As Jenny and I head into the Christmas break we’ve been reflecting on the year and all we’ve achieved. We aim for measures of success to have a balanced focus, yes of course we do consider our size and financial return but for us success is so much more than that – it’s about the difference we’ve made, the relationships we’ve developed, the quality of our work, the feedback we’ve received, how satisfied, happy and motivated we’ve been and how well we’ve managed it all whilst balancing it alongside our families and everything else in our lives.
It reminded us of a blog I wrote back in 2014 when Women to Work first began. It’s still so true for us now and we hope it will be for many of you too, so here it is again, with some tweaks for 2017!
‘Balance’ is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as:
(noun) an even distribution of weight, enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady
(verb) remain in a steady position without falling
So…just about managing all that life involves for a working Mum without toppling over – is that all we can hope to achieve? Or can we strive for so much more?
Certainly from my own experience and the women I talk to through my coaching and friendships, we want more than just ‘remaining in a steady position’; we want to manage it all, with poise and dignity whilst enjoying life and all its richness. Too much to ask? I hope not!
So what is the magic formula to achieve the sort of balance I and other working Mum’s are looking for?
I’d love to tell you the answer but I don’t believe there is one – no magic formula (sorry!) – there is only a ‘way’ that works for each individual, and that ‘way’ can be very different for each of us and constantly evolving. Let me explain more…
As a Mum, running my own business, maintaining a fitness programme and rehearsing and performing with my vocal trio I’m constantly developing my personal version of ‘balance’ and what it means to me. And whilst my approach will be different to others I thought I’d share some of my learning…
I once read an article that suggested that being a working Mum meant allowing the different areas of your life to blur, so dealing with the work stuff whilst your children are around rather than having time set aside for distinct areas.
And this is great for some, but not so much for me. I prefer the ‘compartmentalised’ approach with a bit of flexibility for those times when things don’t go to plan such as a poorly child or an urgent piece of work to complete. The key for me, is to recognise these times as outside of the ordinary, not allowing them to become the ‘norm’.
So if you can think about what kind of approach might work best for you this will help you to start on your journey towards ‘balance’ and the first step of defining what balance looks like for you. How do you see your ideal day? Your ideal week, month, year? What are you doing? Who are you with? When are you working? When are you at home? Do the areas of your life blur or are the boundaries clearly defined?
I can’t emphasis enough the importance of being truly honest with yourself here. And if you find it difficult invest the help of a coach who specialises in work / life balance. Pretending to yourself that you want to / should spend more time with your children, (when the reality is you love the thrill of work and are happiest when you have more time for work and less time at home) is only going to make you miserable in the long term. So let go of the guilt and be true to yourself and what makes you happy. The happier you are the happier your whole family will be and your work will benefit too.
Be clear about the elements of your life that are important to you and how much time you want to (and can realistically) spend on each area – work, family, children, friends – and take care not to forget time for yourself in all of this, to truly get balance in our lives we need time for us. Maybe it’s a quiet bath, a weekly manicure, time at the gym or belting your heart out at choir practice – whatever works for you.
Commit this vision to paper – a picture or words – whatever works for you, and remember to regularly re-visit it and tweak it as you go.
If you can be clear on what’s important to you and you can hold onto your vision of what ‘balance’ looks like you can revert back to your plan as soon as you can. Having a clear vision also allows you to measure opportunities against it. Should I take on that big piece of work because I’ll get great recognition if I do a good job? Well, that depends on what other sacrifices you might need to make and if it fits with your personal vision of where you want to be.
Once you have your vision of what ‘balance’ looks like for you it’s time to work on a plan to get there. Here are a few tips and ideas that have worked for me:
- Think about your support network – family, friends, paid for childcare. What happens if you have to work away, get stuck in a meeting or your child is sick? If you know you have a plan for the difficult times it’s one less thing to worry about. Build a strong network of trusted people you can call on in a crisis.
- Find a planning / organising tool that works for you. I use an online diary, which I access on my phone. It has separate diaries in one place for work, home and my sons (very busy) social life. I even have some diaries that are shared with my husband and business partner so we can all see what’s happening when.
But it doesn’t end there, for anyone who juggles a lot of activities knows – viewing a full calendar on a little phone can be a challenge and it’s easy to miss things. So I also have a day planner. I meticulously write down everything for the week with a full page for each day – appointments, phone calls, jobs to do and use different coloured pens to represent the different areas of my life (home, son, work etc)…you get the picture! It does of course take a bit of time to sit down once a week and fill all of this in but the mere act of spending time writing it out is calming for me, it gives me a sense of control.
I also use my online calendar and day planner to write down actions for the future – I plan in what I’ll do when rather than having one of those horribly soul-destroying never-ending to do lists. I can then forget about that particular job until I transfer it to my day planner once a week.
Build in planning time – whether that’s weekly diary planning, meal planning or shopping – planning in advance will help everything to run a lot more smoothly. And don’t forget to plan for and book in time for you to relax, work out or socialise.
Ok I’ll stop with the planning now – clearly I’m possibly a little over the top with the organising and it may be terribly restrictive for many of you but my point is to find a system that works for you – and stick with it!
- Eat well, exercise and sleep! OK you’ve heard this one so many time and it’s not always an easy one with so much to do, but if you can at the very least find a couple of nights a week for an early night you will really notice the difference.
- Making choices is also important. Sometimes you just have to let go of some stuff – my house doesn’t get cleaned as often as I’d like and I often find myself 6 washing loads behind but I’m still smiling because I get my regular fix of singing and dancing and right now that’s more important to me.
- Remain optimistic even when things don’t go to plan and you seem to be moving further away from your vision instead of closer. Don’t give up! Just because today hasn’t gone so well doesn’t mean tomorrow will be difficult too. And if it’s just one part of your life that’s not quite how you want it to be, don’t let that affect how you feel about everything else. Celebrate your successes, congratulate yourself for all you’ve done so far and get straight back on with your plan.
- My final, and probably most important learning is to go easy on yourself. It’s hard to maintain a perfect state of balance all of the time – and I speak from experience! Stuff happens – life happens and you constantly have to tweak, juggle and adapt. It’s quite normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes and a good wallow with a packet of biscuits and a large glass of wine is the only cure (or is that just me?). But make it short then get back out there and enjoy the journey of a full life as a working Mum.
I hope by sharing my thoughts about balance and how I bring balance into my work and life it inspires you to think about your own aspirations and what might work for you.
Good luck and let me know how you get on.