Shortly after the birth of my second child, I had the opportunity to work on an exciting project for the leadership team that had the potential to make a substantial impact. My baby was a few months old and I had just returned from maternity leave. I remember staying up late at night to take care of her, and also to work on the project. It was hard, and at the same time, it was also very rewarding.
I couldn’t have done it without the valuable support of my husband, who took care of most of our meals and cared for our children while managing his own demanding career, and my manager, who worked with me to set up flexible hours and working remotely.
When I look back, I realize that my drive toward achieving, as a mom and with my assignment, was nothing new—it had been part of my makeup for as long as I can remember. From a young age, my parents had encouraged me to push my boundaries toward new goals, and I was more than happy to do just that.
The word used to describe this desire to achieve—in all of my roles and also in whatever task is at hand—is ambition.
That word often gets a bad rap and we’re told we can’t have it all. But wanting a meaningful and rewarding career and, equally, a strong and happy family, sense of self and to contribute to my community and society, don’t have to be at odds. Instead, I view them as interrelated and follow some key steps, which I have learned from my experiences and from others, that give me the best opportunity to succeed in each area.
Organize and optimize
I realized early on that I needed a plan. When I was in my teens, I would take a sheet of paper, draw a number of squares that each represented a different area of my life and fill them in with a few words about what I wanted to achieve and how I would get there. Then I would study the page to get a clear idea of my roadmap.
It was a simple, four-square chart and my buckets covered the basics of teenage life, like academics, social life, arts/athletics and community involvement. Today, my grid is far more complex with many more squares, but I still use it consistently to move closer to my goals across the various aspects of my life.
That’s just one of the techniques I use to organize. Related to that is optimizing how I work to save time and become more efficient. I prioritize what’s on my to-do list and develop an overall timing strategy that includes setting time limits for certain tasks. I also consider value—how important will this be for the audience or the purpose—to help me figure out what’s worth spending a lot of time on. This is really helpful, especially if I’m struggling with putting together a presentation, for example.
A very valuable tip I learned from a friend is that part of optimizing is finding your natural rhythm and then assigning tasks into your peak performance days and times. I kept a log and discovered that I typically lost steam on Thursdays, but that I was always at my peak on Saturdays, Mondays and Tuesdays. That was an “aha” moment for me. Now, to the degree possible, I take that into account and schedule more challenging tasks or meetings during my peak performance days.