What does ‘work-life balance’ mean to you? And how successful are you at achieving it? Read on for some advice on how to make it work for you.
As a working mum you can’t have escaped the term ‘work-life’ balance. It’s what we’re all supposed to be striving for, but for many of us the term can be confusing – and the desired state frustratingly elusive!
To help you explore and define what ‘work-life balance’ means to you, and find a way to achieve it, Kristen Harding from My Family Care shares her own experience and professional wisdom.
My version of ‘balance’ may be different to yours
The expression work-life balance comes into conversation daily in my field of work – but it’s important to remember that your definition of ‘balance’ may not be the same as mine.
I am not a parent, however as a pseudo auntie, I have a few very special children that I make time for on a regular basis. I also have family that lives thousands of miles away, in a different time zone with plenty of water between us.
My life has never been balanced. Enjoyable, entertaining, hard work – YES! But balanced? Not very often. I’m lucky, I like my job (most of the time) so it’s not a chore to get up and go into the office. I’ll even willingly go in early a few mornings a week if I’m feeling behind.
But I leave work at 5:15 every evening, because work/life balance for me means getting to the gym for a boxing session every night (or a glass of wine with friends on a night when I need a break).
Having family abroad adds to the complications. I can’t just see my family for a roast on Sunday – unless we both cook, connect to Skype and one of us eats at a very strange time of day! Having balance for me is knowing that work will give me longer stints of time off – and if something goes wrong, I can leave at the drop of a hat, no questions asked.
Last year I helped launch The Work & Family Show
So work-life balance will vary for every one of us, depending on our familial situation, our extra-curricular activities and what our definition of balance is.
Last year I was part of a team of people who launched the Work and Family Show, because we felt there was such a need to help working parents understand that they aren’t alone, and to offer them the advice they need to achieve their own balance. (If you find the advice below helpful, you’ll be in for a treat in February 2015!)
Things to remember when trying to balance work and life
So how can you learn to find and manage your own work-life balance? Here are a few things to consider.
Balancing work and life means, first of all, defining what balance means to you.
Does it mean leaving on time and not thinking about work in the evenings, or does it mean leaving in time to do the school run but logging on later to respond to emails? Does it mean having time out to train for a marathon and shifting your working day to start at ten?
Or does it mean finding a job you love that is flexible enough to let you enjoy your family and work at your own pace to attain your goals?
Take some time to really think about this, as getting your definition right is the key to success.
What are you good at?
Take into account your strengths and weaknesses. Think about what you can achieve, what you need to delegate and remember to ask for help.
We often soldier on and become swamped, because we feel that asking for help is a weakness. However, I firmly believe knowing when to ask for help is a strength – even if I don’t do it often enough myself.
Quality over quantity
Ok, this statement is a little clichéd, but quality time is more important than quantity. If you work from home and feel that you spend all day with your child – is it really ‘quality’ time?
If you text or talk to your partner all day, have you had a meaningful conversation or just exchanged instructions? If you’re on your own, have you taken a few minutes to relax and think positively about your day or have you just beaten yourself up about the negatives?
Find time for the things that are really important to you, on a daily basis. It might be that you find your train journey stressful – could this be a good time to meditate? Don’t think about what lies at the other end, and get into a positive head space.
Maybe the time you really enjoy is reading a story with your child. Those 20 minutes before bed might mean more to you than all the running around and chauffeuring you do the rest of the day.
During those quality moments, remember to turn off the other part of your life. When you are in a meeting – unless it’s an emergency – you’re not contactable by your home life, so don’t let your work life intrude on quality time with family… or on your own! Turn off work emails or, if they are on a separate device, make a deal not to check them until after bedtime.
I admit that I’m a slave to my to-do lists – but then I don’t let people down. You know you’ll always get something when you’ve asked for it!
However, my head of department has a point – I need to stop adding to my to do list before looking at what really needs to be done, and whether the deadline is hard and fast or self-imposed.
So learn to ask questions. Decide if you can delegate part – or all – of the task and if it’s imperative that you do it, set yourself realistic deadlines. For example, don’t say you’ll get a major report handed in the day before you leave for a half term holiday (or in the week leading up to that marathon).
At home and work, it’s important to set out expectations and stick to them. Just as you wouldn’t cancel a meeting with your colleagues to have a haircut, your partner deserves the same respect – date night is date night!
If you are someone who splits their day and sends lots of emails at night, make sure your team know they are not expected to respond until morning – just as you are ok to put your out of office on when you head to a parent-teacher interview.
The more realistic the expectations you set, the less likely you are to let people down or annoy them during their non-working hours.
And finally, remember!
Balance is not achieved in one day. You will take time to find balance, and when you achieve it, you’ll find something might change.
Whether it’s a new addition to the family, a new job, relocating –don’t stress, start over! Go back to defining what balance means to you now. And accept that, in order to attain balance, life will always need tweaking.
Kristen Harding was a nanny for eight years, taking care of five different families. Today she uses her experiences to help raise awareness of childcare choices through her role with My Family Care and their sister companies.Kristen Harding