As a full-time mum and entrepreneur it's often difficult for me to balance my duties as a mother and my commitment to my businesses. Like most people, I often feel like there's not enough time in the day and struggle to reconcile simple household tasks with things I need to do to progress my business. The main issue is that my work life and home life are not completely separate. Quite often I work from home, which I'm sure a lot of you think is fantastic - not having to be a squashed sardine on the tube every day, avoiding awkward and stressful workplace interactions with annoying colleagues, having the freedom to do all my work in my bathrobe if I so choose, and more importantly getting the opportunity to spend more time with my two girls. I've often been told how 'good I have it' by well intentioned friends and family members, but my reality is less "Wonder Woman" and more "Wonder Where the Heck Time Went"!
In reality, I'm actually busier since I've been working from home, than when I was working as Corporate Project Manager! My early morning commutes have been replaced by getting my girls ready for school and sometimes driving them when they're late. Daily office interruptions by overbearing managers have been replaced by random phone calls from friends or family members looking to chat or gossip during my work-time. Quite often I spend time where I should be working on my businesses, catching up with housework or chasing up bills. Sure some women are fantastic at keeping a spotless house AND being the perfect mum AND bringing home the bacon. However I'm convinced that these women are either aliens or robots! Most days I don't even have enough time to eat properly because there's so much I have to keep on top of. The past few days I've pretty much been surviving on a diet of Cornflakes and Herbal Tea because they don't require much brain function to make!
So if you too find yourself struggling to achieve that mythological "work-life balance" what can you do? Here are a few tips to help you out (that I'll be implementing too!!)
1. Manage your Tasks - Schedule, Schedule, Schedule
Create a routine for ALL the tasks in your day - not just work-related tasks but also the time you use in snacking, checking emails, responding to social media posts, and even any household duties you're looking to get done. This will stop you from spending all day working on your laptop; having not showered, eaten or brushed your hair! Trust me; I've been there on far too many occasions! Setting time aside for each part of your day will allow you to focus on one thing at a time and could also increase your productivity.
2. Set Boundaries
You need to hold the people in your life; e.g. your clients, your boss, your friends and family members etc to your new routine. Don't make any exceptions; otherwise people WILL take advantage of your time. Ask yourself if the interruption is truly an urgent matter. Often people will impose their own sense of urgency onto you - they are quite happy to take up your time or expertise at great profit to themselves and little benefit to you. Setting clear and consistent boundaries with regard to your time and availability will enable you to avoid unnecessary time-wasters.
3. Learn to Say NO!
We often want to please others - our clients, our friends and family members, our kids. So we often take on too much because someone has asked us to. I'm definitely the type of person that doesn't like disappointing people. But I also value my time and my knowledge. Too many times people have wanted my expertise at no expense to them, but at the cost of MY time. When we take on extra unnecessary responsibilities we throw our routine out of balance. One thing will have to give; By doing so you are throwing your life out of balance because sooner or later you’re going to have too much to do and not enough time in the day to do it. Sooner or later you have to say no to some things in order to keep your life balanced and happy.
4. Your Time as an Entrepreneur is Worth ££££'s!
It can be incredibly flattering to be seen as the go to person for wisdom and intel amongst your friends and associates. On many occasions I've had 'my brains picked' by fellow business owners as well as friends looking for free advice/counsel. Emphasis on the word FREE. Now I see myself as a business woman. I've spent many years training myself, working, attending networking events and building up my business and reputation - MY TIME COSTS MONEY! You'd be surprised by how much people can think they can get away with. I'm happy to help out friends and family members when needed; I'm happy to speak for free at charity events if I support the cause. However usually people just want the luxury of your skills and expertise without compensating you properly for it. If you've given someone advice, that they've implemented in their business and gained success from it, you should be compensated for it. Next time someone comes to you looking to 'pick your brains' tell them "Look, there's this fantastic resource called The Internet! Pages upon pages of free information at your fingertips. Use it! If you still can't find the info you're looking for, I'm happy to be of service and will be happy to discuss payment also!" Realise that your time and knowledge has value.
5. Forget Multi-tasking - Focus on Key Activities and Reward Yourself for Small Victories
Some people are amazing multi-taskers - the majority of us are not. Trying to juggle multiple tasks at the same time can leave you distracted and spending more time completing tasks than if you had just focused on each task individually. Maybe try finishing one task at a time, and rewarding yourself afterwards. You've heard of the 80/20 rule? Apply it to your daily tasks. In an hour, spend 50 minutes working and the last 10 minutes doing something else, non work related, preferably off-line. Take a quick break. Do the washing up. Stretch for a bit. Take some respite then move onto the next scheduled task.
6. Outsourcing isn't Just for Call-Centres
If the thought of giving up the lure of multi-tasking fills you with dread, maybe try delegating or outsourcing certain tasks to other people. Many websites like Fivvr and People per Hour have hundreds of freelancers who'd be happy to take some of your workload, for a small fee. You have to ask yourself if the stress of constantly trying to keep up with your workload is really worth it. If it's the housework that's taking up too much of your time, either hire a cleaner or get your kids more involved with weekly chores. Outsourcing can free up your time to focus on more important or pressing issues. As the all too familiar saying goes - don't work hard; WORK SMART!
7. Identify what keeps you happy and motivated.
My life as a full-time entrepreneur and full-time single mum is very fast-paced. A million and one things to do in only 24 hours can feel very overwhelming at times. Here I find its important to be completely honest with myself about what is making me happy. I've turned down many jobs that involved too much time away from my girls or too much of my skills, intel and resources without proper compensation to me. Life is too short to be drained and stressed out all the time. Sometimes you need to make a bold choice concerning what keeps you happy and motivated and stick to it.
8. Unplug - Back Away from the Laptop, the Smartphone, and the i-Pad - (I'll allow you the Kindle though!)
Whatever time you've set aside for family, friends, breaks etc should be spent AWAY from any technological distractions. Your emails, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin etc will still be there when you get back.
Perhaps most importantly be prepared to realise that for you, the ever elusive 'work life' balance may be just a myth. Ask yourself instead if you are satisfied with the state of your personal life and the progress of your professional life. For a lot of people especially entrepreneurs, work-life and home-life are so intertwined, that dedicating an equal amount of time to both is pretty much impossible. Instead establish what's important to you and set out non-negotiable time towards it. Remember one man's definition of perfection could be chaos to another - you have to find what works for you and stop comparing yourself to other so called 'supermums' that seem to do it all.