Meeting both business and personal demands has long been a juggling act for women entrepreneurs. Between the long hours, travel, meetings and employee and customer challenges, there’s little time left for personal needs. Still, leading a rich, well-rounded life is as essential to your business success as it is to your sanity.
We ask Canada’s leading businesswomen to tell us how they effectively manage work/life balance. Each issue we’ll bring you the tactics and strategies that help women grow their companies and careers, while still finding a little “me” time to help deal with the personal commitments of life.
This issue: Arlene Dickinson, president and CEO of Venture Communications Ltd., a Calgary-based marketing communications firm. With offices in Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa, the firm provides marketing strategy and execution, and software that measures its clients’ return on marketing investment. Dickinson can be seen on Season 2 of CBC-TV’s Dragons’ Den as a member of its investment panel.
According to Dickinson, lifestyle balance “is more of a feeling… it’s not about how much you work and how much you play.” And you know you’ve achieved it when you feel the freedom to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. “It’s about being able to say, ‘You know what? I need a break, I’m going to take it.’ And being able to do that.”
But feeling balanced is trickier at some life stages than at others.
Years ago, Dickinson found herself in the position of being both an early-stage entrepreneur and a divorced mom of four kids under the age of 10. The juggling act was “very hard,” despite having a great deal of personal support. So instead of rigidly punching a clock, Dickinson adopted a floating schedule that adapted to the needs of the moment. However, “I would guard the [personal] hours much more jealously,” she says, adding that the trick was defining her family/social lifeline. For example, “You can spend your life trying to be socially active so you can drum up business,” she says. “I just tried really hard to spend whatever time I wasn’t working at home, as opposed to using those after-hours hours to be business-driven.”
Because her business was in its early days, the impact on her company’s growth, if any, was hard to measure, says Dickinson. Not that she had a choice: “When you’re in the middle of it, you put your head down and say, ‘This is where I am in my life,’ and you just manage it.”
These days, despite working an average of 50 to 60 hours a week, Dickinson feels that her life is much more balanced and in control than ever before. Her schedule is driven more by business and travel than by making sure the kids are fed and their homework is done. “I find that I have the ability to think more about taking time for myself,” she says. To reduce stress, she enjoys reading, walking, “and every once in a while I go to a spa to chill out.”
The ability to compartmentalize her life is a helpful skill, too. “I can switch off work in my head pretty quickly. I feel fortunate–I don’t feel like I’m burdened by thinking about [work] 24/7.”
And even with a hectic schedule, Dickinson staunchly maintains one family tradition that helps her maintain balance and perspective: “We have Sunday dinner together and we try and spend defined time. We make sure it’s almost like a family date,” she says. “Everybody understands that there’s always an open invitation to get together on that day to have dinner together and catch up on one another’s lives.”