Amanda Goetz Doesn’t Believe in Balance

The VP of Marketing at the Knot Talks About Blending Rather Than Balancing Work and Life

If she were merely the head of brand marketing at the Knot, Amanda Goetz would have enough work to fill her days—and enough stress to guarantee plenty of sleepless nights.

But that’s not all Amanda Goetz does. She’s also getting a new startup off the ground, and homeschooling two of her three kids (“After this is phonics,” she tells me as we sit down). There’s also, like, a global pandemic going on.

I figured I would hear from Amanda that her life is all about “balance”: how to get it, how to keep it, how to hold one thing in each hand. But Amanda Goetz prefers to embrace it all. She doesn’t believe in balance.

She doesn’t expect her life to be separated into discrete parts of work and family and interiority. It’s one life, and trying to pretend things can be perfectly compartmentalized—especially when you’re working at home with kids because of a global pandemic—leads to more stress, more guilt, and less realistic expectations. She lets them blend, and lets everybody know.

She took my call during her “bopping around” hours in the middle of the day, when her kids sometimes sit in her lap while she’s in a meeting, or she emails while waiting for her daughter to finish an assignment, when everything blends, when they’re “in it together.”

We talked about how she sets expectations clearly: with her kids, with her colleagues, and with herself—and then makes sure she lives up to them. We also talked about how she makes sure to carve out focus time and alone time even in the middle of her busy blended days. And we covered the time and emotional management skills she’s developed over the years to sprint through her ambitious schedule.

So much of what Amanda told me sounded hard-earned, genuine, and simple—the way things kind of are when you’re talking to someone who takes no bullshit. But she’s probably wouldn’t call anything bullshit. Instead she says, “I don’t believe in that.”

Want to know what she does believe in? Let’s dive in! 

Amanda introduces herself

I lead brand marketing at The Knot Worldwide – the global leader in all things wedding planning.

I oversee everything to do with brand-building, so that includes PR, social partnerships, influencers, our community channels, and all of our editorial content.

Prior to that, when I was pregnant with my first child, I had my own tech startup in the wedding industry. As a first-time founder, I learned all about how to navigate the fundraising process.

My life these days is based around working my role at The Knot, fundraising for a new startup I’m working on, raising three kids, and being their homeschool teacher – all in the middle of a pandemic.

I want to talk about how I approach getting all of that done.

I wake up at 6 and set an intention for the day

I do ‘me time’ when I wake up, around six. That's my quiet time – before the kids wake up – when I can just check in with myself.

I have my coffee, sit, and think. A moment of focus, when I can set an intention for the day.

To clarify what that is, I’ll ask myself, ‘What does success look like for this day?’ Is it going to be more high-energy, where I’m really going to bring everything? If yes, my daily intention might be, ‘Today I want to knock out a couple of big things for my startup.’ 

On the other hand, my intention could be ‘I’m going to give myself more lazy time today, so I’m not going to do a workout’ – because I believe you should be intentional about being lazy, too. Or maybe I’ll decide that ‘today I’m going to focus on the kids and have some real family time’.

I put my intention into an email I send to myself every morning – it ends up in my inbox, and since I’m an inbox-zero kind of person, that means I’ll take action on it.

Whatever daily intention I set, my ultimate goal is that when I go to bed at night, I don’t feel guilty for not getting to something that I should have gotten done.

With that done, I’m ready when the kids wake up at seven. I cook them some breakfast, and we make sure to sync our Zoom schedules for the days’ homeschooling.

Right after this interview is phonics – just so you know!

I play offense with a 90-minute work sprint every morning

After breakfast comes my power time. It’s what I think of as my ‘offense time’ from my years as a basketball player – when I’m in charge and in most control of my thinking.

I let the kids go play, and I go into a 90-minute sprint where I am head-down, cranking out the two to three big items that I want to move forward for the day – and my team knows not to schedule me for anything during that time.

It turns out that medical science confirms what I’ve known for years – I’m a morning person.

I went to a doctor who specializes in the gut microbiome, and who did a full suite of tests on my cortisol levels to find out how my energy tracks during the day.

For me, there was consistently a huge spike in the morning, a huge crash by 3:00pm, and it all evened out to more normal levels around bedtime.

My cortisol levels in the morning are three times higher than at any other part of my day – so I know morning is when I’ll get the most work done, and I let the kids play on their own.

I use that time, when I’m thinking and working at my best, for the things that really need to get done – like team updates, or sending out strategy or OKR reminders – or the bigger, meatier things that require more focus – like working on a deck or a creative strategy.

Later in the afternoon, as my cortisol levels go down, I feel more sluggish. That’s when I can go for a walk with the kids, or spend time with them in other ways, because my brain actually needs that break. 

A working afternoon – with my kids

From around eleven to four in the afternoon is the Zoom bop-around where I have calls back and forth with my team, and my kids are usually on Zoom calls for school too.

During that time, I can lighten up a little bit with them, and not set boundaries – if they want to come over and sit on my lap while I’m on a call, they can. I’m very comfortable with that. We’re in it together.

My team understands that during that period, I’m juggling working with taking care of the kids – they know that very clearly, because I’ve deliberately communicated it to them.

So, if I’m in a meeting and my kid really needs my attention, I will clearly say to my team, “Hey guys, give me two minutes,” and then take the time I need to resolve the situation.

From four to seven, I make sure my calendar is blocked out for family time. That’s when I’ll say to my team, “Hey guys – family time! I’ll be back on at seven. If you need me before then, text me!”

The kids and I will have at least an hour of play, then five o’clock is dinner time, six o’clock is bath, and by seven, the kids are in bed.

At that point, I can put in some work on my startup – I usually have an hour or so of focused time to move it forward, whether it be working on a deck, or a landing page, or whatever.

I insist on optimizing for how I – and my team – work best

I insist that everyone on my team be up-front about how and when they get their best work done.

We share it in a quarterly team-bonding meeting, and then later on we do retros to see what works for everyone, and what doesn’t.

For example, I had a colleague who was very extroverted and social, and he loved to come over to my desk and ask my opinion on things during the day.

But I just can’t context-switch like that – so at one of our retros, I told him that when I’m at my desk cranking on something, he needed to ping me to ask if we could talk for a few minutes.

I always try to remove the ‘vacuum of unknown’ at work

When it comes to my team, I believe that you have to communicate clearly every single day, and not leave anything in a vacuum of unknown – where expectations are unexpressed.

One of the things that’s key is that I try to be very deliberate and clear when it comes to communication about goals and expectations – I want to create a culture of transparency, and try to make work work for everyone.

If I know what success looks like for your role, and we’re both aligned on the strategy of how you’re going to get there, then I don’t need to care how you manage your time.

I tell my junior team members to put up your ‘away’ notification and just go for that run – I would much rather see them taking care of themselves than have them feeling like they need to sneak around just to get some exercise.

The Power Hour

I think that many parents find – like I do – that it’s easy to get bogged down with the endless list of life’s admin tasks: doctor’s appointments, bills to be paid, calls to ConEd or the cable company or whatever.

Maybe three years ago, I started keeping what I call a ‘power hour list’ on my notepad in my phone.

The second that something I need to do enters my mind, I put it on that list – even if it comes to me in the middle of the night. That way, it’s out of my mind, and I don’t have the mental overhead of trying to remember it.

Once every two weeks, I will actually block out an hour of my calendar, open up that notepad, and try to tackle as many items as humanly possible.

The list never ends – it just keeps growing, and I keep tackling it!

Being a working parent requires trade-offs

I would love to see a correlative study around the rise of Facebook and Instagram with the increase of parental guilt – you’re always seeing other people being their best parenting selves.

I’ve actually muted quite a few people who are clearly great parents, but who can trigger that whole comparison game – and a cycle of guilt.

The fact is that as a working parent, you have to make some trade-offs.

Even prior to the pandemic, I had to figure out what I loved doing, what I no longer cared about, and what I could outsource – obviously, every parent is different, and has to make their own decisions.

For me, I don’t do a lot of cooking. So now, I don’t feel guilty about ordering takeout – because I’d rather spend that hour with my kids than spend it working in the kitchen.

Some parents love bath time – it’s very relaxing for them. Not for me, though. So before the pandemic, I asked our nanny to have the kids fed and bathed before I come home, so I can just sit and play with them. It’s all about what bonding looks like to you.

This has become a theme across my whole life: I measure something’s impact versus the effort that goes into it. I think about the value of my time, and how best to use it.

If I’m doing something with my kids, like walking them to school, I want to make most of that time with them – so maybe we’ll have fun playing a game while we’re walking.

I don’t want to let a moment pass without being truly present for it.

Managing my time – and my emotional life

My life sounds complicated – and it is – but making the most of each day isn’t just a matter of time management. 

I work hard to proactively manage my emotional life too, rather than just deal with problems when they come up. That’s a thread that runs through everything I do, be it for myself, for my job, or for my family.

The first piece of the puzzle for me is about acceptance – I need to accept that I can feel multiple feelings at the same time – and they’re all valid.

For example, I can feel excited about having a startup – but I can also feel stress. And I can feel thankful that my kids are healthy – but also super annoyed that they’re bugging me while I’m trying to get something done.

Coming to a place of acceptance about that dual emotional state is really important for me.

The other piece of the puzzle is relieving my guilt over the fact that I simply can’t do two things at once. And the first step for me in finding a solution to the guilt problem is taking control of exactly how I go about getting things done.

My mantra is ‘Focus and Finish’

My most important tool in avoiding that guilt has been focus and finish – and I use that phrase both in how I approach my own work, and how I integrate my kids into my workday.

For me, context-switching is not at all productive, so if I have a big project that I want to work on, or a few smaller tasks to get done, I do not feel guilty telling my kids that for the next hour, they need to occupy themselves.

I manage their expectations by saying very clearly that Mommy is going to focus now. I put my headphones in, and they know that they either have to watch TV or do whatever they need to do to entertain themselves.

That way, I’m able to not feel guilty, because I can focus on finishing the task at hand.

I think focus and finish is hard-wired into my personal background. Neither of my parents went to college, and throughout my life I’ve always worked multiple jobs. 

I paid for college on my own – I had four jobs in order to be able to do it – so college was not party time for me. My goal was to get the most out of my education, and that meant developing a lot of really good work habits so I could focus on academics. Whenever I was working on something for school, I knew I had to work really efficiently, because I was always running off to one of my jobs!

The 10-10-10 test

Along with my focus and finish approach, I have a framing exercise I use every day to help me keep the big picture in perspective. It helps me check whether my emotions actually reflect how important the things that come up in daily life are.

I simply stop and ask myself, Will this matter in ten minutes? Ten days? Ten months? Ten years?

Usually if something isn’t going to matter in ten days or months, I don’t allow myself the brain space to stress about it.

It's particularly useful and healthy when it comes to making decisions around raising kids. 

Will it matter in ten months if my child watches a second TV show today, because I need to work on something? No – it won’t. So why am I stressing myself out over being a bad parent?

And when I say, “Hey guys, Mommy's gonna spend the next hour working out because it makes her feel better” – it’s because I don’t ever want them to feel guilty about needing time to take care of themselves when they have kids of their own.

At the end of the day, for me, happiness is when I watch my daughters playing, and I hear one of them say, “I’m going to work – I’m going to be the boss!”

I don’t believe in balance

I know my schedule is busy, but I don’t believe in balancing the different parts of my life—I don’t think it’s possible to balance everything.. 

Even before the pandemic, I didn’t believe in a separation between ‘work life’ and ‘personal life’ – I mean, they’re both your life, and they happen together!

Now I’m at the point where I’ve put in the work to be able to say that I don’t feel guilty for being a mom, and I don’t apologize for demanding to be with my kids when I need to.

All the work I’ve done in therapy and that I try to put into practice in my life is about doing the best I can to make my subconscious conscious – it seems like so many people are led by their subconscious most of the time, and I try my best not to let that happen.

So when I realize that I’m reacting more emotionally to certain things, I try to ask myself why that is.

If I can be aware of where feelings of guilt are coming from, I can acknowledge that, and then move forward – versus allowing my guilt to consume me.

These days, that gives me the freedom to be really invested in moving forward with the things I want to do with my life.

For me, if there’s an idea or an opportunity I’m truly passionate about – if I can't stop thinking about it – I have to take action on it.

I believe that you only get to live once and you might as well make the most out of it.

This article was co-written by Dan Shipper and Kieran O’Hare. It was edited by Rachel Jepsen.

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