By Jo Middelton
Six strategies for balancing work and family life
When I made the decision to become self-employed several years ago, it was mainly driven by the need, as a single parent, to be flexible around my family life. At the same time, I was wary of how working from home might spill over into time with my children, and so along the way I’ve developed several strategies for ensuring that elusive work-life balance.
Here are my favourite six:
Know what you want
It’s all too easy to go into running your own business or being self-employed without really thinking about what you want to achieve. Before you start, (or now if you’ve started already!), take some time to think about what exactly you want to get out of your new lifestyle. Do you want to earn more money? Spend less time working? Have more flexibility? Your motivations will influence how you plan your time and structure your life.
Talk to your family
Sit down with your kids and explain to them how you work and how it will affect them. When you work from home, people don’t think twice about interrupting you, but set clear boundaries if you can. For younger children, it could be something really simple and visual such as ‘when I have this red ball on my desk, please go and ask Daddy/your sister for help instead’! Children will be more accommodating when things are clear and they know what to expect.
‘Fail to prepare and prepare to fail’ they say, and this couldn’t be more true than when you’re juggling priorities and trying to fit work into school hours. Have a system that keeps everything in control, be it a spreadsheet, a diary or simply post-its. For me, it’s a big whiteboard next to my desk and a set of coloured pens. I need to be able to see at a glance what’s coming up over the next few weeks, and the colours help me distinguish between different types of work and family commitments.
Have a designated work area
This can be hard if your living space is at a premium, but it really helps with the work-life balance if you can draw a physical boundary around your work as well as a mental one. We don’t all have the luxury of a separate office, but perhaps there is a corner or alcove somewhere that could become your work space? A space that could be hidden when not in use with a screen or curtain? It needs to be somewhere that you can ‘leave’ and forget about when you’re on family time.
Focus on doing one thing well rather than lots of things not so well
The temptation as a self-employed parent is to try and do as many things at once, all of the time. You’re really not doing anyone any favours with this approach though. When you’re working, devote all your energy to it – book the children into holiday clubs, send them off to friends, ignore the washing basket – focus entirely on work. Similarly, when you are enjoying family time, turn off your email, put your phone back in your bag, and give your children your whole attention.
Build in some ‘just in case’ time
Although when you run your own business the temptation is to schedule in work every minute of every day, make sure you allow some time for the unexpected. If you have to pick up a sick child half way through the day, you want to be able to focus on looking after them, not worrying about deadlines. A full diary is good, but just allow yourself a little leeway, so that you don’t feel under pressure should things not always go to plan.
Jo Middleton writes the award-winning blog Slummy single mummy and is Director of Inside Scoop, a media training company providing marketing and PR support and training to small businesses.
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