Work, Life and a Semblance of Balance ….

To celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week, Andrea Hardiman of All About The Message and Andrew Gray, Business Growth Enabler from NatWest organised an event to discuss the balance of day-to-day challenges all freelancers, business owners and entrepreneur’s face in finding an equilibrium between life and work. I spent an enlightening couple of hours listening to Kate Wilde, Managing Director […]

To celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week, Andrea Hardiman of All About The Message and Andrew Gray, Business Growth Enabler from NatWest organised an event to discuss the balance of day-to-day challenges all freelancers, business owners and entrepreneur’s face in finding an equilibrium between life and work.

I spent an enlightening couple of hours listening to Kate Wilde, Managing Director of Engage With Business and Judith Flowerday from Dare To Fly.  The importance of balance, how to achieve it and stories of success and difficulties were shared.

As a mother of two small feral creatures, every day is a fight to ensure PE kits are remembered, random forms are filled (and remembered to be returned), homework completed, abc’s learnt, laughter and giggles chucked in somewhere, food delivered (and consumed), infanticide not committed and oh yes, I actually do some work too.

And I’m fortunate enough to be fully supported by my husband who equally shares the balance and challenges of modern family life. How people work and parent as a single parent never ceases to astound me; my mother was a single parent and both my brother and I view her with enormous respect for the strength, love and fortitude she displayed on a daily basis.

Despite the support in my life and the flexibility freelancing provides, I can still on occasions, find myself gasping for air like a goldfish running out of oxygen. Often it feels as though I never have enough time, ever.

I do escape one hour a week to attend a yoga class I love, but that’s it! Every time I attempt to read or play the piano, a little person soon arrives demanding me to read to them or help them become the next Mozart. Once you breed even exercise changes for example, swimming is now no longer about swimming but being a mermaid or performing handstands under the water. Admittedly this is much more fun.

My point to this? I’m not someone who actually wants ‘me time’ – in fact this phrase tends to induce a vomit-like tendency in me – but I would like to create a better balance between my family, my work life and my own personal needs. Hmmm, easier said than done.

Attending the Work/Life: Creating Balance seminar provided interesting food for thought, highlighting areas I can easily improve in my life. So, I thought I’d take some of the key points Kate, Judith and Andrea made, and share their tricks for creating more of a calm sea than a sea-saw effect in our lives.

Kate offered 10 fabulous pieces of advice largely based upon time management – or lack of!

  • Keep a to-do list. Simply write lists of jobs you need to accomplish, the visual reminder keep the tasks constantly in mind, organising ourselves and preventing forgetfulness. Kate is also a huge fan of Stickies, I have to admit I had never tried using this software, and am now loving it! The app is just the same as when I once used Post-It notes, plastering my desk and walls in brightly coloured pieces of paper. The bonus of the computer version, they don’t fall off and you can’t lose them. Marvellous!
  • Setting permanent goals. Try asking yourself where you are heading with your business and what you are trying to achieve from your work. I regularly write mission statements for companies, outlining their goals, ethics and ethos. I suggest trying this yourself – first, it is hugely important to define exactly how you perceive your company and how you wish others to view you. Second, defining your objectives helps keep you on track, focusing where and how you intend to reach your end goal.
  • Prioritising. Look at what is important in your work. Be honest and acknowledge your distractions, learn how to balance these two elements.
  • Manage distractions. This is more important than it may first seem, not learning to manage distractions will cause you to struggle in moving forward. Also distractions, when used well, can be used as a reward for finishing a task.
  • Procrastination. As Princess Procrastinator, this resonated! Kate’s advice was simple, stop using avoidance techniques and just get on with the task in hand. If the job is seriously daunting, try and deal with it in bite-sized chunks, rather than facing it as a huge mountain to scale.
  • Taking on too much. I think many of us take on too many responsibilities and then, somehow, allow ourselves to take on other’s as well. If you become known as a soft touch, people will use this to their advantage forever asking, ‘could you just…?’ It is tough to say no in work situations, but it is important to do so. Also, people should understand if they have just asked you to start a task, they are at the back of your job queue. You are entitled to complete work within a reasonable time – rushed work is never good work.
  • Thrive on being busy? Some people claim they flourish on being busy, but are they really achieving their best when in this state? Kate suggests slowing down and learning to organise yourself better so each task is completed in a calmer and more controlled fashion.
  • Multitasking. Interestingly, each speaker stated the same suggestion – stop multitasking – it doesn’t work! This is something I really understand, I am rubbish at multitasking; I forget where I’m up to, do five jobs horribly and never finish anything fully or as well as I would like. I’ve never been a natural multitasker and prior to children, I only ever took on a new task once I had finished a job. After children, and fitting so many more things into the same time zone, I figured I’d just balance them all simultaneously. This was a dreadful idea, I was more tired than I had ever been in my life and simply could not keep the balls in the air. I soon learnt to revert to my original ways of working.
  • Take a break. It is unhealthy and counter-intuitive to not take a break. Tiredness mixed with the strange, surreal state induced from a caffeine high hugely effects work performance. If you’re the type of person who works through until the next day – try to change this habit. Apparently setting a timer on a phone every 55 minutes to simply stretch and later rewarding yourself with a longer break every three hours, is more conducive for creating great work than powering through.
  • Ineffectively scheduling tasks. This is a chance for you to consider how you work. When are you at your most productive? Some individuals are definite morning people, others better early evening. Personally, I’m great first thing in the morning (after a lot of caffeine), hopeless at 3pm and then get a new surge of creativity in the evening. Work out when you are your best and schedule your working times accordingly. If you’re working from home, then save the household jobs for when you’re least effective and need some time away.

Judith Flowerday is a business and life coach offering one to one mentoring to improve all aspects of your life. Judith largely discussed the importance of finding balance between work and life and how stress and disorganisation promotes ill health – mentally and physically.

Judith reminded us that everything starts with our health – poor health equates to no business. When we neglect our health we are less productive, efficient and focused. Our intuition suffers, we become prone to mood swings, create mistakes and feel dull and uninspired.

To prevent such issues we need to consider what works for us best as individuals. What are the ebbs and flows of our own bodies? Learn to work with, not against ourselves. Remember to actually ask yourself how you are feeling; if you’re not happy, why? And, what can you do to change this?

Defining boundaries and protecting yourself is a good skill to learn, this was similar to Kate’s previous point of learning to say no to others. Disengaging from our private lives because work has taken over, eventually leads to us becoming disinterested in others, unnecessarily cynical and uninspiring.

Create balance through compartmentalising and organising your life. Judith strongly recommends conducting a ‘friendship audit’. Look at your friends – are they there for you, or is it always you helping and supporting them? Do they actually bring you down rather than offer support and love? If this is the case, consider moving on and finding more positive friends.

Remember to honour your core values – be proud of what makes you tick.

Be grateful – the majority of us have some form of beauty and laughter in our lives – when times are bleak, try to recall the positive elements in your world.

Judith also wanted to stress the importance of not taking life for granted. Instead of living our lives in a black and white, binary state, find the time to properly see, taste, feel and smell.  Our senses have the ability to make our lives multifaceted and colourful.

Judith’s Top Tips – plan, organise, review and diarise everything. Learn to use time effectively; prioritise and focus skills to leave ourselves time to reflect, create and move forward.

Andrea Hardiman is the owner of All About The Message, a successful marketing company passionate about developing companies and communicating their message to the world!  As a working mother who has held positions in the corporate world and now runs her own business, Andrea knows a thing or two about creating balance between work and life, trying to never let either suffer.

These are a selection of her work survival tips:

  • One touch handling – essentially this reiterates the importance of preventing yourself from multitasking. This approach forces you to evaluate the manner in which you work. For example, if you haven’t the time to look and consider an email then do not do so until you are ready. View each task in its own right and light, gifting it the time it deserves.
  • High value activities – evaluate your work tasks and ensure the time you spend on a job is worthwhile. Do not spend time on a job which will not hugely benefit you. Always keep in mind how activities can raise your profile and keep your goals in focus.
  • Toggl – or any other time management app! Andrea strongly suggests using such apps to help organise yourself if this is an area in which you struggle.
  • Time out and step back – allow yourself to stop, look at what you have achieved and breathe. Stop ploughing on without reassessing your work. Preventing yourself from having downtime will not achieve better results.
  • Be true to your why – why are you doing this job, what are you personally gaining? Are you earning oodles of money but feeling empty? Is the job great but the stress from lack of money causing your life to become a nightmare? Really think about what you need and want from your employment and use this to find a better work environment.
  • Be present in the moment – I like this piece of advice – we can all become caught in problems and issues which force our minds to become rambling rabbit warrens. Every now and then remember to look up, readdress your situation and actively participate. Stop taking photos and instead live the moment. Don’t become a voyeur to own your life.
  • Shouganai – now this was a new one on me! My understanding of this Japanese word, from Andrea’s explanation is simply, some things cannot be helped or nothing more can be done. It reminded my of mother’s phrase, ‘pick your battles’. Certain situations cannot always be won and you cannot please everybody – no matter how hard you have tried. I think all of us take criticism or other people’s judgements to heart – it is virtually impossible to not. However, Shouganai teaches us it’s ok to be human. Andrea’s suggestion is to consider all the positive comments and achievements you have received and weigh those against the problem which is bringing you down. Without a doubt, the positive comments you have received will outweigh the negative issues you are dwelling on.
  • Ubuntu – again, this was a new philosophy on me. Briefly and written in a rather ineloquent manner, this philosophy focuses on humanity and universal sharing. My interpretation in a nut shell, what comes around – goes around. A kind of karma thing …. And as with Shouganai, I absolutely believe in this notion. Treat people with respect and it will be returned. Treat people badly and this action will almost always come back to haunt you. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but some day ….
  • Unplug, tune out to tune in – logical and seemingly simple and yet many of us truly struggle to disengage with our virtual worlds. Be brave – go for a walk without your phone and actually enjoy silence or the sounds around you. Try and reconnect with nature, it is easy to forget the real world and simple pleasures. Andrea highly recommends downloading the app Calm, she uses this to help her meditate and unplug from the rest of the world. In fact Calm educated Andrea about how to use Ubuntu and Shouganai in her every day life. Pick up a book, remember how to play the guitar again, meditate, take up surfing – it doesn’t really matter how you choose to spend your non-digital time, just find the time to make this one change to your life.
  • Forget perfection – stop exhausting yourself by striving for the impossible, instead look at your achievements and how you have grown and will continue to do so. Perfection is an impossible state, look for attainable goals.

Throughout the varying different approaches each woman discussed, what became clear was my need to organise myself better, to fully engage in one task at a time and stop procrastinating! (To be fair, my mother has been saying this for years). It’s not easy striking a balance in life, but one or two simple changes can make a genuine difference. Many thanks to Andrea, Judith and Kate for sharing their insights.

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