Having just dropped my son off at the childminders, I have a child-free work-focused day. There are a million possibilities on what I could do with my day. The question in my head is how can I capitalise on this time – achieving a work/life balance. That sums up my life – trying to squeeze everything into tiny windows of time. From the outside, it probably looks like I have my life balanced. I set my own hours, I’m at home with the children, I can do the school run. The reality is that I spend most of my time catapulting from one thing to another. My life is very closely ruled by a to-do list.
Is this what the modern work/life balance is meant to look like?
There’s been a shift recently in attitude towards flexible working and work/life balance. Maybe I see it more as a working mum who is looking for flexibility. Thanks to people like Anna Whitehouse (Mother Pukka – on a crusade for flexible working for all) flexible working is being spoken about more freely. Slowly, ever so slowly, there’s a shift in mindset that flexible working can be for anyone and for any reason.
This is a huge shift away from when I returned to my public sector job after my first son was born. I simply asked for one day every other week working from home, with the understanding that if there were an event (I headed up a small events team) that this would change for that week. The response I received was that he didn’t understand what I could do from home and how I could do my job effectively. I was crushed, besides delivering the event, the entire of my job could be home-based.
Compare this to my husband asking his work for a 9 day fortnight six months or so ago, so he could look after our children one day a week (along with helping with our nightmare school run!) His workplace immediately said yes, and there have been no issues with it since.
The reason I’m wittering on about flexible working is that for me, it goes hand in hand with a work/life balance. If the company you work for doesn’t embrace flexibility, there’s a strong chance that your “life” will be suffering as a result.
What’s the answer?
That’s what makes this discussion so complicated. The answer is different for everyone. For me, the answer was to become self-employed. To put the power back in my own hands. To be my own boss, and all the other cliches you can think of! 18 months in and it’s working, I get to go to assemblies and do the school run, and right now I’m sat in a coffee shop instead of being shackled to a desk. But it’s not an easy path. I was reading an article yesterday about thinking of work and life not as a balance but as integrated. For those of us that are self-employed, I completely agree. Working from home, the boundary between those two areas of my life is immediately removed. I can flit from Your Digital Assistant to Mummy in the blink of an eye.
So perhaps the answer is to accept that the two are inherently intertwined, and that’s ok. Maybe we need to work out a way that the two can support each other rather than fighting for our attention. It’s the realisation that we can’t do everything.
More importantly, it’s the acceptance that we can’t do everything.*
For small business owners that might mean looking at whether they need to do everything they currently are. Streamlining their activity might free up time and make their operation more effective. For office-based workers maybe it’s having that frank conversation with your manager or your colleagues that you need to leave on time every night, so you can be there for dinner, bath and bedtime. The change and driving force of achieving your work/life balance is you. If you accept all the sh*t that comes your way, you can’t be surprised when more follows.
If we want to achieve a work/life balance then we need to understand what that means, to us. Not to our neighbour or our cousin. What are your non-negotiables and how are you going to fight to protect them.
*Once you’ve accepted this then you might want to look at what help you can bring in – *wink wink* maybe a Virtual Assistant?