By Jennifer Forest
Work – life balance is something I struggle with every day. Most people, if they looked at my life, would think that was a strange question for me. You see I work at home. I don’t rush out the door every morning to fight the traffic. I don’t have daily battles to leave the office to get home for dinner with my family. Surely as someone who works from home I now have the best of both worlds?
Most of the discussion about work – life balance is about juggling a career outside the home with finding time for raising children. Very little of the talk is about the real challenges women face as they raise both children and a business from home. How do you get work – life balance when you move the work into your home?
I know this is a real problem. My work is always there. Behind my office door, on my desk are the freelance projects I’m working on and my manuscripts that need editing. It is all too easy to tell my daughter that, “I won’t be long, I just need to check my email.” This always ends up with me cross as I struggle to reply to emails and pacify an irate child who finds watching me on the computer a bit boring! With work just a room away, evenings and weekends can lose their meaning and become just another opportunity to work. In the end, working at home can be just as demanding and stressful as in the office.
In an effort to bring back some balance and calmness into my work at home, here are my top three tips I’ve developed along the way:
- Treat it like a job: Work hours means it is work time and family time is family time. This means that dinner is cooked after work time, not during my work hours. It also means that my emails can wait until I am in my office in my work hours. As Sarah Stein, CEO and Franchisor of Miss Efficiency Bookkeeping said, “…I am very clear about what I do and don’t do. I might put a load of washing on at night, but I will be hanging that out in the morning before we go to childcare. I think of it in terms of if I was an employee I couldn’t come home at ten o’clock and hang out my washing.”
- Focus on what I am doing: Focusing on what I am doing right now is something I practice every day. So when I’m working I am dedicated to producing the best quality outcomes for my work in the time I have. And that does mean turning the Internet off if the job for that day doesn’t need it, and saying “no” to personal calls or household chores. Then when I’m with my daughter, I am focused on her. I’m 100% listening to what she is saying without one eye on the computer screen.
- Respect my work: Before my child, I had a career I loved for so long. When I moved to working from home, I struggled with respecting my work for years. Some how I felt that if I didn’t wear a suit everyday and have back-to-back meetings, that what I did wasn’t “real” work. Now I know that my work is just as valuable as that of my office block, employed friends. It is the outcomes produced that count, not whether I happen to be wearing a suit or not while I worked on them. I then discovered that as soon as I started respecting my work, so did everyone else.
Jennifer Forest is the author of Work Women Want: Work at Home or Go Part-Time. She is on a quest chasing the promise made to her as a teenager: that women can have it all. Why can’t women have time to take their kids to the playground but still make decent money?
Work Women Want: Work at Home or Go Part-Time will be released May 1st 2013 in print and e-book.