The Work-Life Balance
PHOTO: Trying to achieve that work-life balance can leave us not knowing which way to turn.
When I was discussing my column topic for this issue with my editor last month, I jokingly suggested that I would write on how to balance everything that the industry throws at travel agents on a daily basis.
He didn’t take it as a joke. Instead, he told me it would be a great idea! I reread his email, one tab of about 15 that I had open. The other tabs were a mix of research for no less than five new travel requests, administrative duties in responding to my team, setting up a new biography page for my latest hire and emails from clients that I needed to respond to by the end of the day.
The problem here was that it was the end of the day and I had to leave to make it on time for a dinner reservation.
So how do I do it? How do I manage clients, my team and my travel business without losing my mind, my business and my sleep?
I once saw a coffee mug with a slogan that read: “We all have the same number of hours in a day as Beyoncé. Make them count.” As silly as it is, it’s true! We are not all given the same financial standing, talents or connections, but we are all given those same 24 precious hours. I fully believe that Beyoncé manages hers in a way that still allows her to spend time with family and get some beauty rest at night.
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The goal of balancing my travel career’s responsibilities has been a struggle. I haven’t figured it out completely, but I will say that I’m a lot closer to whatever Zen can be reached when I eventually do get it right.
ON CALL 24/7
When I first started in the industry, I was on call 24/7, as many of us are, and it took a toll. I felt the overwhelming pressure to respond to client emails the very minute they came in. I would answer the phone after 11 at night just to provide great customer service. I did everything in my power to be everything to everyone whenever I was needed.
But living like this can easily destroy you. I’m certainly not suggesting that you respond in a less dedicated manner, but you also have to learn to let go just a bit. You can run a great business without being superhuman by employing a few new practices in order to give yourself the margin you need to get the job done.
When someone is calling for a non-emergency after business hours, it’s really okay to get back to them the next business day. These are things I am still learning when that type-A personality of mine starts bubbling up inside of me, telling me to respond to an email when I roll over in bed at three in the morning and see it flashing on my screen. I just stop, breathe and let it go. I’d rather fight through that anxiety than to cave in and become my own enabler. I think this is especially difficult for independent contractors. Most of us don’t go into an office with defined hours, so we don’t even think to set hours for ourselves.
That’s step number one: set your hours and make them known to clients. They will not respect your time unless you respect your time.
Now that I’m managing a team of independent contractors, these are lessons that I hope they can learn faster than I did. One of the best tricks I have is setting a client’s expectations. The ball is in your court when managing expectations, so you just have to take advantage of that.
PROVIDE A TIMEFRAME
I never end a phone call or an email without giving the client an idea of when they will be hearing from me next or what their next steps are. They are never left with an open-ended question of my responsibility in the next phase of their vacation. This gives them the peace of mind that I am working in a timely manner and, as long as I keep setting realistic expectations for myself, it takes an immense pressure off me. And it should take the pressure off you, too!
So what happened on the day that my editor emailed asking me to write about work-life balance, when I had all of the tabs on my laptop open but a prior commitment at the end of the day? I simply responded to those who might be expecting to hear from me in one sentence, letting them know that I was working on it and would have it to them the following day.
And you know what? I didn’t lose a single client because I did that!
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A version of this article appears in print in the July 2015 issue of Agent@Home Magazine.
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