When we started Sassy five years ago I was in my mid-twenties and threw myself completely into building up the business – running around town to meetings, checking emails at all hours of the day, being surgically connected to my smartphone and laptop. It all felt so exhilarating and fun. Now that I’m the proud mama to two little daughters though (and need a big cup of coffee to get going in the morning), and am still working in this little company which has now become so much bigger and stretches across two cities, I struggle with finding the balance between family and work.
When I tell people that I work from home, especially if I’m talking to other mothers, I often get the response, “Oh but that’s perfect – you can work from home and be with your kids at the same time!” While I agree I’m incredibly lucky, I then embark on a long explanation (until I notice their eyes glazing over) as to how it’s actually perhaps more tricky to work from home and have my own business than it would be to head into an office each day to work at a corporate job. I also of course often envy stay at home mamas even though that’s probably more difficult than any other job!
For those mamas out there in the same boat who are trying to figure out juggling their own business with family, or working in freelance or flexible roles, here are the limited lessons I’ve learned in the three years I’ve been trying to get good at this gig…
1. Mama guilt is a killer – don’t listen to the nagging voice
Because my work is a “choice”, I always feel like I’m making the wrong one. Skipping Gymboree to catch up on emails? Bad mama. Heading to the park when I have a to-do list as long as my arm? Bad worker. Whichever way I turn I’m damned, unless I refuse to listen to that voice in my head which seems to like to make me feel crappy. Easier said than done I know!
2. Flexible working still needs structure
Yes my work is flexible, and I can decide when to do it as I’m not limited by office hours, but this basically means I have to create my own unbreakable rules to abide by. For me this means having set working days, and making sure that I am sitting at my computer during those hours when I am most switched-on and productive, which for me is always in the morning. When my attention wanes in the afternoon and I find myself being easily distracted by Facebook or Instagram, I take that as my cue to switch over to mama mode as it’s not quality working time.
3. Get out of the house
This is a personal one of course, but despite the fact that I have a lovely little home office set up in our spare bedroom, I still need to leave the house to do my best work. My kids seem to be able to sense when I’ve just sat down to do something important and come hammering on the door or start up screaming fits which are impossible to ignore. I find coffee shops or clubs are the best options for me as there’s a little bit of buzz to get me going. Seek out quality free wi-fi and somewhere where you don’t need to pack up your bag and computer every time you need the loo!
4. Organise and plan your non-working time
I genuinely love what I do, and find myself getting sucked into it even at times I’ve set aside for spending time with my kids. It’s just so easy to want to quickly take a peek at email or spend 15 minutes finishing off a fun project. In order to be sure I’m fully committed to a period of quality time with the little ones, I get us out of the house to play-dates, take them to activities or head outdoors for a swim or to the park. This means on a Monday I try book up all our “mama time” by emailing friends or planning which errands we can do on certain days. Then I don’t have dead time, which can easily turn into sticking a Disney DVD on TV while I hammer away at some work in the background (feeling guilty all the while!).
5. Have clear boundaries and stick to them
Your working time needs to be “protected”, and equally, so does your family time. Talk to your helper to tell her what your working hours are so she can plan activities for the kids while you’re busy (printing out a weekly schedule to stick on the fridge will help you be on the same page). Make sure your colleagues know which days and times you’re not available for meetings, and do not agree to attend meetings during family time. Once you’ve cracked once and agreed to do a meeting or call during family time it’s really hard to get the boundaries back as you’ve confused people about where they lie which isn’t fair to them or you.
There’s nothing exactly ground-breaking about these tips, but it took a bit of time for me to figure out that flexible working actually needs greater discipline than “regular” working. I’d love to hear if you have any other suggestions for managing the juggle as it’s something I work at on a daily basis!
Pssst… I really recommend all working mamas take a peek at “How to be a Productivity Ninja” which is great if you’re trying to figure out how to really maximize a shorter working time to become more efficient and how to manage work-life balance.