10 tips for a healthier work-life balance for parents
Here are some of the signs that my work-life balance is not up to scratch:
1. I’m regularly hunched over my computer till late in the evenings
2. I occasionally find myself scrolling through my phone for emails while at my toddler’s playgroup (only when his back is turned, of course)
3. I sometimes have to stay at home at weekends due to imminent work deadlines while my husband takes the kids to the playground
4. I don’t get to see as much of my husband during the week as I’d like
I can’t be the only parent whose life has gone a bit skewed.
If you have children and spend time on work assignments – and I’m including in this category anyone who spends hours running projects at their child’s school/ playgroup – it’s all too easy to let the boundaries between your work and home life become blurred.
In the last few weeks, I’ve tried to improve the balance by taking a long hard look at my efficiency at home.
As well as online supermarket shopping, I’m becoming more diligent about weekly meal planning and have recently bought a slow cooker.
I spoke to some experts for their help. Here’s what they came up with:
10 tips for a better work-life balance from the experts:
“Accept that you can’t complete wonderful work on time while also ironing every shirt, serving home-cooked food daily, keeping a tidy house and always turning up at the school gate,” says Hannah Martin, founder of the Talented Ladies Club, an online community helping mums realise their work and business ambitions. “Recognise which areas of your life you want to get 100 per cent right and focus on those.”
2. Stop multi-tasking
We may think that multitasking saves time – for example we might think we get three jobs done faster if we decide to help the kids with their homework while answering emails and making dinner at the same time. “But actually the human brain is better suited to working sequentially – or in other words, finishing one job before starting another,” says life coach Rachel Bamber.
“If you try to do too many things at once, your brain takes much longer to complete the original task. Single task focus is much more efficient.” So it’s better to concentrate on the homework for a few minutes – and of course, your child will flourish with your undivided attention too.
3. Look at the bigger picture
Do try your best to make it to your children’s shows and parent-teacher meetings. But if a work emergency means you can’t make one or two, don’t feel guilty and beat yourself up about it. “Your child won’t remember these absences in the long-run,” says life coach Carole Ann Rice, who wrote Start Your Dream Business.
“They also won’t remember half the sacrifices you make, nor the things that seemed very significant at the time, like that nativity costume you spend hours making.
“What your children do remember is a general feeling that overall, you were there to support them.”
4. Find a childcare buddy
Working from home or trying to get back to work, and don’t have enough childcare? “Find a friend for reciprocal weekly play dates,” says Hannah.
“Take it in turns to host each week. It gives each of you a couple of valuable working hours every fortnight, while your kids have fun playing together.” (You may like my blog post: 10 tips for back-to-work confidence.)
5. Divide tasks into half-hour chunks
It’s easy to let mundane chores – like housework, printing, emails and admin – take up too much time.
“But by segmenting these jobs into 30-minute chunks, you avoid letting them overwhelm you,” says Hannah.
“You’ll also work more efficiently – it’s amazing how much you can get done when you know you only have half an hour.”
6. Put your phone on silent when you’re with your kids
When you’re out of the office, and especially when you’re with your children, switch your phone to silent, advises career coach Alice Stapleton. “That way, you won’t get interrupted and you only check your phone when you have the time. It gives you much more control over outside interruptions.”
7. Estimate your workload and how long it will take to tackle it
If you’re working in the evenings, stop at the end of that period, even if you haven’t finished, says Carole Ann. She says that if you need extra time, think about setting your alarm earlier in the morning instead.
8. Factor in an hour of screen-free time before bed
It helps your brain wind down for sleep.
9. Never take work files or your laptop into your bed
“Reserve it as a place for rest and sleep,” says Carole Ann.
10. Set an alarm for 30 minutes for checking emails
“It’s too easy to fritter away an entire evening just checking emails,” says Rachel. “Setting an alarm signals you to stop after that time.”