Canadian production executive Andrea Griffith discovers key to work-life balance

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      Over the weekend, TEDx Vancouver took over the Chan Centre at UBC to present 19 educational and inspiring talks by community leaders, entrepreneurs, and internationally renowned activists. The theme was “how to”: step-by-step workshops on success and overcoming adversity, presented by masters of their craft.

      Some of the ideas were theoretical frameworks for tackling global problems, like former prime minister Kim Campbell’s call for action on environmental sustainability and journalist Mohamed Fahmy’s plea to protect press freedom. Thought leaders provided provocative concepts that challenged the status quo, like Daryl Fontana’s push to lower the voting age to 16. And some were purely instructional, like Breakfast Television host Riaz Meghji’s How to Make a Toast.

      One of the more applicable how-tos, presented by award-winning producer and director Andrea Griffith, took on the constant struggle to maintain stability between professional demands and personal desires: the work-life balance.

      Faced with increasing distractions, establishing a sustainable work-life balance is a circus high-wire act of juggling time, energy, and attention—an act Griffith has learned to master by repurposing skills garnered from 19 years working in television.

      As a production executive for Corus Entertainment, a Toronto-based broadcaster, Griffith has brought to life a handful of popular lifestyle shows, including Moving the McGillivrays, Holmes and Holmes, and the new fashion-competition series Stitched.

      “How do you divide work and life when it’s all life?” Griffith asked the audience. “And if you’re balancing, that means you’re putting equal weight on those two things. That’s almost impossible.”

      She attributes her shift in thinking to what she called an out-of-body experience: a drone shot taken as she and her husband struggled to affix a Christmas tree onto the roof of their car several years ago. The couple had taken their two children to pick out a tree for the holidays, only to discover they’d forgotten the straps needed to mount the festive greenery to the vehicle. The children grew restless. Griffith and her husband got frustrated. Chaos ensued.

      In that moment, Griffith thought to herself: “This would never happen at work.”

      She explained that her professional life got the organized, proactive planner while her home life suffered.

      “I wasn’t feeling guilty; I don’t do guilt,” she said. “I felt empowered because I knew what I had to do.”

      Griffith decided to adapt four strategies she relied upon in her career to create balance in her family time. The first strategy, she said, is simple: write it down.

      “You probably have good ideas that you’re not using,” she said. “In TV, we write it down. We have brainstorm sessions, we have meetings. Every idea is either implemented immediately or we store it away for next season.”

      Taking her own advice, she wrote down that she needed a “strap thingy”—later to discover it was called a ratchet strap—which she bought and used for a much smoother jaunt to the Christmas-tree farm the following year.

      Griffith calls the second strategy “pulling a mepeat”—her playful adaptation of the word repeat.

      “In TV, when a show does well, we commission a second season. If it works once, it’ll work again. It’s a heck of a time saver,” she said.

      Griffith said she pulls “mepeats” all the time. For example, she designated a “summer uniform”: an outfit she wears to run errands and taxi her children around to activities after work. “Three white oxford shirts, three jean shorts. I rotate them. I get home from work, change into the summer uniform, and we’re gone. And I get compliments!” she said.

      “Same outfit, y’all. Mepeat.”

      Thirdly, Griffith said, start earlier.

      “Having what you need, or what your family needs, when you need it alleviates stress. At work, we’re two years ahead. It’s not possible in your personal life, but you could plan one month ahead, two months ahead, a few weeks. It’s doable.”

      Lastly, she said, visualize.

      “Visualization is a powerful tool. If you see the entire scene all the way through, you’ll plan properly,” she told the audience, adding that in the reality-TV industry, although scenes aren’t scripted, the production team walks through every scene from opening titles to closing credits long before filming begins.

      “The reality is the work-life balance isn’t always attainable. It just isn’t. Every day is different. Don’t be discouraged,” she concluded.

      “You are your own best resource. You have skills. You have ideas. Capture them, use them, and when they work for you, pull a mepeat!”