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: Patricia Gibson is vice-president of Install-A-Flor Ltd., a Dartmouth, N.S.-based provider of flooring supplies and custom flooring installations. Founded in 1988 by Gibson and her husband, Larry, the company runs commercial, wholesale and retail operations.
Achieving balance means exploring many sides of yourself, says Gibson. “Work fulfills you in a certain way when it’s your passion, but you still need to get out of the office and realize who you are outside of being a boss,” she says. “If you go through life thinking that you’re the boss all the time, that doesn’t work.”
A major role that Gibson, aged 52, plays is mom. When her kids Tracy and Daniel (now in their mid-twenties) were preschoolers, “[they] were the most important thing in my life, but we had everything that we owned on the line into this blossoming business,” she says. Not wanting to rely on babysitters or daycare every day, she got creative and approached her neighbour with a temporary solution, which involved taking turns minding each other’s kids. As her kids grew, Gibson took them into work on some weekends and tailored her hours so she would be home “the minute they got off that bus,” she says. “I really valued that time with them.”
To enable her to work from home when necessary, Gibson used all the tech tools available to her, including cell phones and home computers (which were just becoming popular) with remote-access software. “It was so slow, it was unbelievable, but nevertheless, it allowed me to get into my computer at work and do it from home,” she recalls. Today, Gibson’s company is equipped with an Internet-based computer system that allows access from anywhere in the world. “It’s extremely helpful,” she says. “You can take half an hour and look at something you didn’t have time to look at [at work], but not necessarily be on the grind, working.”
Another role Gibson plays is wife and business partner. Working with her husband “can be quite challenging at times,” she says, but to manage, the pair keep offices on separate floors of the company, limit work-talk during non-work hours, and always take a one-week getaway in late winter. It wasn’t always easy to get away, “but we said no, we’re not giving this up,” she says. “That week always helped us.”
Gibson also recommends fostering balance by indulging personal interests. For example, relax with friends that have nothing to do with work, take up a hobby (Gibson enjoys golfing, boating, and trying new recipes) and find compelling reasons to leave work on time (Gibson’s 10-month-old Llhaso apso puppy forces her to return home for walks at a reasonable hour).
A good test to see if your life is balanced is to ask yourself how you’d feel if you only had six months to live, suggests Gibson. What would you want to do that you’re not doing? What choices would you make? What would you do differently? “I honestly could not think of what I would give up and do,” says Gibson. With a successful business, rewarding hobbies and two great kids, she says, “balance, to me, means happiness.”