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Finding Balance as a Work at Home Mom

balance

Life is like riding a bicycle.. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.

A while back, I used the term “Hybrid Mom” to describe my work-life scenario since my son Holden entered the world in May 2013. Now just over two years since I adjusted to this new (and wonderful) role as a Work at Home Mom (WAHM), I’ve learned quite a few things about maintaining, as well as losing, the balance between personal life and professional life.

Because of some smart and strategic adjustments I made in recent months, I feel like I have been better able to balance my “mompreneur” responsibilities as well as dedicate some time just for myself – which is so very important for an introvert.

In reflecting on what has contributed to this positive change, I pulled together some key pieces of advice I would offer any fellow mom (whether you work at home, from home or outside the home). In fact, it’s not limited to just moms at all! For anyone who is looking to improve their time management, organization and work-life balance, I offer you these tips that have personally made a difference in my life.

Wake up early

I’ve always been a morning person (who also prefers afternoon naps), but that doesn’t mean I choose to get up at a crazy hour to get a jump start on my day. I’ve found that unless I have a special project or deadline, waking up just a half hour before the rest of my family is all the time I need to get organized and acclimated with my to-do list.

How do I use this time? It’s a well-rehearsed routine that makes me efficient, focused and energized. I begin with a big glass of water (it wakes me up mentally and physically). I then organize the items I need to make my breakfast and Holden’s breakfast so it flows like an assembly line. Finally, I dedicate the rest of my time to cleaning up my inbox, completing reoccurring tasks and prioritizing the other tasks that must get done today. Then, when the rest of the family begins to stir, I am alert, relaxed and ready to give them my full attention.

Be fully present in each moment

This piece of advice is so critical and one that I have to consciously follow every day. Before I found a good sense of balance between work life and family life, I never felt full present in either scenario. I was either haphazardly checking emails while “pretending” to be engaged with my son. Or I was using his nap time to tackle household chores when really I should be focusing on work tasks during these quiet hours.

Now, on the days when I have the pleasure of having Holden at home, we spend the mornings at the YMCA or at the park where my cell phone remains out of sight. Trust me, I dive right into work tasks as soon as he’s tucked in for his nap, but during those precious moments when his attention is all mine, I try and do a much better job of returning the favor.

On the days when Holden is happily playing at Grandma’s or at daycare, I remain focused and efficient so that I clear as much off my to-do list as I can. This also allows me to be more present when I am with my family. And while I enjoy working from home, rarely do I turn on the TV or surf social media during this undivided work time. I remain present in this moment as well.

Grow your relationship through your hobbies

Each and every day, I like to be active in some way. This can range from a challenging long-distance run to simply checking in with Mother Nature on a walk to the park. I also prioritize spending quality time with my husband to catch up on what is going on in each of our lives. I’m fortunate to have a spouse who shares my love for physical activity as this allows us to do both of these things simultaneously.

Every Sunday we take a family run (Holden gets to cruise along in the jogging stroller) which is when we talk about anything and everything. At the end of 45 minutes or so, we have accomplished a killer workout and caught up on things that have been weighing on our minds and hearts. During the week, we take a walk in evenings and when weather isn’t in our favor, we utilize the YMCA’s free childcare while we engage in some friendly competition in the gym. I’m extremely grateful for this shared hobby for it strengthens us emotionally as much as it does physically.

Ask for help

Out of all the pieces of advice, this one seems to be the hardest for mothers to put into practice – myself included. For 12 months, I balanced caring for Holden fulltime, 7-days a week while steadily growing my Public Relations business. I managed to get everything done in a day, but it was a house of cards waiting to blow over. I was more stressed than I realized and forgot how to relax, unwind and do something for myself.

In September, I finally had the realization that I could ask for help! I found a great in-home day care center that Holden absolutely loves. He started with going just two days a week and now he goes three days a week while my mother-in-law watches him another day. This gives me four dedicated work days! On those days, I feel like a true entrepreneur running her own fulltime business and conducting client meetings. On the one day a week (plus weekends) that Holden is home with me, we fully enjoy our time together far more than when I was striving to “do it all.” Asking for help is something to be proud of, not ashamed. It’s been a huge part of restoring my balance between work and family.

Outsource when you can

Similarly to asking for help, I have learned the value of outsourcing tasks when it makes sense to do so. It’s become my personal policy that when something does not bring me joy, make me money or improve my physical/mental/spiritual health, it’s acceptable to consider outsourcing it (there will be exceptions to the rule, but you get the gist). I cannot describe how happy I was the first time I outsourced cleaning my house. In two hours, my house was cleaner than it has been in my three years of attempting this feat. I used these same two hours to take on some new client work which actually earned more than what I paid to outsource the cleaning. Why did I wait so long to do this?!

My husband and I still keep up with light housekeeping on a regularly basis, but we agree that outsourcing the deep cleaning once a quarter to someone who does a better job, in less time and for less money than what we could is a no-brainer. Additionally, I’m happy to provide this income opportunity to for someone else (who doesn’t despise housework as much as I do).

Clear your slate every night

I don’t let clutter – whether this be actual physical clutter, email clutter or mental clutter – build up beyond the end of the day. Every night before bed, I put away my toddler’s toys, fold the laundry, clean and put away the dishes and clear out my inbox. Inevitable emails will come in after I shut down for the day and there will be new household tasks awaiting me in the morning, but by not letting anything slide over from the day prior, I significantly reduce the stress with the start of the day.

Just like anything in life, if you keep up with the little tasks as they present themselves, you prevent them from piling up into bigger, seemingly unsurmountable tasks later on. This applies to chores, work tasks, errands and of course bills. If it can be done now, do it now.

Always go to bed together

Finally and most importantly, my husband and I try our hardest to “go to bed together” each and every night that we can. There are many nights where my husband, in particular, will need to stay up late to catch up on work, but when I turn in for the night he comes and lays with me until I fall asleep. This still provides us with important bonding time and we have some of our best conversations during these moments. Ending our day together helps keep us on the same page and in touch with each other’s lives.

Between juggling work, family, hobbies, sleep and relaxation, how do you maintain balance in your own life? Share your tips and secrets by commenting below!

 
 

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Have You Fallen Into the Deadly Trap of Time Management?

time trap

We devote so much time and energy to improving our time management. There are websites, blogs, educational programs and entire shelves in bookstores dedicated to this very topic. After all, time management is the “holy grail” of happiness and success, right? We think it’s what allows us to do it all and do it well, take on more projects, get that raise and provide for our family. But what I’ve recently come to find is that the entire concept of time management is one big lie.

Controlling time, by any means, is simply not possible. There are things we do to make ourselves feel like we are in control. These things, like waking up early, working faster, skipping lunch breaks and staying up late may insulate our happy little bubble of managed time, but there are no more hours in our day and everything comes at the sacrifice of something else.

Technology has only aggravated this problem by making us feel like we can be ever more efficient with our time by being hyper-connected and multitasking every hour of the day. We think that if we can get more done today, that tomorrow will be less hectic, that tomorrow we will have time for our hobbies, that tomorrow we will be less stressed and more happy. But tomorrow is a moving target and every day is just as busy as the one before because we simply aren’t able to manage time.

Don’t believe me? Here are a few of life’s truths that have helped me to recognize the deadly traps of time management:

We can’t manage time; we can only manage ourselves regarding time.

As I said before, time management is a lie. We can’t manage time; we can only manage ourselves regarding time. We aren’t in control of time, but we are in control of our actions. How we choose to use the time we’ve been given every day is the most critical decision we have to make with our lives.

Rather than missing the forest for the trees by worrying about how we can answer more emails in a day, worry about why we even want to be answering so many emails in a day. Look at the bigger picture of your life and begin to prioritize what will matter most in the grand meaning of your existence.

You don’t “have” to do anything.

Another one of time management’s deadly traps is overwhelming ourselves with everything we “have” to do in a day. When I looked back at my Google calendar from a year ago, it’s interesting to see everything I packed into my schedule and marked with a star as a “must do” task.

What would have happened if I simply didn’t get to it that day, that week, ever? Minor consequences, if any. I have to constantly resist creating additional and unnecessary pressure in my life. We all do. If you feel like there is so much you “have” to get done today that you can’t meet a friend for lunch or take off an hour early to see your son’s soccer game, closely evaluate these tasks again and you’ll be surprised as to how this new mindset will show you how things can – and will – wait.

You will never have more time.

No one is able to “make time,” they must prioritize. We all have the same number of seconds every day so when someone says they’ll try and make time for that tomorrow, you know that it’s simply not a priority.

Another trap is saying you will take on a task when you have more time. You will never have more time. You must either do less or do it faster to make room for something else in your life. Again, it comes down to priorities.

It will never take just a minute…half hour…hour.

This time management trap is one of the most subtle and therefore extremely sneaky. It’s being unrealistic with how long it will take you to complete a task. We begin our busy day with a task list orchestrated by the minute only to find that we are constantly falling behind and chronically late. Does this sound familiar? It’s likely because you think a task will take half the time that it actually requires and so you overbook your day and scramble to get back on track. This is a frustrating and stressful life to live.

Start tracking the time it takes you to do common tasks to gain a better sense for how much time they require. This will help you to manage yourself regarding time.

Only in very rare instances does something have to be done “now.”

This final time management trap is the one that really gets under my skin because it’s the result of someone else trying to manage your time for you. Your boss, co-worker or spouse asks you to do something and insists it has to be done right now. Does this sound familiar? We all know that person who feels like everything they have going on is urgent and you should drop everything you’re doing to make it a priority. Yet, once we do complete the task, they don’t even touch it until the next day, or week, or at all.

Don’t get caught up in someone else’s urgent trivialities. It’s a power game and their effort to control you since they likely feel out of control with other aspects of their life. Directly question if it truly is something urgent; make them justify it. Then, push back. Let them know you have other things going on and matter of factly state that it cannot be completed until next week. I always say that if everything is urgent, then nothing is urgent. Learn to identify those people who “cry wolf” with your time.

In the end…

What’s the moral of this life lesson? It’s that the time given to us each day and the number of days we’re given in our life is completely out of our control. We can continue to waste these precious moments trying to find time hacks and ways to cram even more into our days. Or we can stop living the lie of “time management” and starting actually living.

So how should we manage our time? We should take more naps, longer lunch breaks, a long walk and turn off work after reasonable business hours have passed. Yes, there will be tasks left to do, but there will always be tasks left to do. Even if you worked 24 hours a day, there would be something more to fill your time – or you would invent it. You are the only person who can and should prioritize your life. If you don’t work to find a balance, you will simply work and work and work until that becomes the only meaning in your life. And that is a very sad day, indeed.

So, have you fallen into the deadly trap of time management – working longer and harder in hopes that it will make tomorrow less hectic…but it never does? Share your own struggles and triumphs by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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Why We Need Rainy Days

cat looking at rainy window

It has been a gorgeous summer in Pennsylvania. After a long and cold winter, we have earned these warm and sunny days – and there have been many! A couple of weeks ago I had some (rare) free time during a Sunday afternoon. My first instinct was to find something to do outside that would allow me to enjoy the day; however, the skies were ominous with a pending thundershower. As I stood by the window, I took a deep breath and felt a wave of relief wash over me. What an odd reaction to have to a dismal day? No, I didn’t feel sad, depressed, frustrated or annoyed. I felt relieved.

Reflecting on this feeling and the circumstances of the day made me realize something quite important. We all need rainy days in our life. Obviously the rain nourishes and revitalizes the earth, but it does the same for us.

My relief came from not feeling like I had to find something to do make the most of the nice weather. I had an excuse to be inside – and to just slow down for a little bit. On this particular afternoon, I watched a movie from start to finish (a nearly impossible feat for a mother of a toddler). That’s it. That’s all I accomplished and had nothing to show for it. Or did I? I felt focused, rested and happy. It’s the first time in a long time that I turned off all other distractions and was fully present in the moment. I can’t remember the last time I did this, can you?

On a sunny day, I feel like I need to be outside walking, running or at the park with Holden. I feel guilty making him play inside when I know all too soon winter weather will come rolling in and we’ll be locked up for months. Even when we’re inside during naptime, the blue skies inspire me to tackle work projects and chores at a dizzying pace. In the afternoon we’re on the go again, running errands or back to the park. And after dinner? You guessed it; we get outside as a family! I’m proud of my active lifestyle that has allowed me to accomplish all that I have, but even hybrid moms need to idle every so often.

On a rainy day, we move slower. There’s no rush to get to the park; it’s not even an option. Naps seem to last a little longer and watching more television than usual is completely acceptable. If errands can wait, they do. Getting toddler in and out of a car seat is even more of a miserable chore when rain is pounding on your back. Maybe best of all, without the sun shining through the windows, I don’t notice the little finger prints that should be cleaned off as well as every other surface you can imagine. It all waits and we rest.

I don’t take for granted that the “sunny” days, when I feel energized and productive, will always be around – so I make the most of them! But I no longer dread the “rainy” days that serve an equally important purpose. These days revitalize my soul and force me to slow down long enough to appreciate the need for balance. The weather is a funny thing; somehow it knows exactly what we need even when we do not.

What purpose do rainy days serve for you? Share how you have found balance in your daily life!

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2014 in Life

 

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The Work-Life Imbalance

Often I come across an article or a quiz asking me to examine my “work-life balance.” It’s a term we should have all encountered by now – whether in a magazine, an HR seminar, even in a casual dinner conversation. To nod your head and affirm, “Of course, I have a great work-life balance,” carries a sense of pride as if you’re really saying “Yeah, I’ve got it all together.” But what defines a work-life balance? Must the parts always be equal to keep the scales from tipping too far in one direction?

We spend the majority of our waking hours working in some capacity. In the best case scenario, only 40 hours of our week is spent in a formal work environment, but what about all of those evening and weekend emails, phone calls and “emergency projects” that cut into the little time we’re already given for “life?” Such tasks sneak extra weight onto the “work” side of the scale and can lead to an imbalance we don’t even know exists.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve taken more notice to how I’ve been chipping away at my free time by choosing to do a several minutes of work-related tasks here and there. Even just a few minutes can turn into hours over the course of a week. For example, I try to finish up my last work project of the day no later than 6pm. But while I enjoy dinner and a little bit of television, my mind is still very much on work. If I hear the chirp of an email – I answer it. And so this persists throughout the evenings and into the weekends. My best estimate is that on average, I burden myself with an additional 7-10 hours of work each week beyond what’s expected or demanded. When all added up, that’s a full day! A day in which I could have taken a road trip, enjoyed the beautiful fall weather or simply decompressed. And while these off-hour emails may help progress work, they put a major halt on life.

Back when I wrote about The Two-Day Truce, I urged everyone to resist the urge to do unnecessary work on the weekends because it only causes the recipients of the emails to feel the pressure to respond. Essentially it takes away from everyone’s weekend. I have gotten better about not being a weekend warrior with work, but I realized an even bigger problem. We’re so trained to work, we do it without even knowing it. Consciously we may feel like we’re living a pretty balanced life, but really our scales are so off kilter they’re nearly falling over altogether.

I couldn’t tell you how many times a day I check my phone for new emails, especially after “work hours.” I’m not sure I would want to know. By proactively checking for emails and refreshing my inbox, I’m looking for work to do instead of enjoying that other component that should fill our time – life. A true Work-Life Balance is so much more than saying you leave your office or close your laptop at 6pm. Chances are we’re very accessible to work during any of the hours in between. But when we’re at work are we this accessible to life? Every week’s schedule is different and there’s no doubt that there will be some weeks that demand an imbalanced share of our time for work. The key is to find the balance not every day or every week, but over the long run.

The Work-Life Balance may not be so much about balance after all. Maybe it’s more about flexibility and our openness to work more when we absolutely have to, but to also seize extra moments of “life” when the opportunity should arise. If you can’t close down by 6pm tonight, don’t sweat it, but plan for some extra relaxing time in your schedule later this weekend to make up for the difference and realign the balance!

What about you. Is your work-life balanced…flexible…or somewhat of both?

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2012 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Success Versus the Work-Life Balance (Guest Blog by Sam Bessant)

The following blog post is part of the Bennis Blogger Battle. Support Sam by “Liking” this post, leaving a comment and sharing it on your social media! The blog with the most hits, wins.

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In this day and age it is often assumed that one cannot be truly successful at work whilst also being successful in other areas of their life. We hear a lot about work-life balance and in the movies at least, the most successful executives are portrayed as sorely lacking in the social environment. Is this really the case though, and if it is, what can we do about it?

To gain some perspective on the subject, I posed the question to a selection of people I know and the answers that came back were as varied as the people that gave them. They ranged from working for a boss who likes you, having free evenings and turning your work mobile off outside of working hours to loving your work so much that it is your life. It was this last answer that really got me thinking as it’s the one which is most ambiguous. On the one hand, your work being your life might be a great thing if it means that your work flexes to fit into everything that you do. On the other side of the fence, is that top executive whose work is their life as there is no life for the work to flex around.

So how do you know if your work / life ratio is actually balanced? Well, the first thing you need to consider is what “balanced” actually means to you. What are your priorities and how much do you enjoy your work? If your main priority in life is to get to the top then you might be happy to spend 3 times as many hours working in comparison to how many you have for socializing per week. However, if you work merely to pay the bills and dislike your job intensely, you may want to flip that ratio on its head.

Essentially, a work life balance is as unique as the person whose work and life are in question. A true balance comes from within, from the feeling of contentedness that comes with happiness. After all, regardless of personal differences and aspirations, we all only live once; so for most of us the aim is to be happy for as much of that life as possible. My advice to you would be to weigh how much of your life is spent happy vs. how much is spent in discontentment. If you fall on the side of happy the majority of the time, you’ve most likely got your work / life balance right and that may be working 20 hours per week or working 60 hours per week. It’s really not about work vs. life, it’s about happiness and how you balance the elements of your life to achieve it.

Sam BessantSam Bessant is 26 and lives in Reading, UK. She currently works the standard office 9-6 whilst trying to finalize the direction she will take to start her own business. Sam’s blog, 20somethingfreak was created to help Sam and others understand what it is to be in your 20s and for Sam to share some of the millions of daydreams she has every day! Please support Sam by “Liking” this post, leaving a comment below and visiting her personal blog: www.20somethingfreak.wordpress.com.

 
 

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