Welcome to THE BALANCE PROJECT: a series of relevant and refreshingly candid interviews featuring inspiring and accomplished women talking about balance. I’ve always been curious about how women I admire manage the tragically glorified “doing it all” craze. So I asked them. As I suspected, no one really does “it all.” Everyone’s making sacrifices somewhere. And that should make us all feel a little better. I hope the conversation will be steered toward that reality rather than toward the flawed and dangerous assumption that we should try—or even want to try—to perfectly do “it all.”
By the way, looking for THE BALANCE PROJECT novel that was inspired by these interviews? It’s here.
No. 143: Kate Leroux, Geographic Information Systems Analyst
Where I live: Seattle, WA
Job: GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Analyst
Kids: One daughter, age 10
Have you changed jobs or adjusted anything in your career to have more balance?
Since 2009 I’ve negotiated a 30-hour work week (with my current and previous employers). A shorter workday makes me more focused and productive, and those extra 10 hours a week make an enormous difference in my quality of life. I would also not work in a position that didn’t offer at least the occasional flexibility to attend school events or take my child to appointments.
Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
I think you can have SOME of everything, but you need to accept that you can’t have ALL of everything. In my life, I have a shorter workday than most and less time with my daughter than most (because of shared custody).
What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
I still struggle to find enough time for that personal to-do list which I’m only barely on top of. I’d like to be able to find a regular time to do things like answer emails, organize pictures and videos, and so on.
What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
I’m pretty good at getting the most out of each area of my life when it’s happening. For example, when I have my daughter, I try to focus on her and the quality of our time. When I’m at work, I minimize distractions and downtime so I’m as productive as possible.
Do you have a favorite time management tool, hack, or other strategy you use that helps you achieve balance that you would recommend to others?
I use Trello to organize my life and collaborate with my husband. I have boards for work to-dos, personal to-dos, family to-dos, holiday gift planning, trip planning, and reference. We even used it to plan our wedding!
I’d also like to recommend the household system my husband and I created. For six weeks one of us is in charge of keeping track of all the little things (bills, scheduling, chores, to-dos) and making sure it all gets remembered and done. Then we switch. We call the person on duty the President, so it sounds like something cool (the name actually makes a difference). This system means that we’re both familiar with everything that goes into running our lives, and half the time I can actually stop doing that endless mental stream of remembering/reminding/keeping track.
What was the best advice you ever heard on balance?
From your spouse? No matter how busy you are, there’s always time for a hug and a kiss.
From your daughter? My daughter has really taken to heart what her school has taught her about emotional understanding and control, as well as what we teach at home about empathy. Some of her best advice has been her perfectly timed delivery of these guidelines back to me when I’m struggling with my own emotions.
If you had one extra hour in each day and you couldn’t work or be with your family, how would you spend that hour?
I have that hour! It’s my 30-minute bus ride, and I use it to read (because the bus is too crowded to work on a computer). Since I started this commute, I’ve been loving the chance to read so many books.
What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
How to not take things personally at work.
What do you hope to know by time you’re 60?
How to develop a healthy and loving adult relationship with my daughter—from 10, where she is now, through adolescence and into adulthood.
What part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
It would be nice to have a permanent secretary to be in charge of the “President” tasks (see above: bills, scheduling, chores, to-dos).
Whose job do you wish you had?
I’m happy where I am. I recently changed career direction to focus on GIS (geographic information systems). I’d like to be a full-time cartographer, which is what I’m working toward now.
Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
I’m especially grateful to restaurant servers, who are constantly on their feet, have to deal with all kinds of behavior, and usually work nights. I’m glad that’s not my job, and always try to be polite to them and tip well.
Activity? I find it hard to get much done later in the evening so I often watch TV or play a video game with my husband.
Website? I try to stay away from it, but if I venture to Quora, I fall into a rabbit hole that can last an hour or more.
How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
What do you read every morning?
The Seattle Times. Yes, an actual newspaper made of dead trees. The large format is easy to digest quickly, and I support their investigative journalism.
Complete the following sentences:
I think I: am at the best point in my life so far. I know myself and how to navigate the world, I have love in my life, respect from others, and a satisfying professional life.
I wish I: didn’t have to watch my food intake so carefully.
My daughter: is the best. I’m so glad I get to be her mother.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Getting enough exercise is very important to me. My preferred way is to play sports (like soccer), because my team is counting on me to be there.