A fine balance [July-August print edition]

Balancing workload with private obligations is a key to a successful career

September 5, 2012
by Blair Lemcke

For the last 13 years I’ve been blessed to work in the mining industry. It’s one of the most dynamic, fast-paced and exciting industries in the world, and the range of equipment used in this area is second to none.

Add to this mix the fact that the equipment is used 2km underground, then consider the varied locations of these operations, and you can understand the level of complexity involved. There are domestic and international supply chains, ice roads, goat paths, Antonov shipments, Hercules shipments—the logistical methods to get equipment and materials to these operations are endless.

Everything in mining needs to arrive now. You can get wrapped up in these challenges; fighting fires, solving problems and expediting deliveries for weeks. Blackberries, time zone differences and the Internet can mean 14- or 16-hour days. In this lies the struggle between work and life. Finding my balance has been the key to a successful career and rewarding life.

For many years my life was lopsided towards my career. I worked late. I worked at home. I travelled a lot. This put stress on me, my family and my friends. I was tired, short with loved ones and my health suffered.

This made my work suffer. I thought I was making the right choice by working long hours and putting my career first. But I was less efficient. One day, a HR professional said to me “Blair, are you busy doing the right things?” This stuck and helped me refocus. I looked at what I was doing at work, reviewed the systems, found the inefficiencies and corrected them. I re-ignited my internal flame for work and life. I was recharged.

This didn’t happen overnight. Every day, we forge commitments and sign contracts on behalf of our employers. I signed a contact with myself. I committed to eating supper at home, attending school plays, not missing soccer or hockey games, engaging with family and friends and taking personal time.

It all started with being home every night for supper. This made it impossible to miss a soccer or hockey game because they always happened after we ate. Friends and family never called until after supper. Ultimately, I realized it was OK to disconnect from technology and connect personally with friends and family for a few hours each day.

Do I breach that contract with myself now and again? Absolutely. Because of the nature of the work I’m involved in, travel and project tasks sometimes take priority. But these days, it’s a far cry from the norm. I don’t check the computer or Blackberry now until the kids are in bed. You can remain engaged in work outside of work hours, just do it on your own schedule. When I miss a school play, we make a big deal out of watching the video at home.

Business travel notwithstanding, you can work your day around your schedule. On a recent project, the project manager scheduled a daily meeting that, due to time zone differences, took place during our lunch hour. I moved my personal time from 12pm to 1pm to 1:30pm to 2:30pm, in order to allow for a daily workout or to run a few errands. Take that time. You have earned it and you will be better off if you do.

From a career perspective, I was recharged and firing on all cylinders again. It may sound like a cliché, but it’s true. I’m not drained anymore so I have more to give at work. This has translated into meeting and exceeding procurement project deliverables, career advancement and a hunger to do more. I’m excited to get out of bed in the morning and go to work. The passion and commitment is back.

There’s no better work than being a supply chain professional. The challenges, complexities and satisfaction from managing to do the impossible is second to none. But we can spend our entire days in the trenches making this happen. I challenge you to poke your head out of the trench every once in a while. Look at your systems, procedures and technology. Find the inefficiencies and correct them. The outcome will leave you focused and recharged. Your personal life and career will be rewarded.

Don’t let a personal crisis be your motivator to refocus. Do it now. Find that balance. Hopefully you can avert that crisis altogether.    b2b

Blair Lemcke is a senior procurement specialist at Stantec in North Bay.