The Times of London: Work/Life
From The Times
November 27, 2007
How is your work/life balance? You can’t succeed unless it is good, says a top US
life coach, who gives ‘laser coaching’ advice to Times readers
Katrine McPherson-Kelly, 35, is a senior scientist and technical brand manager with Procter & Gamble.
She works on over-the-counter medicines, on up to ten projects at a time, each with a team of seven or
eight people. Her first child, Jack, was born a month ago and she plans to return to work after six months’
maternity leave, but is unsure how to combine a demanding work schedule — and her tendency to
overwork — with motherhood. “I want to make sure that in five years’ time I’ve focused on the right
things,” she says. Like her husband, a research engineer, she is a keen athlete (she rowed for Scotland
and won gold at the 1999 Commonwealth Games) and likes to exercise daily. She describes herself as
driven and gets great satisfaction from her job but often uses an energy boost of chocolate and Diet Coke
to get through the day. She doesn’t drink alcohol or smoke.
Katrine’s typical working day:
6.30am Get up. Immediately thinking about work.
8am Arrive at work after 25-mile journey by motorbike to save time. Eat a bar of chocolate. The days are
very varied. Lots of meetings, quite a lot of day trips to Geneva to meet colleagues. Those days are
6.30am to 10pm, and they wipe you out. I also work on global teams and my counterparts are in
Cinncinatti, Singapore and Caracas, so you’re juggling a lot of people and time zones as well. Consumer
work takes me around Europe to look at people’s lifestyles. At times I’m travelling every week.
11.30am-noon Start a sandwich.
3.30pm Finish sandwich after interruptions by meetings. On some days I miss lunch.
4pm This is the time I want to finish work to fit in with my husband so that we have more time together.
5.30pm-6pm Finish work. When I was pregnant I took the train and my husband regularly sat outside the
station for up to two hours waiting for me. I got better at leaving on time, though I did feel guilty at first.
7pm-8pm Home. No food in the house but Asda is a three-minute walk away and that’s our food
cupboard. Have supper, but it’s fast food: pizza, pasta, baked potato. If I’m home in time my preference is
to do some exercise, running or cycling. Half the time I don’t have an evening. I feel guilty when I’m late
because it impacts on my husband, not just me.
9.30pm Hot bath and read my book for 45 minutes. That’s my only switch-off time.
10.30pm Bed. If I’m later than that I pay for it the next day. It’s only while I’ve been pregnant that I’ve
realized how long an evening you can have and how you miss out when you don’t have it. Jack was born
a month early and I had an important deadline coming up so there I was in labour worrying about the
deadline. It took me a week to switch off my brain.
Jack’s sleeping for two-and-a-half hours at a time now and I sleep well in between. He’s a chilled-out
baby, so I’m lucky. I took him to work last week and someone said I look much better — it’s because I feel
What I picked up from Katrine is a thread of guilt. She says that she’s so fortunate because her husband
has the patience of a saint and little Jack is easy-going, but she feels guilty if she doesn’t do an excellent
job at work and at home. She knows that when she goes back to work, she doesn’t just want simply to
show up, she wants to do a great job, and I can see that if she doesn’t make some changes she’s
automatically going to have guilt.
So what we talked about is her responding to that probability, rather than waiting for it to happen and then
reacting. To do that it is important that she has a plan in place. She said that people ask what she wants
in her life, and she never knows where to go with that. I said: you’re a global award-winning project
manager, how about designing an ideal week for your family that will have all the things in it that you
want, and that will allow you to be guilt-free?
Two days a week she has a lunchtime run marked on her calendar. I asked what she experienced when
she ran at lunch and she said she comes back to work a different person. She’s enthusiastic, ready for
anything: for her, exercise is the key to her balance so she will want to make that part of it.
Coach’s note: Her goal then is that by January 1 she’s going to design an ideal week, including all the
balance pieces that she wants to have in there. She’ll have a plan for her food, a plan for her time off, for
her exercise, so that she won’t be sucked back in to just reacting to everything. That’s the important
distinction. She has all the tools and skills to make this happen for herself, but she had never thought of it
before. This will be her new year’s resolution, and she’ll share it with me.
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