Many working mums, even those who work flexibly, struggle to balance their work and family life. Between your responsibilities at work, and the shopping, housework, childcare, cooking and all the other things you need to juggle to keep life running smoothly, there’s not much time left in the week for you.
But sometimes, taking a step back from your hectic everyday life and getting a bit of perspective can help you to identify opportunities to make life a bit more manageable – and find a more productive balance between your roles as a career woman, mum and partner.
Why spending too much time at work doesn’t work
Even if you’ve managed to negotiate flexible working arrangements, it’s easy to find yourself spending longer than you should do at work, or taking work (or the worries of work) home with you, giving you less time and energy for your family.
But spending quality time with your family is important – not just for you and your family, but your career too. When you don’t, your stress levels can rise, making it more difficult to perform well in your job. This puts more strain on you and affects your family life, which then just adds to the stress and makes it even harder to give your all to your job when you’re at work. It’s a vicious circle which, unless broken, doesn’t help anyone.
So in order to be mentally fit enough to perform at your best while you’re at work, it’s really important to enjoy quality time away from it with your family. This means being strict about the hours you’re there, and learning to switch off when it’s family time.
How to spend less time at work (and get more done)
Being strict with the hours you spend at work (or at home working) doesn’t have to mean that you get less done. By learning to work smarter, you can actually achieve more:
- Work on your time management skills – being clever about how and when you work can allow you to get more done in a shorter space of time. Learn when and how to delegate and organise your workload more constructively. Read a good book on time management or ask your manager if there are any courses they could send you on.
- Have a word with your manager – if you’re struggling to achieve a healthy work-life balance, speak to your manager and ask if they have any suggestions that may help. It’s in their interest to help as if you continue to struggle you’ll be less productive and may get to the point where you consider leaving.
- Don’t worry about being perfect – being really great at everything you do may have helped you get to where you are in your career, but there are times when pursuing the tiniest details of perfection may just push you over the edge as a working mum juggling her career and children. We’re not saying that you should start being careless or lowering your standards, but to recognise when you’ve done a good job and can move onto the next task. One solution is to give yourself a certain amount of time for a task, or a target to reach, and stop when you’ve achieved it.
- Prioritise and pass on tasks – if you’re struggling under a seemingly unachievable workload, ask your manager which tasks are the most important or urgent and prioritise them. Also ask them if they’d like you to tackle the rest of your jobs when you have time, or pass onto a colleague or team member.
- Ask your family for support – if you’re working on a particularly important or big project at work that needs more of your time and energies right now, explain that to your partner and children. Let them know that you may need to focus more on work than usual right now, but that you’ll make it up to them when it’s over. If you have the support and understanding of your family, it makes it much easier to focus on your work when you need to, so you can do a better job.
- Leave on time – decide what time you want or need to leave work and stick to it. Structure your workload so you can work towards this deadline, and let your manager and colleagues know you will be leaving then, so they don’t schedule meetings or catch ups just before you need to leave.
- Leave work at work – be firm with yourself and leave your work behind when you go home. Make a list of anything you need to do or remember the next day before you leave work, and forget it. If any thoughts pop into your head when you’re at home or with your family, write them down and then put them aside.
- Find a way to relax and wind down from work and do it – some working mums run off their stress by jogging or going to the gym, other paint or read, and some meditate or practise yoga. It doesn’t matter what you do, the important thing is to find something that works and enjoy it.
Make the most of your family time
To make your work-life balance work it’s important to make the most of your time you’re your family. Enjoy each other’s company and do things together than you all enjoy. To help give you some ideas of how to, we’ve made a quick list:
- Make a list of all the things you can enjoy together as a family – get everyone’s input and plan outings such as going to the zoo or cinema, and activities such as walks along the beach or playing board games. Then do them!
- Invest time in your relationship – it’s easy to get caught up in your roles as working professionals and co-parents, but remember you’re also a couple with a relationship separate to all that. Book regular ‘date nights’ and arrange for someone to babysit while you go out. Put them in your calendar ahead of time and be firm with yourselves about sticking to them.
- Start a project together – it could be something small or silly like collecting interesting shells and pebbles from your local beach, growing vegetables or herbs, doing a physical activity together, or all starting a new hobby. The point is to work collectively to the same goal, to share a sense of achievement and have fun together.
- Do nothing together – your family life doesn’t have to be planned to the last minute. We often are so used to micro-planning our work-life that find ourselves doing the same with family life. But some of the best times we have are spontaneous and simple. Squashing onto a sofa together to watch a movie on a wet Sunday afternoon or wandering aimlessly around the local woods with no real plan can be some of the most enjoyable times when you look back on them.
- Resist the temptation to check your work phone or email during family time – keep work for work and give your entire concentration and energies to enjoying your family.