How do you create the ideal work/life balance?

Justine Davies
Justine Davies 
"We have two girls, aged almost 3 and almost 1 and I have recently gone I’m back to work (3 months ago) for the first time since our oldest was born. It’s been chaos! I know that plenty of people manage it just fine but I could really use some tips on how to combine work and children and keep everyone happy.

We always planned for me to go back to work when our youngest was one. I’m only working three days a week and to be honest I really do enjoy going to work and getting a break from home life. I certainly don’t want to stop working - our budget wouldn’t allow for it anyway -so I’m not looking for ways to cut back working hours but ways to keep the house running smoothly.

Is there such a thing as perfect work/life balance?"

Short answer JD - no. I don’t think there is any such thing as “perfect” work/life balance - it’s more just figuring out what works best for you and what makes you happiest. To help you out I have asked advice from Kate James, a working mother and the founder and director of Total Balance.

“Often it’s the day-to-day issues that cause the most stress,” she says. “As you said, keeping the house running smoothly. And the key, really, is being super-organised -which doesn’t have to be a difficult as it sounds.”
Kate suggests the following:

You need to have realistic expectations of yourself and what you can comfortably achieve.

  • Break household chores down into small chunks rather than letting them build up into a really big job. So perhaps spend 10 minutes cleaning each evening after the kids have gone to bed and before you sit down, rather than leaving it all until the weekend. Or do 10 minutes of ironing each night rather than waiting until you’ve run out of clothes.
  • Also, mornings are when we are often most rushed - and there’s nothing worse than starting the work day feeling pressured. So get everything ready the night before - your clothes, the kids’ clothes and bags of daycare, food for you to take to work. That will help relieve your early-morning pressure.
  • And JD, Kate recommends that your three y.o. is old enough to enjoy helping out (as is your partner, too!). “Draw up a chart of little tasks that your three year-old can do to help out, something for each day,” she says. “It really empowers them and teaches them independence which is a great thing. They’ll love the positive encouragement and reinforcement as well.”

In short - it’s getting into a planning routine that works for you. Personally, I find cooking double-size meals (so that I can freeze one) and doing my grocery shopping online are huge time and stress savers for me.

But balance all that planning with some down time as well. “You do need to be able to relax a little bit - that might mean lowering your housework standards a little bit,” says Kate. “You do need to have realistic expectations of yourself and what you can comfortably achieve. It’s not good for your stress levels to be always multitasking - yes, you can be helping your child with their homework while you cook dinner - but sometimes you do have to take time out to concentrate on one thing at a time.”

So JD, that might mean ignoring the dishes in the sink while you read a book to your kids, or play hide and seek with them. Or it might mean delaying the dinner for ten minutes while you have a glass of wine with your partner. “Remember what your priorities are,” says Kate. “Take the time to reconnect with the kids and your partner in the evening. There will always be another task that needs to be done -make the time to ignore those tasks and spend ten of fifteen minutes of devoted time with your family. It will really refresh both you and them.”

So no, as I said I don’t think there is a “perfect” work/life balance. But by keeping in mind your top priorities -and with some forward planning - you can have a pretty damn good balance that will keep you all happy! 

EB Members: What are some great time-saving tips for helping your day run smoothly?

Do you have any advice for Tammy? Comment on Justine's blog.