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 asked 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.
Rita Tsang is president and CEO of Tour East Holidays (Canada) Inc., a Toronto-based travel agent and tour packager. Founded in 1976 to specialize in trips to Asia, the firm now also offers such packages as spa and golfing experiences in Whistler, B.C and the Alberta Rockies. Tour East has offices in Canada, New York and China.
“Finding perfect peace” is how Tsang defines a balanced life. “A lot of it is in the mind Ã¢â‚¬â€- you are what you think.” These days, Tsang says her life is well balanced. But it can take more than mind over matter to achieve. She’s developed several strategies to help ensure that “I’m not overdoing it in any particular area, so I’m not overstressed.”
First, she’s found a way to mix business with pleasure by squeezing in vacation time on business trips. Fortunately, working in the travel industry allows her to take three or four trips a year, most often to China or Southeast Asia. Like many entrepreneurs, “I find it hard to be away for long from the office,” she says, so she limits trips to roughly seven to 10 days long. If possible, she takes family members along (her two adult daughters, Camille and Claudia, also work in the company). On trips, “I do a little bit of business, then we connect and spend a bit of time together,” she says, taking time out to enjoy shopping, museums, fine dining or an opera, for example.
To cope with stress when she’s stationed at home, Tsang recommends taking full advantage of being the boss. “If you find that work is getting stressful, then take a little break,” she says. “Of course, if I just can’t, I won’t. But if I feel that the office can do the afternoon without me, then I just quickly sneak out. I just do it.” Taking afternoon tea at the Four Seasons is one way she enjoys “the atmosphere of being pampered.”
Tsang, who typically works 40-50 hours a week, says that the key to freeing up time and reducing guilt is to make the most of time spent in the office. For example, she often works through lunch or before and after traditional business hours, when interruptions and busy phones are less likely, she says. “I can send all my e-mails and catch up on a lot of paperwork without being bothered.”
Finally, Tsang finds peace through volunteering. “When I make time to go for meetings that are not work related, I feel like I’m in control,” she says. “When people feel like they’re out of control, that’s when they feel really bad.” She brings her management and fundraising skills to several cultural events and charities, including the Royal Ontario Museum and the Smile China Project, which sends western medical doctors to remote areas of China to treat children affected with facial deformities. “Seeing that you can bring a smile back to a child’s face is just great, and for me, it’s really therapeutic. It’s something that I find meaningful apart from work.”