Occasionally, I sit down and take stock of how hectic my life is before looking for ways to improve my efficiency, whether by reading and applying tips from personal development books or making the most of technology. But I’m far from perfect. There have been a few occasions where I’ve REALLY dropped the ball! These occasions have shocked me into changing how I balance an expanding global business while making sure I’m the mother our little boys need in life.
Well, here’s one of those latter occasions, and what I’d describe as the biggest failure I’ve felt as a working mother, it was when I missed our son’s Christmas play in December 2016. “I’m sorry you missed my play Mummy,” said our 6-year-old when my husband arrived home with him from the school pick-up. Tears fell down my cheeks, and my stomach sank as it transpired that I’d copied the wrong date from the calendar on the wall at home to my Outlook diary. At that moment, as I squeezed our son with guilt, I knew I needed to get a handle on my schedule and take control of my life.
So, here are five ways I try (yes, try, because we all know that no parent has it to a tee, no matter how great their Facebook pictures look) to get a handle on life as a mother and entrepreneur:
1. One calendar
My professional life runs off Microsoft Outlook, so after the guilt of missing the Christmas play, I decided that I would have only one diary. Everything is colour-coded, and purple represents my personal appointments; everything is now in one place, from my weekly yoga class to children’s parties and school events. On entering appointments about our children into my Outlook diary, I also forward the diary entry to my husband. As there are two of us raising our boys, there are now two of us taking responsibility for the activities that happen in family life.
My advice to other working parents is, don’t feel you can’t mix business and home life for fear of what your colleagues might think about your 4:55 pm reminder to pick up a birthday present on your way home, ready for a child’s birthday at 10:00 am on Saturday. We all have many hats to wear in life, so if having everything in one place means you don’t miss a thing, including business commitments, then it seems a sensible way of working.
2. Prep the night before
Like many working parents, I ensure the school uniform, bags, and shoes are ready the night before, as well as my clothes, but it doesn’t stop there. If I’ve got a particularly early start, I’ll also prepare my breakfast the night before. My current favourite is chia seed pudding, probably because it’s so quick to prepare – chia seeds and almond milk put into a lunch box and left in the fridge overnight means I’ve got a ready-made breakfast when I get up in the morning.
3. The mid-year clear out
We usually clear out our children’s toys before Santa comes to visit, but six months on from Christmas and our boy’s bedrooms seem entirely overrun with toys, packaging, and general clutter, so I’ve found a mid-year clear is the best way to help prevent our home becoming a toy shop.
As you can see from this image, a lot was cleared out from our eldest’s bedroom last weekend, including a Christmas gift bag used to transfer his new toys upstairs after Christmas! Unfortunately, this time, there was more for the bin than the charity shop, but I didn’t complete the task alone. All four of us spent an hour de-cluttering, and we’ll do the same again next weekend in our youngest’s bedroom.
You might be wondering what de-cluttering has to do with work-life balance, but I know I like to be in an organised environment. So if I’m working from home, I don’t want to be distracted by a mess that could take me away from the work I’m supposed to do. Having more space also means tidying up quicker, so when I am at home as a parent, I’ve got more time to spend with our boys rather than on household chores before the working week starts again.
Across a week, I work full-time hours, but these are between a late start and early finish in the office and one day a week working from home (as well as quite a few late nights in our home office). It’s not just about the practical aspect of flexibility; it helps me mentally too.
As determined and career driven as I am, the feeling of a battle between business and motherhood does appear. Flexibility provides a sense of calm in this battle as I know that I can attend our son’s English Workshop at his school on Tuesday by swapping my usual day at home for this day instead.
5. Set expectations
When arranging customer phone calls and visits, I let people know my hours of availability – I don’t hide away the fact that I have a commute and two children to drop off/pick up from different places. If something is urgent, there’s always someone else who can help, but with my husband and I working in our business, one of us has to be there for our children at the end of the day.
I also clarify to our children if I will be doing something outside our usual pattern. So if I’m staying late in the office or attending an event, I’ll tell them a few times before I leave them that I won’t be picking them up that evening.
Some of my tips on balancing motherhood and running a business were first shared on: Advice from working mums on balancing family life and work, along with more great ideas from other successful working mums – I hope you find them useful!