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Guest opinion: Work-life balance: Lessons learned from a career in project management


By Angie Ramirez | Project manager, Strategic America

Before I begin, there’s something important I have to get out of the way. Work is part of life. That’s why I laugh at the term work-life balance. There’s really only life balance. And while it’s likely no day will ever be an equal mix, the key is to find a balance that works for you.

Ironically, my inspiration for that balance comes from a career in project management. The goal of project management is to ensure projects move efficiently and enable team members to resolve issues faster along the way. Doesn’t that sound like something we all need?

The common pitfalls of project management are also themes we often see in our own lives. Unclear roles, unclear communication or tension can bring projects (or our lives) to a halt. My career has given me some lessons to bring balance to my life. Hopefully, they’ll help you too.

Change is part of life. It’s how we handle it that makes a difference. Whether you’re leading the change at work or dealing with something more personal, changing habits, routines and behavior is difficult. The most important thing is to be realistic. Change affects us emotionally, no matter how much we wish it wasn’t true.

That’s why you have to talk about the journey — with its challenges, frustrations and victories. Over-communicate with the people going through the change with you. Most important, don’t wait until everything is perfect. Change is all about adapting.

Don’t let “what if” questions derail your progress.

Self-talk is the first place to start in changing your mindset and approach in a challenge. It sounds corny, but it’s so true. The more we change the voice in our head, the more positive the approach and outcome.

If you can’t entirely get rid of the “what if” questions, change the way you look at them. Rather than “what if I fail,” think about what could happen if you succeed. Then make a realistic plan that will let you pivot in case anything changes.

If all else fails when it comes to self-talk, think about whether you would say what you’re thinking about yourself to a friend. If the answer is a resounding no, it’s time to reexamine.

Set expectations and stick to them.

Expectations are incredibly important to me. They’re critical for finding balance in your life. How can you plan if you have no idea what you expect of yourself and others? And what about what others expect of you?

I never ask anyone to contribute more than I would be willing to contribute. But I also expect other people to let me know if I am not meeting their expectations. This is critical in every relationship, from personal to professional.

Ask for help when you need it.

It’s cliché, but it really can’t be overstated. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. Prioritization is an essential skill, both in life and in project management. And when you have a team like mine on your side, you know someone will step up and help you stay balanced.

Angie Ramirez is the director of project management at Strategic America, an integrated marketing agency in West Des Moines. She has nearly 20 years of experience in project management. She focuses on relationships to strengthen communications and collaboration across disciplines.

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