1. Know What You Want
The first step towards getting what you want is knowing what you want. I decided very early on that my business was going to support my time with my daughter and not suck away these valuable years with me at work while she was with careers. Even in my salaried job (when my daughter was a baby), I was very strict about working 9–5 p.m. and not a minute later. It took a bit of time to un-learn my old work-late habits and for my boss and colleagues to adjust their expectations about what and when I was able to deliver as part of my remit. When you can get clear in your head about what’s going to work for you and believe it genuinely, then that sincerity will come across in your negotiations and you’re going to get the best results. Get clear about the benefits of why you want a great work-life balance and get clear of the benefits for the other people who will influence the outcome.
2. Prioritize Family Time
It’s easy to let minutes turn into hours and hours turn into chunks of time that keep you away from home until way passed the children’s bed times. It’s a slippery slope. Practice raising your productivity during the day—don’t stop to chat, don’t ‘facebook’ or ‘youtube,’ don’t mess around with your personal emails. Work at work. Leave on time. Get home promptly. Children thrive on routine and will thank you (when they’re fifty!) for being there for them on a regular basis. Remember, work-life balance includes a bit of everything; earning, playing, bonding, studying, health, fitness, dreaming, growing … and sleeping!
3. Allow an Hour for Home Management Each Evening
When my daughter’s gone to bed it’s my time to check that the laundry’s up-to-date, there’s food prepared for the next day, the kitchen’s cleaned up, the bathroom’s tidy and any school correspondence, play dates or diary-planning is done. Now this doesn’t take an hour every day, but I allow that time to make sure that I’m on top of my home life. If I can allocate specific time like this it means that my personal life can be kept separate to my work life, which means I can get home on time and be totally focused on my daughter from 6–8pm every day.
4. Ask For Support
If you’re working part time or full time, managing a home and caring for and encouraging your children single handedly, I already know that you deserve a sainthood!! Remember that to balance these things well over time is an art. It takes a clear head, it takes good health and it takes lots of energy and drive. Ask for help when you need it – if it’s a babysitter so you can have a night out, a friend to come over and cook one night a week, a family member to drive one of the kids to karate, or a colleague to take on some extra projects at work to keep you from tipping into overwhelm – whatever it is, ask, ask, ask! Asking for support is not a failing, it’s the practical application of wisdom. Your children rely on you to be at your best. True saints practice humility!
5. Be Open With Your Children
It takes a lot to learn the balance of sharing with and shielding from our children. Age-appropriate conversations, when you need to have them can be a life saver. I remember discussing with my then two-year old that it was really hard for me to be getting up in the middle of the night when she called. ‘If you’re scared then call. If you just want someone to be here to lie with you, don’t call. When you have two more sleeps in the day time, mummy is working very hard to get everything done so that I can get home for us to have fun before bath time, story time and bedtime’. It worked. What also worked at five years old was the conversation about the consequences of me not going to work. We talked through that the knock-on effects of this would be no money coming into our household, the possibility of changing homes, how we eat and what we wear, stopping holidays, and maybe even changing some of our friendships. These conversations aren’t about laying huge burdens on our children. They are about asking them gradually and bit-by-bit to share a greater amount of responsibility for contributing to the smooth running of the household. Review the distribution of responsibility regularly as your children get older. This is not just about your work-life balance. It’s about your children’s too.
And they’ll thank you for it in the end!