As the vice president of product design at Facebook, Julie Zhuo has a pretty public persona. And because she's a woman in leadership who has children, she gets asked the same question All. The. Time.
"How do you achieve work-life balance?" Short answer: Zhuo says she hasn't achieved it.
Though she frequently gets asks this dreaded question -- most recently by a high school student during a Q&A session -- she says it still stumps her.
One reason is because she has a lot of hands-on support from her family and nanny, plus pays to outsource errands and chores to buy her time back.
Even so, her days are a whirlwind. "Most evenings, my end-of-day routine starts with a private lament that sounds something like this: "WHYYYYYYY ISN'T THERE MORE TIME IN THE DAYYYYYY?!?!" Zhuo wrote.
No one has super-human abilities.
Zhuo wants to be transparent about the support she receives and pays for, because she feels that most people who seemingly have it all don't always acknowledge it. She has a partner who shares the load at home, and a successful career that pays a good salary, allowing her to hire extra help.
If Zhuo seems like she gets a lot done, that's because she's not doing it alone. It's not because she's really good at making lists and managing her time. (Though, admittedly, Zhuo is good at that, too.)
"I think it's important to debunk the myth that 'being productive' requires superhuman abilities," Zhuo explained.
Define your own balance.
But say you don't have a cushy salary and don't have a robust network of support. Does that mean you should just give up?
Not at all. Zhuo still has some good advice for you. No matter what stage you are in your career and life, she encourages you to get serious about what balance means for you personally. Select a handful of priorities. She recommends you keep it between three and seven.
This is similar to Randi Zuckerberg's approach. She calls it the entrepreneur's dilemma: "Maintaining friendships. Building a great company. Spending time w/family. Staying fit. Getting sleep. Pick three."
Compare your priorities to reality.
Rank your priorities in order. Then, think about how you spent your time over the last month.
Compare how you want to spend to your time to how you actually did spend your time. If "rewatch all my favorite shows on Netflix this winter" didn't make the cut of your life priorities, then it's time to slash your binge watching.
Zhuo says once she started being more intentional in how she spent her time, she had fewer of those freak-out moments about not having enough of it. She also let other things go on her list that she aspired to do one day, but weren't priorities.
How are you actually spending your time?
Time management expert Laura Vanderkam agrees with this approach. She advises her clients, many of whom are high-performing executives with busy professional lives and families, to spend a week tracking their time in 30-minute chunks. It's usually an enlightening exercise because people realize they waste time doing things that don't always align with their priorities.
"We don't build the lives we want by saving time," Vanderkam said on the TED stage. "We build the lives we want, and then time saves itself."