The mystical concept of a work-life balance has plagued working women since it was first introduced in the late 1970s. To me, the phrase conjures up a mental image of a woman trying to juggle, while walking on a tightrope and hosting a conference call at the same time. Regardless of my personal feelings on the wording, the topic itself has perhaps never been more important than right now.
During the latest of our Digital Sisterhood series, I was joined by transformation coach and prominent advocate for women in business, Dr Yvette Ankrah MBE. With two decades' experience running her own business and coaching women (she was previously shortlisted for Best Coach at the Best Business Women Awards), Yvette spoke to me about how she is staying calm and maintaining a grip on work-life balance during the Covid-19 pandemic.
My conversation with Yvette left me feeling calmer, I hope it does the same for you. Our conversation is below, but you can also watch on AllBright IGTV.
“Think about what happens if you can’t function,” Yvette says. “What would happen if you can't do the things you want and need to do?” I consider this, running through a list of tasks necessary for my job, my family, my life that certainly wouldn’t get done if I was out of the game. “Taking care of yourself isn’t optional – it’s mandatory,” Yvette says firmly. "Everything that is connected to you works when you work. It’s not selfish, it’s not indulgent. We have to put ourselves first.”
How does one learn this skill though if we’ve spent our whole lives operating with the opposite mindset? For Yvette, it goes beyond generic self-care. “It’s more than a glass of wine after a stressful day or the promise of a spa break when this is all over.” She recommends making small changes regularly and says you’ll soon notice the difference.
“Meditation and gratitude are two things I do every day and practise as a form of self-care. It’s simply the act of being in the moment, being aware and present.” Gratitude journaling is clinically proven to change your brain and your outlook on life, she says. “Start by doing it for 21 days, then by 90 days you will have formed a new habit. Write down three things you are grateful for every night before bed, or first thing in the morning."
Work is a fraught subject at the moment. Whether you've been furloughed, are running a business or suddenly working from home, each situation has brought a new set of challenges. I ask Yvette how we can apply her advice to our careers right now.
“It really depends on where you are mentally,” she says. “If you are feeling extremely anxious – which a lot of people are – about the sheer amount of uncertainty at the moment, then your goal should literally be to get through each day and focus on the positive things you achieve.”
For those who don’t feel as anxious, Yvette recommends making decisions “based on the now”. For those running businesses, she encourages them to think about their customers. “Speak to them, find out how they are, engage with them. Everyone should be asking what they can give right now, businesses included.”
I ask Yvette to talk a little about boundaries. It’s a subject that has come up in a lot of the Digital Sisterhood talks and I want to get her advice on how to push back on the demands and expectations from bosses, friends and family. “You need to think about what you’re saying yes to,” she says. “Before you say yes, make sure you understand what that ‘yes’ actually means in terms of the knock-on effect on time with family and your ability to meet other deadlines.”
Remember, she says, people will keep pushing if you keep saying yes all the time. “In short, boundaries can make you happier, and when you’re happier, you are more productive, more creative and more receptive.
If I could leave you today with one final thought: we have launched the Digital Sisterhood to provide women everywhere with the community and support they need at the moment. Be that a safe space to ask questions – and receive honest answers – or somewhere to find a digital event that will offer you the information, or perhaps the motivation, you need to get you through the coming days and weeks. We’re here for you so please do head to allbrightconnect.com to join our community.