A former coworker sent me a message on Facebook recently, saying that she’d heard from a mutual friend that I “had it all together” when it came to finding a work/life balance as a work-from-home mom, and she wanted to chat about how I do it.
I nearly spit my coffee out all over the laptop screen laughing, because just the day before, I had literally been screaming in frustration (in my car, where no one could hear me) because the baby decided not to take an afternoon nap and therefore my best laid plans for working that afternoon were out the window.
But it is flattering and a little encouraging to think that someone out there thinks I have it all together.
It made me start to consider what I’ve learned about being a work-from-home mom in the last year. I know I’m doing some things right, even when I have days when it feels like everything is going wrong.
One of the first distinctions that is important to me is that I am a work-from-home mom, not a work-at-home mom. All moms work at home whether they have a job outside the home or not. Mothering is hard work, as is keeping house, shopping for groceries, cooking dinner, being a wife, being a friend, being a sister, and whatever other jobs we take on that we don’t necessarily earn money for. I know, it’s a small distinction, but it’s important to me.
Another little linguistic twist that’s important to me? I create a work/life balance, I don’t find balance. Because let me tell you something, honey: ain’t no amount of looking around or sitting and waiting going to find you balance. You have to consciously create it for yourself.
I like to think of it like doing a balance pose in yoga. You have to concentrate on finding your balance and work at keeping yourself there, or you fall over on your face.
Likewise, it’s essential to work on creating that balance between your work life and the rest of your life. I’ve got a few tips that have helped me fall on my face less often.
1. Designate, Delegate, and Eliminate
No one can do it all. It’s a myth. That woman who looks like she’s doing it all? I can almost guarantee you that she’s skimping out somewhere you can’t see. Maybe she’s so busy taking care of everybody else that she doesn’t have time to take care of herself. Maybe she’s so on the ball with her work life that her family relationships are taking a beating.
So when you can’t do it all, the next best thing is to make less of it—whatever it is.
Designate blocks of time when you’re going to take care of certain tasks, and stick to it. Put exercise, play time, and date night in your calendar and then keep those appointments as you would an appointment with a client.
Delegate tasks and responsibilities where you can. It’s easy to think we’re the only ones that can do a job right, but it’s just not true. In a recent Working Mother survey, most women said that their husbands had as high a standard as theirs or higher when it came to housework, but almost none of them were comfortable delegating those tasks to the hubby.
Finally, when you can’t delegate, eliminate—or at least cut way back. Here’s a great example: last summer, my husband was extra-busy at work and we had a 4-month-old baby, so none of us was getting much sleep. One night, he just lost it, pouring his heart out to me about how he didn’t know what he was going to do, because he just didn’t have time for everything, especially because he was spending an hour every night watering and maintaining the yard.
That’s when a lightbulb went off for me. “Honey,” I said, “It’s the middle of August. Why don’t we just let the back yard go?”
At first, it seemed like we couldn’t possibly do that, but then, I saw his eyes light up. He got an hour back every day to take care of the other stuff that was stressing him out. Yeah, our grass got brown and dried up—but then we didn’t have to mow it! It was a little thing, but it made a huge difference.
2. Work Ahead
I have to trick myself a little bit; when I have a deadline, I put it on my calendar as due the day before it’s actually due. That way, when the inevitable craziness pops up at the last minute, I have a little cushion built in, and I don’t have to miss my deadline.
3. Stop Multitasking
It seems counterintuitive, but multitasking is the devil for me. If I try to work when my baby girl is awake and needs my attention, both suffer. It’s been really hard to figure this out, but I’m trying to create discrete pockets of time for working that are just for me—like when she’s asleep, or when there’s someone else around to watch her.
4. Make Time
My friend and teacher, Barbara DeMarco Barrett has a great book on writing for busy people called Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within. In it, she basically describes her technique for working as a busy mom: work any time you can find 15 minutes or more. In the car while you wait for school to let out, on the sidelines at soccer practice, in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. If you train yourself to find these little lost windows of time, you’ll realize that you have more time than you think.
I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but I am figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t. And that’s helping me do the hard work of creating that balance for myself and my family.
What about you? How do you create work/life balance?