On structure at work and home

Fifteen years ago I attended a training session on Steven Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Hosted by the brilliant head of learning at a small community hospital, I continue to use two principles I was taught:

  • You should never be too busy to learn about better time management.
  • Prioritization is key.

Five years ago I stumbled upon Charles Gilkey’s planner system and remembered another principle:

  • Think big, act small.

Only recently have I started to learn how to pull these pieces together, the most critical piece for me being:

  • Schedule time to think strategically.

I’ve shifted into a leadership position where I no longer have my hands in everything. It’s been a difficult transition from knowing it all because I’m in it and trying to figure out what’s going on, especially because I’m opinionated about the usefulness of status reports and metrics. I hate to add yet another meeting or action for my folks but I also need to know what’s going on!

For the past month, I’ve been responsible for dropping Javi off at school, and since I’m already dressed and driving, I’ve been heading to a local coffee shop to work… and wow, there’s the time to think big and broadly. Rather than using a meeting to propel me, a totally non-work action is getting me thinking about work.

Until I wrote this post, I didn’t realize I’m imposing a similar structure on myself as I do with my son. We don’t have a “schedule” but we do have a structure with appropriately alternating periods of quiet/ alone/ thinking time and do-stuff time, actions leading to the next necessary thing, and respect for transitions. We practice finishing one thing before moving to another. We give each other space to be and do within boundaries.*

I share this because one simple change in routine has given me the time and space to think about how I run meetings, long-term ideas, and my own development as a leader. I’ve also had a chance to read (not skim!) a book on child-raising that brought me a huge epiphany that ended up being work-related.

In my 20’s, my personal and professional selves seemed completely disconnected. While I was successful at work, my personal life was a disaster. While I struggled with confidence at home, at work I always thought I knew what was right. When my marriage fell apart, I clung to my professional success as a reminder that I could do things well.

Now, my lives are (thankfully, gratefully, successfully) connected. The unfortunate consequences are that I often face the same challenges at work and at home, but on the bright side, an epiphany in one area brings me improvement in the other. And while I’ll never enjoy a rigid schedule, I am finding value in a relatively firm structure, perhaps because we’ve had success with it at home.

File this one under: upside at work for being a mom.


*Lest you think we’re all awesome, please know that most of the paragraph about our structure at home refers to our ideal kind of day. On any given day, we’re too much of one kind of time and not enough of another, we’ve forgotten to give each other time to finish a thought before interrupting, and someone has infringed upon someone else’s space. What’s key is that we are all trying to do our best at these things for every other person in the house, not just adults for toddlers or vice versa. How we strive for respect is universal for all of us, and we are all struggling to learn and do them.


2 thoughts on “On structure at work and home

    • I found it! I’m sorry, I should have admitted that I wasn’t quite sure, but in actuality, I WAS quite sure that it was this one book but I just couldn’t find the quote, which I spent too many months remembering and searching for. Turns out, wrong book. It was
      SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck by Julie Morgenstern, which I thought I hated (I hate acronym-based Brilliant Solutions For Your Life kind of books) but apparently this was the thought-provoking book I remembered. Huh.

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