Career Woman

How the most successful women schedule for work-life balance


Does your schedule match your priorities?

At first glance it may seem a silly question. Of course, you tailor your schedule to your priorities as far as possible. But which priorities? Maybe you start catching up on your emails over breakfast or stay late at the office to make progress on a pressing project. Your priorities are to keep your workload manageable and hit your deadlines.

But some of the most successful, creative, business-oriented women over the years have carefully adjusted their routine to better achieve the work-life balance that business-priorities tend to override. The expectations of a patriarchal society and the burden of emotional labor have meant it has rarely been easy to achieve such a balance for women who wanted who work.

We all know these inequalities have not yet been eroded. But looking at the way that successful professional women have planned their day can be very inspirational for those who wish not just to work better, but to feel better and live better. Even if you’re a freestyler and an improviser, there’s something about a routine that provides the security to exercise your spontaneous spirit when it calls. And it can ensure you don’t overlook important areas of your life: work, personal projects, family, friends, health, and community, to name a handful.

The writer Jane Austen is a curious example to behold, not least due to the contradictory, intersectional status of her privilege and lack thereof. On the one hand, as a woman writing in England around the turn of the 18th century, she wrote in secret and published anonymously so as not to seem ‘above her place.’ On the other hand, while her family encountered some financial difficulties, for the most part she lived a comfortable existence and the pressures of housekeeping that fell to her were lightened by her sister (who was sympathetic to Jane’s creative drive) and a number of paid staff.

As such, Austen’s day began at 9am with the management of household chores, which she would get out of the way so as to concentrate on writing – declaring, in a letter, that “[c]omposition seems to me impossible, with a head full of joints of mutton and rhubarb.” She would write while her mother and sister sewed nearby, and was warned of potential guests by a creaky door, allowing her to put away her writing and pretend to sew in order to avoid scandal.

After dinner at around 3 or 4pm, Austen would turn her attention back to her family and a good friend who lived with them, using the time to chat, play cards, and read to each other. Sometimes Jane would read her works-in-progress to her companions – a sociable way to combine work and family time, although reading your latest financial report to your teenage children to ‘bond’ would probably not have the same effect!

Other successful women have looked at things the other way around. While Austen completed her less pleasant tasks in the morning to get them out of the way, modern women such as Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey make sure to use the morning for more spiritual pursuits. That way, they know matters of personal importance are taken care of before work can get in the way.

Both rise early (Stewart at 5 and Winfrey at 7am) in order to walk the dogs, get a breath of fresh air, breakfast well, and exercise. Of course, Winfrey is in her mid-sixties and Stewart approaching 80 years of age – a time of life when, for many of us, getting up early becomes a default rather than a choice! Austen lived only until the age of 41.

One thing that Winfrey, Stewart, and Austen have in common is that their schedules are reasonably stable. Okay, Winfrey and Stewart vary it up for certain tasks and one-offs, but they seem to have a fairly sturdy idea of what their lives look like. If you travel a lot (or experience other disruption) for work, your schedule might actually look more like that of Lady Gaga or even Serena Williams.

Getting a healthy balance is even more important – and challenging – when you’re working on the road. Lady Gaga’s routine may be a bit, well, gaga for some, but there’s no denying that making time for mindful thinking and self-compassion empowers the pop star musician to keep on creating and performing when others might have dropped. Yoga, napping. And that all-important quality time with her dog complete the balance between the hard work of songwriting in hotel rooms and performing to adoring thousands.

Some of these stories and more feature in Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals: Women at Work. The people at BodyLogicMD were inspired by the women whose schedules feature in Currey’s book, and have created a handy infographic so you can explore these approaches to living at a glance.

With these ideas in mind, how will you restructure your day?

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