Mother’s Day Q&A: Work-Life Fit with Cali Williams Yost

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For Cali Williams Yost, maintaining a joyful existence is all about making small fixes to your busy routine. Those changes can add up to big results. “Just do it one small tweak at a time,” says the CEO of the Flex + Strategy Group, author, and mother of two teenage daughters. “Nothing overwhelming. Do it week after week and you’ll build a foundation of well-being and order that will leave you feeling good.”

In a special Mother’s Day Weekend Q&A, Real Business spoke with Williams Yost about the current challenges that moms must face, and ways they can organize their lives to be productive and happy. Step one: The removal of a certain word that’s become ubiquitous in the work-life conversation.

There has been a lot of chatter in the media about work-life balance. Where does the conversation stand right now? Is the message where it should be?

I don’t think we’re ever going to have a rational conversation and get to real solutions until we stop talking about work-life balance. We’re stuck in a loop because there is no work-life balance, so we keep chasing our tails trying to find something that we’re never going to achieve. There is recognition that there’s a problem, but we’re not actually discussing a realistic solution. We have to move beyond “balance.” When we finally do that, we can start to think about what can actually work.

Why is balance not realistic?

People think balance means a 50-50 split between your work and personal life. That’s not realistic because your work and personal realities are constantly changing. There could be one week where you have a huge project and you’re very much dedicated to work, and then another week where perhaps that project is over and you have more time to focus on the other parts of your life.

Now, looking at that person you would say they don’t have balance. But they have a work-life fit that works for them. That’s why I truly believe we have to change the language. How do you take control and manage your work-life fit every day, and at major life transitions like having a child? That’s much more do-able.

What are some benefits to changing terminology?

When we move from work-life balance to work-life fit, a couple of things happen. One, it acknowledges that we’re all unique. There is no one-size- fits-all answer to this. We are all different, so our work-life fit realities are going to be different.

We, especially women, spend a lot of time on who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s doing it correctly. When we realize that everyone is different and our work-life fit realities are different, there’s no judgment because there’s no right answer. And then we can move to: How can I learn from you? Take what sounds good and make it work in your own life. That’s where we need to go.

Can you give some tips on creating a game plan for work-life fit?

Each week you have to sit down for about 20 minutes and look at what you have coming up in the next seven days. What do you want to do at work? What do you have to do at work? What do you want to do in your personal life? Depending on where you have capacity, plan the things that mean something to you and make them happen. The ones that keep you healthy — exercise, eating well — but also those special moments like grabbing a cup of coffee with your sister who’s visiting from out of town or planning a vacation. Make them part of your work-life fit for the coming week.

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Cali Williams Yost

Is that type of organization easier said than done? 

Here’s the problem: People think they’re already doing all they can to manage their work-life fit, which is not true. We don’t teach people how to actively and intentionally manage their work-life fit, and it’s a skillset we all need. There are no boundaries between work and life anymore because of technology and global competition. We have to put the boundaries back up, but we don’t know how. And it’s not just good time-management — we have to think things through in a way we haven’t had to in the past. But nobody teaches us how.

So, we don’t exercise, we don’t spend 10 minutes with our kids each night, we don’t have a date with our partner, we don’t review our 401(k), we don’t plan a vacation, or take our car in for maintenance on time. All those things, if we were intentional and deliberate, for the most part would get done. Even if you did 60 percent of the meaningful actions that make your work-life fit complete, you’d still be feeling better on and off the job. And that’s the goal.

When is that 20-minute block when you organize your week?

Sunday afternoon. I sit down and do exactly what I encourage other people to do. First, I celebrate success. I give myself credit for all that I accomplished the week before, even if it was only 30 percent of what I wanted to do. Then, I send out my emails for car pools, look at my grocery list, and plan out my week ahead. Again, it’s never perfect, but at least I’m intentional about what I’m trying to get done and when.

Should we keep track of our tasks in a digital calendar?

Everyone needs a work-life fit snapshot with all work and personal to-dos in one place. You have to pick what your platform is going to be. I use iCalendar. Other people may have their Outlook calendar at work, but open up a Google personal calendar in another URL and toggle between the two all day long. There are even people who work off old-school Excel spreadsheets, like Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft. So, whatever works for you.

Technology has made life faster for everyone — there’s no “off” button, and kids’ schedules are a lot busier these days, which makes even more work for parents. What can moms do to keep up?

Technology is a gift but also a burden. It’s a gift in that it allows you to stay connected and perhaps have more flexibility, but if you don’t manage that and create some boundaries, it can be a burden. With this economy, there’s more pressure to keep your job and do well in it. And there is an amping-up of expectations of what your children are supposed to participate in, in order to compete. That puts on extra pressure in terms of how to coordinate, because a lot of that happens when you are technically supposed to be working.

So, it requires you to decide what’s important. Am I going to have my kids really dive in and be 100 percent participants in that competitive activity process? You may decide that, no, they’re going to pick one or two things and that’s it. It’s about knowing your priorities.

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