I’ve been a working mother for 10 years, if you count the nine months I was pregnant with my first son. Ten years of mixing corporate meetings with parent teacher conferences. Ten years of missing moments like the time my son wrote his first name at preschool while I was in Isreal on a business trip. Ten years of working until 2am just that I can could chaperone the school field trip during the day. Recently, I attended the “On the Road” San Francisco event of Disney Social Media Moms. It was another crazy day of coordinating child care for my older two kids and lugging my newborn along with me to the Claremont Hotel. During the conference, one thing became crystal clear to me. All of us were working mothers. Where we were entrepreneurs who were inventing new products, or bloggers who found a second career after kids, or the stay-at-home mom, or full-time “career women,” we all worked in some fashion. And we all feel like the juggling act can be too much to take some days.
Last year, I performed a fun piece for Listen to Your Mother about my juggling act confessions.
Here’s five more serious tips for finding balance.
1. Create “Office Hours”
Even if you don’t have an office. Block out the calendar. In our house, if it isn’t on the calendar, then it isn’t going to happen. On my iPhone I have a work calendar, a school calendar, and a family calendar. They all sync to one place. I always know what’s going on and when. I block everything out on the calendar, not just meetings and events. If I need to research something for work, create a presentation, or buy the supplies to start the science project, then it is blocked out on my calendar.
2. Say Yes, Just Not ALL THE TIME
Make your “yes” count. Before you accept that meeting or volunteer to bake 30 cupcakes for the class party, do a double check. Does saying yes align with your work or personal priorities? Does it bring value to your work or your family? If the answer isn’t yes, then it’s time to simply say “I can’t this time. Maybe next time.” Say yes to the things that you know you can deliver and deliver well. Let somebody else step up for the rest.
3. Outsource, Outsource, Outsource
If you can afford a housecleaner, get one. As co-founder of Silicon Valley Mamas Kimberly, always says “A weekly housekeeper is cheaper than marital counseling.” Compare the costs of outsourcing to the time it takes to do those things. Rather than eating out, go to a meal assembly center (like a locations of Dream Dinners throughout the Bay Area). It’s cheaper than eating out, but all the guess work of meal planning and preparation is done for you. Full Circle Farms delivers organic produce and groceries directly to your door. Instead of playing Solitaire during that boring conference call, order your groceries on Safeway.com and have them delivered the next day for a nominal fee. Outsource whatever you can afford to outsource. Remember that old saying “Keeping up with the Joneses?” I’d bet a small fortune that the Joneses had help.
4. Let It Go
Five years ago, I attended a talk with a panel of working mothers. One said that the average worker leaves 30 hours of unfinished work at the end of every day. Instead of feeling overwhelmed that you can’t get it all done, realize that no one is getting it all done. That extra hour or two isn’t ever going to get you fully caught up. At the end of the day, let it go. There will always be more work tomorrow.
5. Use Guilt as a Tool, Not a Manipulation
I’m not going to tell you to throw guilt out the window. Because, if you are like me, that just makes you feel even more guilty that you feel guilty. Instead use your guilt as a sanity check. Do you need to cut back at the office one day? Or plan a night to work late to finish your deliverables? The guilt is telling you something isn’t quite right. So listen to it, figure out what needs balancing, and create a plan. But don’t use guilt to buy your kids the next toy, or spend money you don’t have, or allow others to manipulate you.
As the creator of Boogie Wipes, Mindee Doney said in her closing remarks at the Disney Social Media Mom’s conference, “Your work habits are your own fault.” If your boss expects a two hour turn around in email, or your client always expects you to pick up on the first ring, or you’ve volunteered for every class party, and you hate all those expectations… then change it. Learn how to say these seven little words “That isn’t going to work for me.” And start changing what needs fixing. Balance isn’t about walking a tight-rope. You won’t fall to your death with one wrong move. Balance is really about creating a system that works for you and your family. It’s not keeping up with the Joneses.
You can have it all… As long as you define “all” to mean “what I can handle” rather than “everything all at once.”