Longing for some of the much-vaunted ‘work life balance’? Aren’t we all? Unfortunately, the truth is that – at least as far as I’ve been able to figure out – it doesn’t exist.
What DOES exist though is ‘work life compromise’. It’s a bit like the ‘balance’ option, but way more realistic. So in this article, I’ll share my top 9 tips and techniques to achieve the closest thing to ‘work life balance’ I’ve found. Grab a cup of tea and scroll through them as you’re making lunchboxes, doing the dishes and washing the kids’ sheets from yet another overnight leak.
Important caveat: like the title says, this article ISN’T just for working mums. It’s for every working parent who struggles to hold onto their sanity while raising their kids. And extra kudos to those who don’t just work, but run their own business too – because, let’s face it, that creates even bigger challenges.
‘Work life balance’ is a wonderful fantasy, isn’t it? It brings to mind images of parenting perfection, carried out with some kind of 24/7 Zen-like tranquillity and calmness in the face of whatever the day may bring.
Let’s be honest here, though. If you’ve been in the parenting and work game for even a few months, you know it’s not really a question of balance. It’s more one of compromise. So as far as I’m concerned, we should rename the whole concept as ‘work life compromise’.
And in honour of this conceptual rebranding, I wanted to list out the main work life balance (sorry, I mean compromise) tips and techniques I use myself. If someone reads them, great! I hope they help!
But even if no one does, that’s totally OK. At least, I’ll have them handily collected in one place. That way, when the inevitable happens and it all feels too overwhelming, I’ll know where to go to remind myself of what’s helped me in the past.
Still clinging to the idea of ‘work life balance’? Here’s why I’m so convinced it doesn’t exist. Let’s run through the numbers.
There are 24 hours in every day, right? Now, hopefully you spend about 8 of those sleeping – let’s optimistically say from 10pm till 6am. That leaves you 16 hours.
However, if you’ve got school-aged kids, you’re either responsible for their care or for arranging care for them while they’re awake and at home. Let’s say, on average that means between 6am-9am and 3pm-8pm (or even later if yours are sleep-fighters like mine).
Suddenly, your 24 hours have shrunk to 8, in which you now need to:
- Plan and shop for food
- Cook and eat that food
- Manage all the life admin that comes with having kids – swimming lessons, doctors’ appointments, getting to the uniform shop to buy yet another hat…
- Manage all of your OWN life admin
- Get to work
- Actually, you know, work
Sure, you can do some of those tasks while you’re with your kids. But we all know it’s far more efficient (not to mention enjoyable) to grocery shop without the seagulls in tow.
And that doesn’t even take into account exercise, a social life or anything else you may want to do as an individual. Or the clusterf*ck of school holidays.
Look, I’m sorry if this is overly blunt. But it seems to me that within that kind of context, the concept of ‘genuine work life balance’ is just laughable.
As Mia Freeman so eloquently said, ‘the system is broken’.
The reality is that every minute of every day, you have to choose to compromise on someone or something. For example:
- If you prioritise work, you compromise on your exercise, shopping, food prep, life admin, social life, family, partner (…the list could go on for an age) time.
- If you prioritise getting to work on time, you compromise time with your kids as they (thankfully, mostly happily) go to before-school care.
- If you prioritise that Parent-Teacher night, your partner compromises by leaving work early to look after the kids.
The good news is that once you accept that ‘work life balance’ doesn’t exist, you can make ‘work life compromise’ vastly easier. If a year of running two thriving businesses while parenting two young kids has taught me anything, it’s this. Being smart about where I compromise means I can make something that LOOKS like ‘work life balance’ from the outside possible.
I’ll be honest: these tips and techniques aren’t perfect. My whole system crashes, burning, to the ground when we have a run of sickness, or something else throws a spanner in the works. Most of the rest of the time, though, these tips and techniques have saved my sanity. Maybe one or more of them might help to save yours too?
So without further ado, here’s my list of the 9 tips and techniques for what looks like ‘work life balance’ that I use as a working parent.
Organisational apps like Asana, Evernote and Trello are useful for more than just keeping client projects in check. They’re also fantastic for staying on top of life admin.
So download whichever app you like best, then add in tasks the moment they pop into your mind (yes, even at 2am when you can’t sleep). And the best bit? You can set a deadline with a reminder so you don’t rely on your own memory for when Harmony Day is coming up.
Whether your kids are in daycare or school, latch onto parents who live close by, or whose kids do the same activities as yours. Then build relationships with them.
You’ll find a host of mutually beneficial outcomes will result from those relationships. They’ll range from help with pick-ups and drop-offs to sharing the load of after-school activity taxi needs.
This one is a biggie that literally changed my life. I now do my weekly and top-up shops across less than an hour of my week in total.
I’ve made it quick by saving all of our favourites – milk, bread, yoghurt, cherry tomatoes, bananas… you get the gist – within a list in the app. That means they all automatically go into my shopping cart each time I start a new order.
Beyond that, I spend a few hours one weekend each month creating a dinner plan for the coming month. Then I set up the ingredient lists for each meal in the app, so I can easily add them to my cart each week.
Finally, once I’ve added in those weekly ingredients, I choose to either get my shopping delivered or ‘click and collect’ it. Delivery is the ultimate in convenience, but click and collect is fine if the supermarket’s on my way back home from somewhere. It might work best for you if your grocery pick-up on is your route back from work. If so, this option is great for letting you jump in and grab any extras you forgot while they bring your trolley out.
It doesn’t matter whether you decide to go to a Pilates class or go walking with a friend. If you’ve booked it in and committed to being there with someone else, you’re SO much more likely to go. Even if you can only manage once a week, get your body moving!
Full disclosure: this is a big one for me. It’s so easy to let it go, but I know that if I don’t move my body, everything gets far more overwhelming.
Every month, my partner and I sit down to go through the month ahead. Each family member gets a column, and we write down all the important events for that person, and where everyone will be each day.
He and I note down who’ll be ‘on AM vs PM’ from Monday to Thursday each week (we’re each responsible for part of the day those days and then our family weekend is Fri/Sat. He works Sun-Thurs, so I have the kids on my own on a Sunday). That ensures we’re both clear on whose responsibility lunch boxes and school/daycare drop-offs are each day, and who’s on dinner/bath/bed.
We can also see when we’ll both have space for our own interests. His is soccer, which he gets to do on a Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night. Mine is catching up with friends and Pilates, which I get to do on a Thursday night and over the weekend.
It almost doesn’t matter that we hardly refer back to the calendar during the month. The time we spend together discussing it before each month is invaluable in helping us both feel like we’ve got something approaching ‘work life balance’ (or compromise) going on.
It took me a while to accept that admitting you need help does not make you weak or a bad parent. On the contrary, it makes you strong. EVERYONE needs help sometimes (if not all the time!).
That help might involve asking your support network for a hand occasionally, or formally ‘outsourcing’ by hiring someone. Either way, getting help will ensure you stay on top of what needs doing… which will help you immensely in the long run.
Remember: it takes a village to raise a child at the best of times. That goes double if you’re running a business at the same time. Never be ashamed to lean on your support crew when you need them.
I don’t just mean invest money here – we all know that money can be tight when you’re starting up a business or welcoming a new child. But even when there’s no money to spare, you can still invest knowledge into your children’s brains. You can teach them how to be better people, and do something with them that enhances them as human beings.
From a business standpoint, there are a bunch of investment options that don’t require ready cash. Try:
- Going to a networking event
- Signing up for some free training
- Joining a business Facebook group and asking questions
These are all investments of time and energy that probably won’t create an immediate payoff. You will, however, almost definitely reap benefits from them later on down the road.
Much like the idea of true ‘work life balance’, the concept of ‘effective multi-tasking’ is a pipe dream. You can’t simultaneously be focussing on your kids AND your work in the same moment. So knowing how to quickly switch hats from being a parent to being a business owner is a vital skill I wish I’d learnt straight away.
To keep your business from taking over your time with your family, or vice versa, try having a distinct office area that you do all your work in. Personally, I work in a co-working space that I absolutely LOVE! I also like to nominate specific ‘work’ times, so that I’m free at home to be present with my family.
Those boundaries between ‘work’ and ‘life’ might not create the perfect balance – but they’ll help you feel closer to it.
I know, I know, it sounds crazy, right? You already have SO MUCH TO DO, ALL THE TIME. How can you possibly find time to step away from it and just… stop?
The irony is that it’s when you least feel like you can afford to take time off that you most need it. Unless you want to burn out to a crisp, you NEED at least some time to yourself. So does your partner (ideally, separately to you).
Even just booking a weekend away on your own once a year is better than nothing. It allows you to step away from ALL the hats you wear and find yourself a bit. Don’t let yourself burn out. Trust me: you, your family and your business will all be worse off at the end if you do!
If I could distil this article down to a single point, it would be this: no parent ever achieves a perfect ‘work life balance’. I’m serious. It doesn’t happen.
It’s totally normal, when you have the all-important jobs of both running a business AND raising children, to feel like you can’t focus on anything 100%. The tips above may help (they’ve certainly helped me), but beyond them, just do the best you can. Remember that your client can probably wait a few more hours for that work, but you’ll never get the time you miss with your little ones back.
I’d love to hear the lessons YOU’VE learnt while juggling parenthood, working and trying to find some kind of ‘work life balance’ (read: compromise)! Share them with me by getting in touch.