciplined, this helps me get the most from my time. I make time to rest and also time to do things which are creative, this helps me to recharge myself and improves my productivity when I need to work again.

Back to Highlights

 

Conclusion

With their organizational skills, time management and resilience under pressure, administrators iron out the details so their executive can focus on the big picture.

This lets administrative professionals aim for the best but also prepare for – and prevent – the worst, both at work and at home.

Your turn: What are your top tips and tools for work-life balance? Got your own experiences and insights on being or working with a successful assistant? Share in a comment!

 

This article is part of a series celebrating and empowering Executive Assistants in the workforce. Read about our “Behind the Success” campaign here and subscribe below for more content on productivity, management and corporate governance.

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About Angel Britanico

Angel is a social media specialist and blogger for Convene.

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