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When I was a young professional early in my career, I was extremely excited to have graduated with my undergraduate degree, ready to start making a reputation as a hard worker, as well as settle down and start a family. Both of these excitements can lead to conflict for young professionals.
When I started working, I traveled away from home regularly to support field and construction projects, often being away from home six to eight weeks at a time. Over the years, as I gained more experience, I started finding myself traveling less; however, I was working longer hours at the office. Whether traveling or working longer hours, I always tried to find a work-life balance.
Early on in my career I struggled to understand what work-life balance was; at times, I would burn out from too many hours or disappoint my family due to my lack of availability. Eventually I began to figure out what work-life balance looked like for myself and my family. Below are some of the lessons and tips I have learned to carve out a healthy work-life balance early in my career while still earning a reputation as a hard worker:
- Always take time off for important dates: birthdays, weddings, family parties, milestones, etc.
- When having to travel, look for an opportunity to bring your family on the trip. Try to turn the travel into a work/vacation trip.
- Try to learn early on what tasks do require immediate attention and what tasks don’t. Create a matrix to determine tasks that need to be done first (important tasks to be done the same day); scheduled tasks (important but not urgent); tasks that can be delegated (those that are urgent but which others can do – great for coaching and mentoring younger professionals); and tasks that are neither urgent nor important (if the task is not urgent or important, why do it?).
- If you know you are going to have a stretch of weeks with long hours due to a deliverable or another work-related task, schedule time off once the work is done. This will allow your body to reset, avoid burnout and allow for more time with your family.
- Young professionals establish their reputations early in their careers. They may be required to travel and work long hours. While traveling and working long hours will force the work-life balance to be skewed more toward work, the hard work the young professional puts in early in their career will help earn them a reputation as a hard worker. That reputation will eventually get them promoted to a level that has less travel and possibly fewer hours.
Ken Mika, P.E., M.ASCE (licensed P.E. in Ill., Mich., Mo., Wash. and Wisc.) is a project engineer for Geosyntec in Green Bay, WI, and is a strategic leader with a proven ability to evaluate, build, and implement process improvements within and across teams. He has experience with field data collection in multiple media, staffing and field resource allocation, remedial design and contractor procurement, construction management, and building and maintaining cooperative teaming relationships. Mika is currently an ASCE Region 3 Governor, Wisconsin Section President, and 2020 Wisconsin Section Infrastructure Report Card Co-Chair.