You’ve got a to-do list curling around the kitchen floor, the breakfast pots to wash, you’re kids haven’t seen a stain-free school jumper since Monday and your work day has been filled with interruptions. Sometimes, getting it all done between 9am and 2pm isn’t just unachievable, it is completely impossible.
We start our own businesses to make our work well, work for us. To get the best of both worlds and fit around the school day while also paying the bills. We are aiming high to spend quality time with our kids each afternoon but are we setting ourselves up for failure?
And this is before we even consider school holidays, inset days and the dreaded sick days.
It was this article in the Times which set the argument that as mothers who work, who run our own businesses, as women who want to achieve, we are being set a sisyphean task. And what is more startling is that if you or your child is ill, you are expected to just carry on.
This is why I love working with other women who run businesses because not only are they more likely to have experienced the pull of children and family life on your work day but they also understand because they’ve been there. They’ve wiped the puke with one hand while replying to an email on their phone with the other. So when you say you’ve got a poorly one or a school meeting you cannot miss, they don’t see it as a sign of weakness but a commonality between you both.
But this is not always everyone’s reality and sometimes you need to get work done around your kids to meet that deadline.
Accept your day has been derailed You are not going to get everything ticked off your list. You will be lucky to get any work done with kids around but don’t give up. highlight the things that cannot wait until tomorrow and only those things. This is not the time to live by: ‘do not put off until tomorrow something which can be done today’.
20 minutes work for 40 minutes play. Let the kids know that if they leave you to have 20 minutes of work now, you will put down the screens for full on playtime later. I know someone who uses headphones as a cue for ‘mum’s work time’ even though they are not plugged into anything. Short sharp bursts of work will get you further than trying to get that big presentation finished now.
TV is your babysitter. If your children are old enough to sit through a film, chuck one on, pop some corn and let them create a blanket den to watch it from. That gives you almost an hour of interruption-free work if you are lucky.
Save it for bedtime. Nothing quite says the best start to the day when you drag yourself up at 5am to get work done before the kids rise only to hear the pitter patter of little feet follow you. Now everyone is awake 2 hours too early and it is game over until 7pm if you are lucky. Instead have a firm bedtime and then go back to work afterwards. Plus, working in front of the TV is perfectly acceptable in the evening.
Don’t try this in the long term. School holidays are the biggest juggle of the work-at-home mum. You cannot get through each day without some help. If you are fortunate enough to have family to help, farm the kids out for a day or so here and there. If not, find friends who’ll play date swap with you. Some of my most productive school holiday work days are those when the kids are destroying their bedrooms with their friends.
Set boundaries. Perhaps the most important way to work around your kids is to make sure everyone knows what is work-time and what is family-time. Let your clients know your hours of availability, let your family know your working times. Sometimes you have to take that call or the email you’ve waited all day to arrive pops into your inbox at 3.30pm but setting clear boundaries in turn set clear expectations.
While we’d all like to run the dream business that operates only in school hours, that is not the reality for many of us. Early mornings, weekends and late nights, you get out what you put in but working around children is challenging and sometimes necessary. Equally, it depends on the children you have and your support network.
Let me know what works for you in the comments.