During the Great Women Of Our Time Forum last weekend, our inspiring panel of speakers shared stories and strategies on how they juggle the sometimes overwhelming demands of family and work, how they deal with the inevitable “mummy guilt” and more.
Our panel speakers from left to right were:
Sher-Li Torrey, Founder and Director of Mums @ Work, a social enterprise that supports women by acting as a point of information source for flexi-time work or mumpreneur business ownership.
Tan Yen Yen, Regional Vice President and Managing Director, Asia Pacific (South) of SAS Institute Pte Ltd and a nominee of the Great Women Of Our Time 2009 in the Science & Technology category.
Tan Su-Lyn, Co-founder and CEO of The Ate Group and a nominee in this year’s Great Women Of Our Time, Arts & Media category. Read more about her here.
Here, they reveal seven secrets to manage your time and lead a more well-balanced and fulfilling life:
1. See life in phases and prioritise accordingly
Su-Lyn advises that while keeping a schedule is important, “it’s also important to recognise that your schedules and priorities in life change from phase to phase”, she says. What’s important to you when you’re in your 20s is vastly different in yours 30s, especially once you’re married with children and are more settled in your career.
In fact, what you choose to prioritise will more often than not guide your decisions in life. Yen Yen speaks for most, if not all of us, when she says, “I only have 24 hours a day. In spite of my career, family comes first.” (It’s important to note that apart from her full time executive role, Yen Yen is also on the board of Directors of many organisations, including the Science Centre and Singapore Press Holdings.)
She goes on to say, “You need to know your priorities and your value system, because that will be your compass when it comes to making decisions.”
2. Create small, achievable goals instead of trying to accomplish everything at once
Once you’re able to see life in phases, it’s much easier to break down large goals into smaller, more realistically achievable ones.
“Live in the moment and maximise what you have, because it’s not about having it all, it’s about recognising what’s most important to you [at this point in your life] and going for that,” says Su-Lyn.
Sher-Li wisely notes that “pressure comes from us wanting to cling on to everything in our lives”, be it career, family, relationships etc. “But a lot of things (like careers) don’t last forever,” she says,
How I perceive being a good mother is doing certain things with my kids. Eg exercising with your child. When you do that you’ll start to see purpose in the day to day. The fact you managed to accomplish something in a day, is a good thing.
3. Avoid playing the comparison game
Recognise that your limitations aren’t necessarily weaknesses. There will always somebody who seems to have it all together but “if you look at what you can’t do [compared to someone else who seems more successful or capable], it’s not very productive,” Su-Lyn says. She encourages women to give each other metaphorical high-fives and say ‘I admire what you do; How can I learn from you?’
Never judge the woman next to you, because she may seem more successful but you don’t know what or how much she’s sacrificed to get there, Su-Lyn advises.
4. Understand what your strengths are
Having a sound knowledge of what you’re good at plays an essential role in helping you manage your time better and find greater purpose in everything you do. For instance, Yen Yen’s IT skills make her highly organised and process-oriented, not to mention able to multi-task well. These skills “are very much part of me”, she says, “and more importantly, if you enjoy what you do whether at home or at work, then you’ll find meaning in everything.”
5. Find ways to be there without being there
Firstly, know that every mother experiences varying degrees of mummy guilt. It’s completely normal to feel bad about not being able to spend as much time with your children as you would like. Su-Lyn believes this is because as women, “we always expect more of ourselves. For me, I try to accept that I can only do (my best), and I try not to beat myself up.”
So find ways to be there without being there – for example, Su-Lyn can’t possibly cook every meal at home, so she plans and writes down recipes for her helper to make because she knows what her kids like. She says, “I also often cook at midnight. [These would be] more versatile dishes that can be stored, like stews. And I love to bake, so I make dough in large batches and freeze them.”
6. Choose quality over quantity in relationships
When it comes to making time for your spouse, it doesn’t have to mean spending lots of time together – it’s more about maintaining a constant connection with each other. The small things do matter, such as making it a point to text “How’s your day?” and “I love you” to each other when you’re apart.
“It does make a difference because you feel like the person is with you throughout the day in small ways. So it’s not just about celebrating the special occasions but about consistency [in the relationship],” says Sher-Li.
Sher-Li and her husband find themselves on dates at the hawker centre, sharing prata while waiting for the kids’ tuition class to end, or going grocery shopping at the supermarket. It’s the in-between moments like these that help cement and even grow the bond in relationships, especially marriages.
7. Focus on the positives, and stop dwelling on the negatives
Think of the things you have done, instead of what you could have done or didn’t do, Su-Lyn suggests. Once you have this paradigm shift, you’ll be more ready to achieve the things you want to achieve.
Plus, the beauty of parenthood is that it’s constantly changing, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t match up to your expectations. Sher-Li says, “it’s like we’re wired to feel guilty. But I always tell my children that I’m trying to be the best mum I can be. I tell my husband that I need his support too, but I’m doing the best that I can [as a wife].”
She concludes, “It’s powerful because when I say these things, it’s me affirming myself. And then, it gets easier.”
For more inspiring life advice and tips, read 8 Ways To Overcome Obstacles And Achieve Your Goals, 5 Valuable Career Lessons You Can Learn From Irene Ang and Meet The Woman Who Climbs Mountains For Abused Women And Children.
Text: Elizabeth Liew