Is work-life balance possible in the world of events?

event planning, stress, work-life balance

‘We should stick to what we’re good at,’ she told me as cigarette smoke left her mouth. ‘And that is producing events.’

I probably wouldn’t be writing about T-shirts right now if tears hadn’t been streaming down her face in that moment. You see, that was the day I decided I would never again work in the events industry. The long hours, the stress, the anxiety — it just wasn’t worth it for the smile of a client or the enjoyment of perfect strangers. Even when the projects where huge successes, all I wanted to do was hibernate and binge-watch seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race when all was set and done.

But there are people, like my former boss, who live for it. You could see it in her mascara-smeared eyes, how, every time, she got excited about the possibilities of a new event. It didn’t matter if it all came crumbling down at the very last moment, the adrenaline rush was enough to keep her going and going.

Event planning is often listed as one of the most stressful jobs but, more often than not, stress can be managed — and in healthy ways! While drinking and smoking might help at the moment, in the long run, your body will resent you for it. Having a good work-life balance is not easy. It requires discipline, organisation and knowing when to set limits but it is possible.

Let’s go over some of the reasons why event management is so stressful and how we can cope with them.



The clients are difficult

While the ‘clients from hell’ are one of the worst parts of event management, you can feel better by knowing that they’re not unique to this industry. Professionals from all sectors have to deal with less than desirable characters. Talk to someone who has ever worked in the service industry – they always have a nightmare-inducing story. Truth is, people can be demanding and ungrateful. When we forget to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we fail to see that we’re talking to another human being.

In the events sector, it is particularly difficult because you’re managing client’s expectations – not to mention their money. When organising a corporate event, you never know how much is at stake. It might be your client’s job that’s on the line. But even if that was the case, it doesn’t excuse reprehensible behaviour.

Learn to sniff them out
Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix for this one. There will always be awful people that, just for the sake of it, like to make the live’s of others miserable. The best way to deal with them is to learn how to recognise them, early on. I know, easier said than done. For the most part, this ability only comes with experience — eventually, your instinct will tell you who’s worth working for and who’s not — but in the meantime, be on the lookout for these signs:

  • Self-absorption
  • Short temper
  • Obliviousness
  • Self-victimisation
  • Not listening
  • Blaming others
  • Impulsiveness
  • Disorganisation
  • Compulsive lying
  • Bad-mouthing

I’m not saying that if a person has any of these traits that they’re automatically a toxic client. I’ve worked with great professionals who are constantly late, for example, but these traits are usually red flags for people you want to avoid. If you’re suspicious about someone, then walk away. No amount of money or experience is worth sacrificing your mental health for.



You’re always multitasking

The caterer is waiting for feedback on the new menu, the designer needs to get paid and the permit for the food trucks needs to be sent— NOW. Multitasking ends up being unavoidable because the event planner has to take care of SO many things. From selecting a venue to calculating budgets and curating decorations, we’re part of every stage in the process.

Many people are proud of their multitasking skills but studies suggest that it is not only bad for the tasks at hand but for your brain as well. Simply put, we’re just not programmed to work on many things at a time.

Multitasking is a problem, but it’s far from being the only one. If you want to read more, then check out our blog post ‘5 of the biggest problems plaguing large events today.

Learn how to do one thing at a time
Even to this day, to-do lists are still one of the best ways to organise everything we have to do. If you’re an old-school kind of person, you can stick to a notebook but applications and special software can work just as fine or even better.

I personally swear by Todoist. This is a simple app that creates to-do lists and lets you organise them by projects and priorities. You can even program certain tasks to appear, daily, weekly and even monthly. To top it all off, it synchronises across your devices. So you can keep track of everything on your laptop and smartphone. I also combine Todoist with Google Calendars, I use the first for daily tasks while the second to organise my week and long-term projects.



The hours are too long

When people decide to become event planners, the first thing they need to be told is that if they expect a nine-to-five job then they should start looking for something else. Most events don’t take place during work hours which is why people who organise them don’t work them either. The very nature of the industry demands their professionals to be flexible. It is not unusual to get calls or answer emails until very late in the night and work weekends.

How to make time for myself
First of all, realise that there will be times when it’s simply impossible to get home early or get the weekend off. When the date of the event is approaching or something unforeseen happens, it will be time to pull the all-nighter again. If the thought of it makes your skin crawl (like me), then maybe it’s time to look for a new career. If you want to stay, though, it’s time to start imposing some boundaries.

  • Decide which will be your day off. It can be Sunday, Saturday or even Friday afternoon. Respect that day. It is for you and you only. Rest as much as you can, catch up with loved ones and practice some activity you enjoy.
  • Start scheduling your leisure activities, as well. When it is marked on your calendar, it will be harder to ignore. Social activities like ‘coffee with Emily’ are necessary but also mark the little things that matter to you like the day the new season of Stranger Things comes out.
  • Enlist in some unrelated weekly activity. It can be Yoga, a creative writing course or a language exchange group. The important thing is for it to take place weekly so your brain gets a frequent breather. Extra tip: If you pay for it then you’ll be more compelled to go.



The devil is in the details

I will never forget when back in design school a teacher told me that the difference between a professional and an amateur was the attention to detail. In my opinion, this applies to all careers, not just design. In the event planning industry, attention to detail is what makes the difference between a forgettable occasion and one that will have people talking days after it is over.

How to pay more attention to details
Attention to detail comes naturally to some people but not to others. If this is your Achilles’ heel, then try some of the following tips.

  • Ask someone else to review your work
  • If you’re saturated, take a break
  • Double and triple check
  • If you’re almost done, spend just a little more time on it
  • Get back to it tomorrow (if you can)
  • Divide large projects into small tasks and do them one by one
  • Start projects as soon as you can

If you want to find out more, check out this great post on LinkedIn about the subject.

How to get the big picture
Then there are people who have no problem with details. So much so that we’re sometimes called ‘obsessive’, perfectionists’ or even ‘OCD’ but it is often this trait what makes our work stand out from the rest. If you’re like me, then you’ll never forget to buy the farewell card but you might also get stuck in the small tasks. It is important to remind ourselves to take a step back and take a look at the big picture every once in a while.

Set some time for reflexion. This might be during your commute while taking a shower or even 30 minutes at the beginning or at the end of the workday to think of the overall project. If you’re more stimulated by conversation, then talk it out with a coworker. Understanding what someone else is working on, often helps to understand the big picture.

Another good tip is to consult with someone who’s not related to work, at all. Getting the perspective of someone who’s not involved can be eye-opening.



Murphy’s Law

It doesn’t matter how much time we spend working on a project. If there’s a chance that something will go wrong, then it will go wrong. Sometimes it’s a small thing like the projector not turning on but other times, it can be something as catastrophic as the venue cancelling one week before the date of the event.

To learn more about how to react in difficult situations, check out ‘What to do (and not to) when an event goes wrong’.

It is what it is
In order to deal with this particularly stressful part of event planning, first, we must understand that things will never end up being like we imagine. Simply put, events depend on way too many different factors for it to go over smoothly. It’s a reality we must come to terms with if we don’t want to lose our hairs due to stress.




Final Words

Event planning is not for everyone. It sure wasn’t for me. But if you’re one of those who loves the industry, remember to go for a healthy work-life balance so your passion doesn’t lead to burnout.

Do you work in the event planning industry? How do you deal with the stress that comes along with it? If you have any tips, then please let us know in the comments below.



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