Balancing, juggling, spinning plates; all these metaphors are commonly used to describe the trials of working parenthood and bring to mind a somewhat chaotic circus tent. Many of us may feel that our lives are indeed a bit like this at times, and that we can be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things we need to do in a day – but it’s important to realise that it needn’t always be this way. It is absolutely possible to perfect the art of balancing work and family – but it takes practice.
In recent blogs we have explored how we can visualise our journey into working parenthood and prepare the foundations for success by building our career capital and professional networks. If we then go on to practise the art of balancing our priorities, we will be in a much stronger position when the time comes to have a family. We can be the ringmasters of our own circuses – if we take responsibility now for our own careers and futures.
Balancing work and family: how to avoid overwhelm.
Look after yourself.
One of the most crucial aspects of the babyproofing process is learning to look after your own well-being. If your health falls apart, you’re generally unhappy or feel your emotional and physical resources are depleted, you are not going to be able to give your best to your work OR your family. Your physical and mental well-being is the key to making a success of working parenthood. It may sound like an anathema to a new mum, but you will need to put yourself first sometimes. It will benefit you, your baby and your work in the long run! What’s more – you can’t just wing it and hope for the best. You will need to develop a self-care strategy and get it in place – before you have children. Here are some tips:
- Schedule time out. Allow yourself some space every day to check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Do you need to do anything differently or make adjustments to your routine?
- Get regular exercise. Little and often, so it is not too daunting to keep up. Try 30 minutes, 3 times a week with a variety of activities that you enjoy. Exercise with a friend to keep you motivated and above all, make sure you have fun!
- Develop healthy eating habits. Avoid the quick sugar and caffeine fix and try to eat a balanced diet of fresh foods to maintain your energy levels.
- Sleep better. Sleep deprivation negatively impacts mood, concentration, energy and performance. Are you getting enough? If you’re not getting enough good sleep at night, top up during the day. Become skilled at taking power naps, on the way to work, or at lunchtime. 15 minutes might be all you need to refresh yourself for the afternoon.
- Get up early. Start your day earlier than you need to and dedicate the time to yourself. Reflect on how you’re feeling, your goals, or read something motivational. Use the time to meditate or relax, whatever works for you – as long as it is for YOU and it ISN’T work!
Running a family and household is like running a business. It works much better if you have the right processes in place. Good systems for staying organised and efficient ways of working give you control. They form the foundations on which everything else can rest. Build them now, and you can avoid overwhelm in the future. Some people are naturally organised but many of us struggle. If you’re one of those people, here are my top tips to help you be more organised.
- Little and often. The thought of tidying everything up and sorting everything out in one go is daunting. Schedule in a small amount of time at the end of the day and start by focusing on one thing.
- Chunking. Grouping things together makes it easier for your brain to focus. For example, group together similar tasks like paying bills and set aside a time do them all at once.
- Make checklists. Learn to make lists for everything you have to do. If you know it’s all written down, it takes the pressure off and unburdens your brain – you don’t have to remember everything!
- Get help. If creating order from chaos is too daunting – get a professional to help. Get someone to come and declutter your house or set up a filing system for example.
- There’s an app for that. There are so many apps that can help with organisation – Dropbox, Evernote and Wunderlist to name but a few.
- Focus. Multi-tasking is highly overrated and can lead to overwhelm. Increase your productivity and streamline your mind by focusing on one task at a time. Limit distractions like email by tackling them at designated times twice a day, and still your mind by practising meditation or mindfulness for short periods. Try Headspace.
Practise saying no
Eliminate the unessential from your life. Your resources are finite, you cannot do everything or keep everything in your mind. Some of us find saying no to people uncomfortable – we want to please and be strong. But exercising choice over what demands you meet will help you avoid overwhelm and stay in control. Here’s how to do it.
- If this, then that. Recognise that if you agree to something, you are saying no to something else.
- Little and often. If you’re not used to saying no, practise doing it little and often so it becomes a habit.
- Put your agenda first. Of course you can still help other people, but don’t forget to weigh their agenda against yours before taking on emergency tasks.
- You always have a choice. There’s no such thing as “I have to”. Everything you do is a choice – start seeing your day to day life in this way and you will be able to eliminate the unnecessary. Set boundaries for yourself and others. Just say no!
Plan your free time
What makes you truly happy? Think about your happiness priorities and make sure you do things that you love in your free time. Of course, when you’re busy balancing work and family, you free time is scarce, but if you ensure that you get used to scheduling time to do little things that you love, you will feel happier and more in control of your life.
Build a support system
When you are balancing work and family, getting help when you need it is vital. Even before children, there will be times when your career and life are so busy that you could do with help – and it’s good to start practising the art of asking for support. If you’re used to feeling that you have to do everything yourself and that needing help is a sign of weakness, you need to change your mindset.
- Assign tasks the appropriate amount of importance. Cleaning all day for example may make your house beautiful but does not necessarily make you a good person – is this a task that could be delegated to someone else?
- Ask for help and offer it in return. Build a culture of reciprocity at work and home – you will reap the benefits in the long run.
- Accept offers of help. It’s all too easy to say no – you don’t want to inconvenience anyone and you want to look strong. But think about whether you really need the help – if you do, take it! You will feel better, and so will the person who is helping you.
- Get organised. As per the earlier paragraph. You can’t delegate tasks if you don’t have systems and order. Sort these things out and other people can take on some of the tasks that you do.
Looking after your mind, body and spirit by practising these skills will help you perform better at work and home. Staying in control and avoiding overwhelm is key to balancing work and family life, but even if you don’t yet have children, it’s never too early to bring a little calm and order to your life. Do you have any more tips for getting to grips with a busy life? Get involved in the discussion in our Linkedin group and sign up to register your interest in our new online Babyproof Your Career online course – launching soon. Watch this space!