Working and parenting is never easy – especially when you’re trying to work traditional business hours. Here’s what Emma Heuston-Levack did to find her flow.
When I had a baby in 2012 I naively thought working part-time would be easy.
I could just work two or three days as a lawyer and achieve work/life balance right?
Fast forward four years later and my life has seen some big changes. Most notably,
- My husband and I embarked on a sea change. We packed up our 18 month old son and our Sydney life in late 2012 and scampered towards the sunny climes of the far north coast of New South Wales;
- I am a Principal for an online based law firm, working remotely from my regional home office base assisting clients all over Australia; and
- I also write part-time, having had my first work published in late 2015.
All of these changes have one thing in common – they have made the logistics of parenting and working so much easier. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt over the past four years.
It’s all about the flow
If I could only impart once piece of advice to you it would be this: It’s all about flow rather than flexibility.
Work out how many hours per week you need to devote to your business each week and aim for this goal this rather than focussing on defined working days or hours. This may vary from week to week depending on your family, personal and work commitments.
For example, I aim to work the equivalent of three full-time days per week in my legal role, every week. However, I spread this over five days from Monday to Friday to allow me a better flow. Some days I might only devote two hours to my work and other days it may be seven hours. More manageable bite-size work pieces not only keeps clients happier, it helps keeps me sane.
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This is a far cry from my first foray back into the workforce with a young child, working three set days of the week from 8.30 am to 5.00 pm. In theory that was a great work/life balance but the reality was that I was working three days per week in the office plus answering calls and emails on my ‘days off’. Worse still, I was not getting paid for this ‘off time’.
Flow means I do a little bit each day and don’t resent the ‘off day’ emails and work anymore. Days can still be stressful, but it’s that little bit closer to a Zen existence.
Boundaries are important
While I advocate a workflow method rather than defined hours or days, this doesn’t mean boundaries are not important; you can quickly find yourself on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week!
Some of the boundaries I choose to strictly enforce are:
- Switching off my work emails and phone on weekdays from 5pm to 7am the following morning;
- Switching off my work emails and phone over the weekend; and
- Keeping my work confined to my home office, noting I can shut the door to the office when I am not working and be with my family in the rest of the house. This ensures my work stress does not filter in to the rest of the house. While I do technically live in my workplace, I don’t like to be reminded of this in my ‘down time’.
To assist with enforcing these boundaries it is important you communicate with your clients – let them know when you will be free and provide them with realistic timelines to respond to them.
Organisation is King
As part of your flow for the week, try to integrate the rest of your chores into your day. For example, need a 10 minute break from sitting at your desk? Wash some clothes or pre-prepare dinner. These things will free up your time in the early evenings when you are trying to deal with bathing and feeding a hysterical toddler.
These bite size tasks not only help the house run more smoothly they mean that when I pick my little boy up at the end of the day he and I can spend some quality mum/son time together – my favourite part of the day!
Have a think about how else you can make your life easier. Can you do some of your shopping online? Can you plan your meals in advance? Every piece of the organisational puzzle helps your flow.
Be selective about your work practices and stick with what works for you. For example, I clear my email inbox before breakfast each morning. After day care drop off it helps me to sit down to a fresh start each day.
You may also reach a point where you are too overloaded with work. You can keep trying to do all the work that is given you until you collapse in a heap and are no help to anyone or you can actively say no to work that does not fill you with joy. If an opportunity is not fulfilling or it doesn’t align with your goals, don’t be scared to say no. Practice saying those words – no! Doesn’t that feel empowering?
I think we all know that traditional corporate hours don’t work for parents – that’s why we’re all soloists here!
The above are tips that work for me.However, everyone has a unique family situation, so find the flow that works for you and bravely implement it.
And remember: you’ve got this!
What do you do in your day to maximise your flow?