Engineer and leadership consultant Coryne Forest shares tips on how she manages multiple roles and multiple passions–a fulltime day job, a business helping women excel in STEM careers, her family, and self-care.
One woman, managing multiple roles
Coryne Forest is an engineer by training, an internal leadership consultant for the U.S. Army, a wife, a mom, and an entrepreneur. I met Coryne when she joined one of the Productive Woman Mastermind groups. She worked as an engineer for 18 years and after that moved into leadership positions in the tech realm, which led her to a position as an internal leadership development consultant for the U.S. Army. She’s been married for 25 years and has two children in their twenties.
A typical day
On a typical weekday, Coryne is up at about 5 am and reads one newsletter article, takes a shower, and makes her lunch. After a lengthy commute, she gets to work about 7 am.
Coryne has two vastly different kinds of workdays. She facilitates a lot of leadership workshops, so if it’s a teaching day, that’s all she does.
On non-teaching days, she has an office job where she coaches clients, sets up meetings, and works on the bureaucratic administrative tasks the government requires. She’s usually out of the office between 4:30 and 5 pm and gets home by 6 pm.
Since the children have left home, Coryne and her husband tend to eat dinner in front of the TV, watching a show they both enjoy. After dinner and clean up, she has about 2 hours until bedtime at 9 pm to take care of the chores, work on her side business, exercise, and read. Lights will go out at 10 pm the latest.
After Coryne got her coaching certification, she decided to start her business. She loved the coaching aspect of her day job and wanted to do more of it, but her position at the Army didn’t involve much of that work at the time. So, having trained in leadership for about 5 years, she started her business doing what she did for the Army for commercial customers.
Coryne coaches women in a very specific niche. While researching for her job, she ran across an article in the Harvard Business Review about women in the STEM (Science, Technical, Engineering, Mathematics) professions. This article noted that about 50% of women will leave their STEM careers mid-career due to a hostile working environment. She found this statistic to be unbelievable and started digging into understanding more about this reality. This became her niche.
The vision for her company is a changed landscape in the technical professions, where women are in leadership roles and rocking it in all aspects of their lives! There aren’t that many women in leadership roles in the STEM fields, and often those women you find in leadership are the ones who didn’t have children or who had a stay-at-home-husband. Coryne wants to help the women who want to keep their career, have a good relationship with their partner, be a good mom, and find time to take care of themselves.
A side conversation about the exodus of women from STEM careers
We talked a little about the story behind this exodus from STEM careers and the “hostile environment” Coryne read about in the HBR article. She identifed a few things that make up a hostile environment.
One is that women tend to get asked to do “office housekeeping” jobs such as making sure conference rooms are ready, note-taking for meetings, purchasing gifts for administrative assistants, baking cakes for someone’s birthday, etc.
The second piece has to do with social strain. Women are uncomfortable breaking into cliques that men form, even if they have a legitimate reason to be in that clique. If a group of men have formed a group discussing football on Monday morning, and a woman happens to enjoy football herself, she doesn’t feel welcomed to take part in that discussion. Not only that, women tend to put a social strain on each other as well by being “judgy” towards one another, which isn’t something they do to men.
The third element is that women’s contributions tend to get overlooked. She conducted a survey at her job regarding this, and got a 100% response rate from the women she works with that they agree with this. For example, when a woman throws out an idea in a meeting, it gets glossed over, but when a man brings up the same point 5 minutes later, it is treated like gold.
What Coryne has found is that after 10 to 15 years of these experiences, women don’t enjoy their careers anymore. In one study Coryne read, women consistently showed higher stress hormone content in their blood than men working under the same environment.
With all these factors combined, women tend to quit their careers before they have a chance to reach the leadership roles.
Do you have a routine or a system in place to manage the demands of business and job?
Coryne’s number one system is good planning, which is, fortunately, something she likes to do as an engineer. Good planning requires a lot of self-awareness and follow-through, and the discipline of following through is the hard part! Working a full-time job as well as running a business not only requires good time management skills but also energy management as well as decision management.
On the issue of planning, Coryne has put together a tool for her clients that could be useful for women even though they are not working in STEM. She had originally created this tool for herself and it evolved over the years as she had to juggle raising young children and the travel requirements that came with her job. When she sat down and made a list of goals, she realized that she had too many goals ranging over the span of so many different roles and areas of her life, and this ended up making her life look very fractured because all the productivity tips told her she needed to focus on one thing, but this wasn’t an option for her when she was wearing all these hats.
Coryne’s Annual Goal Strategy for managing multiple roles
So over time, Coryne came up with an “Annual Goal Strategy” which is to look at all the aspects of your life as one whole life, not separate pieces. By doing this, she says, you’re able to keep your eye on the bigger picture and to look for overlap or synergies between different goals. It’s not multitasking, but rather accomplishing multiple things while doing one thing because you are able to look at everything holistically.
Specifically, Coryne takes her process from different strategic planning systems used in business, military, and in sports. You assess, design, build, and manage.
For the Assess part, she looks at four major areas of her life: career, relationship with spouse, relationship with children, and self-care. For each area, she sets two goals. She chooses one to focus on first, but then does something she calls “plus one” for the second one. This involves taking one tiny step for the goal that you are not focusing on at this time, just to give you a little push in that direction. This process calms her brain down from thinking she’s not making progress on the “unchosen” goal.
For the Design part of the process, you flesh out the goal that you did select in each area, identifying the steps you’ll need to take to accomplish those goals. Then you choose two of those goals to focus on for the next 90 days. For the two you didn’t pick, you run each through the “plus one” process again.
This brings us to the Build phase, where you actually plan. One of the key things in the Build phase is breaking it down to daily, weekly, and monthly actions. This may sound like a lot of work, but Coryne assures us if you do this work up front, when you get to the day-to-day planning, it takes only 5 minutes to identify what you need to be doing.
Generally, Coryne will work on this process in December when things slow down for her at work. She also takes time off between Christmas and the New Year when she does her annual review, which sets up her mind to think about what she wants to do the following year based on her accomplishments in the past year. She also does a quarterly review when she makes adjustments to her goals and daily, weekly, monthly lists.
Finally, the Manage phase is where the actual daily, weekly, and monthly planning happens. This is when she gets the tasks on her calendar, sets reminders for herself, and chooses the most important things to do each month, week, and day.
For those of you juggling multiple roles, and wanting to excel in all of them, check out her blog post about her entire process at www.coryneforest.com/annualgoalstrategy. Within the blog post, there’s also a link that will take you to a companion guide so you can see an example of following this process.
Biggest Productivity Challenges
Coryne faces overwhelm all the time. No matter how much you plan, she says, life is messy. When you’re managing multiple roles–as most of us are–that’s all the more true. Unexpected things happen, and even things you expect can happen in weird timings.
When she faces these times of overwhelm, she focuses on extending grace to herself. For example, if she’s had an overwhelming day and she has it on her calendar to write on her blog, she extends grace to herself to take it easy that night and remembers that she’ll feel more refreshed in the morning to hit those goals again.
Tools Coryne recommends
On the day-to-day, Coryne’s job requires her to use Windows computers and Outlook email, so she’s become somewhat of an “Outlook Goddess,” coming up with a system that works for her and enables her to manage both her work and personal life on one platform.
She also has a paper planner she relies on, and her deep planning process (assess, design, build, and manage) is all done long-hand on paper. There’s something about writing on paper that she can’t get from a computer
What happens on a day when everything gets away from you?
As mentioned earlier, Coryne extends grace to herself when things get away. She looks at her list of things to do and tells herself, “You know what? It just ain’t gonna happen.”
Another thing she’s discovered is helpful to her is yoga. The stretching and the movement are helpful, but the meditation is what takes her out of her head and helps her get past the feeling of overwhelm.
What’s on the horizon for Coryne?
Coryne is excited about where her business is going. This year, she has started something called the “STEMinista Revolution.” A STEMinista is a woman with a STEM career who is devoted to rocking it in all areas of her life – career, mother, wife – even self-care! She’s been learning a lot about how to reach this audience, so over the next couple of months, she’s going to put up a lot of new content on her website as she applies what she learns.
She has started a Facebook group to build up this community of women who support each other around this subject and she is devoted to getting women through the aforementioned challenges!
Last thoughts on making a life that matters
First of all, plan your work and work your plan. If you are a more visual person or find my process too laborious, use sticky notes and paste them up in your workspace. When you finish what’s on the sticky note, enjoy the satisfaction of crumpling up the one you’re done with and throw it away.
What do you think?
Connect with Coryne
More about Coryne
Coryne Forest has a BS in Manufacturing Systems Engineering, an MS in Engineering Management, and her coaching certification from Columbia University. She worked for the US Army as an engineer for eighteen years before moving into tech supervision. Her unique style of leadership made her stand out within “the old boy’s network,” so six years ago she stepped into a leadership development role. Now, her passion is to turn excellent engineers into brilliant leaders through workshops, mentoring and coaching.
Her work with the Army led her to start her own business three years ago, specifically to help women grow in their STEM careers since they face additional issues as they climb the technical career ladder. She calls this the STEMinista Revolution: a movement to help women with STEM careers that are devoted to rocking it in all areas of her life – career, mother, partner – even self-care!
Resources and Links
- Coryne’s Annual Goal Strategy
Announcements & Reminders
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