THE BLOG

Women In Technology: Working Moms

08/28/2012 11:36 am ET | Updated Oct 28, 2012
Jen Wenner

It's difficult to balance work and home life for any parent; however, I find it especially challenging to do it in the technology industry. Our industry is a twenty-four-seven, immediate environment. Due to that aspect, it means hellish hours. Some days it's light and stress-free; others it's twenty straight hours of coding to find, fix and/or launch a product.

Now, let's throw a husband and kids into the mix, just to make it a little more fun!

Personally, I'm still learning how to balance it all. I have a four-year-old and a husband of nine years and still haven't found the magic secret sauce yet. I've worked in technology for the past ten years, from customer service to code monkey to management and everything in between. My hours have ranged from swing work to nine-to-five.

When my daughter was born and I was promoted into management I thought my life would be easier; that I could organize the projects with realistic deadlines, proper planning and code so well-written that it ran itself.

But it was not to be. Since the web is an ever-flowing, ever-changing entity, the demands are constantly shifting, morphing and requiring immediate action.

It also doesn't help that I'm a person who constantly needs to help. If I see an issue I can fix, I want to fix it. I can't leave an email unread or a chat window blinking.

Also, I need to play with my daughter, teach her to read and write and brush her doll's hair. I want to feed her a proper meal and have that special time. Then my husband needs a level of devotion as well. Our alone time, our bonding time with our daughter, setting up long and short-term plans for our future. Even just discussing if we want to put a deck on the house... It's all time in the day.

I know there's a way to do it. I see those super-moms that 'have it all' - the career, the family and a social life. What I've found when talking with them has been infinitely helpful.

Here's a few tips they've passed along that I'm working towards aligning myself and my family with.

1. Be organized
This is one of the simplest, yet hardest steps to accomplish. Everyone tends to think they're organized, but it turns out they're only organized in their own heads. There's three levels of organization you have to accomplish. The physical, the psychological and time.

The physical means keeping your office and home organized. Know where your bills are, the project notes for the launch next week (or even just taking notes in the first place!), or even just knowing the likely places 'dolly' gets put throughout the day so you can rescue her at bedtime. If you're like me and exhausted when you walk in the door at the end of the day

The psychological is about keeping your thoughts organized. If you're a multi-tasker, you definitely need to get a handle on this. I have several notebooks filled with everything going on, along with post-its that are things requiring attention that day, along with my weekly to-do list. My lists are both personal and professional, it's what keeps me sane so that I'm not managing a mental list and letting something fall through the cracks. I also find that by writing it down I'm more likely to remember it (better than even typing it out in an email!) Also, the satisfaction of crossing something off my list is the best feeling ever when you've been swamped all week.

Pertaining to time organization, I mean your calendar. My in-laws have a large extended family with plenty of events going on, as well as my meetings, retreats and conferences for work. I have three calendars that I keep up with (this is where I'm falling down at the moment). Right now I'm transferring things calendar-to-calendar to try to keep them all up-to-date. However, having one is the most important thing. It's easier for me to go back to my in-laws or co-workers and let them know if I can attend something. Also, it's a visual reminder of how busy I am and to set aside time for my family.

2. Set aside 'special time'
Oh, doesn't it sound so cheesy? I laughed when a friend told me that she made a concerted effort to do this every week. I remember thinking, 'why on earth would I do that?' She pointed out that it was time set aside to either specially dedicate to her children, husband, or herself. Even something as simple as getting a massage - she scheduled it into her calendar. She made sure she had that time out to focus on what she chose to. Another mentor of mine told me to always block off an hour for lunch - regardless if I was taking it or not. That was my hour to do what I needed; catch up on email, setting down from a frustrating email chain, or just cruise a few interesting articles. It seems silly to do this, but it works. This way you're guaranteed time to yourself each day or week (whichever your preference).

3. Have firm boundaries
This is a difficult one for me. As mentioned above, I have trouble letting something go. If I see an email pop up over the weekend I want to investigate and help. However, you have to set boundaries. If you aren't scheduled for support over the weekend, don't check your email. Sadly, I have a blackberry (a.k.a. crackberry). I check it constantly. It's the first thing I do in the morning and last thing I do in the evening. However, this is a habit that needs to be broken. You want to be able to focus on what you're presently doing, not worrying that something is going to creep up around the corner. If you're working on dinner, put the phone in the living room. If you're AT dinner, leave your phone in your purse and talk about your family's day. It's a difficult habit to break, but solid communication should help you through withdrawal. Talk to your co-workers and manager explaining that, for example, you are unavailable during the hours of 6 and 8 in the evening due to family obligations. That's two hours where you aren't the person who has to be all over every email. That's two hours you can help make dinner, do the dishes, eat and find out what's happening with your kids and spouse.

4. It's okay to take a vacation I know this one is a little obvious sounding. You worked dang hard all year long and now it's time for a vacation! Grab the sunscreen and the mojito and enjoy that sun... until your phone rings, pings, beeps or generally calls you back to the fight. In the instant gratification of society, we are literally glued to our phones and tablets. So, as you're catching up on the latest thriller on your iPad, you get a chime from your mail. You pop over to check it out and next thing you know, you're gathering up your towel and waving off the kids and husband that you'll be back in just a minute. When they trudge back in, tired, hungry and possibly even a little burned, you look up to realize you've now been engrossed in work for the past three hours.

Take a break. You need that mental cut from the work to enjoy yourself, get some relaxation, and enjoy your family. You'll feel better coming back after that break, instead of feeling resentful that you spent over half your vacation on the phone with the office working through the latest issue.

I've been slowly making my way through these tips and tricks. Eventually, I hope to be there. It just takes discipline and prioritization.

Your family won't always be there forever. Your kids will grow up, go to college, find their own jobs. You want to be their role model and show them how to balance work and play (so they can get into that super expensive college you're busting your butt to save for).

I wish you luck and remember... you aren't the only one! I feel ya', sista'!