How to have it all

I have run a number of workshops and webinars on the topic of “How to have it all” specifically with regard to balancing life/work/self-employment/parenthood and any of those as a combination. It all began when someone asked me how I do it all – run a business, study, be a parent and find time for looking after myself.

To be honest, I usually mumble something along the lines of…”well, I just make time for the things that are important to me” and leave it at that. It’s the truth but it’s not that helpful so here’s a quick guide to how I do it all.

Do you feel you can do it all?

Now then, who (sometimes) feels they can’t do it all? How many of you have realised that someone is coming round in ten mins and the house looks like a bombsite? I often joke that I do more in the 10 mins before my partner gets home than I do all day. It’s the same with work, I often am writing things the day before publication/delivery. Don’t get me wrong, I was thinking about it but actually getting down to do it…well, I need a deadline for that. 

How do you feel about deadlines?

We live in a competitive world which dictates the pace of our lives and coupled with technology which makes us accessible 24/7 our average working day is long! Add in to do lists (and relationships with friends and family) and it can only lead to one thing – feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. Then you add in the feelings of guilt for not spending time with our loved ones and making a career for ourselves – we have a lot going on!  

Imagine this: You’ve got a house to tidy, family to care for and a business to run or a list of chores to be done whilst you’re on ‘holiday’. It can seem as though there just aren’t enough hours in the day. You have so much to do and you don’t know how to prioritise. You might feel that if you spend too much time on any one of those areas and you end up neglecting somebody or something and the guilt sets in. I have good news: you are not alone.

3 ways to make work-life balance easier

1. Scheduling

Scheduling an unfinished task can make a huge difference in our ability to focus. When we don’t know when we will do something on our list, our thoughts will typically wander from whatever it is we are doing to our undone tasks. Our unconscious isn’t nagging us to do the task at hand, but rather to make a plan to get it done. Once we have a plan, we can stop worrying about how much we have to do. There are three simple tips I can share with you for scheduling tasks:

  1. Do away with the to-do list and schedule what you need to do straight into your calendar
  2. Break down the tasks into 45 -50-minute chunks. One survey by Desk Time ( a productivity app) found that productive employees tend to take a 17-minute break for every 52 minutes of work. You can find the Pomodoro Technique in your workbook which is a similar method. During your break watch a funny video or eat chocolate to boost your productivity by 12% or have something to eat and a drink of water to increase your focus.
  3. Identify the tasks with the greatest impact – make an inventory of everything you are trying to do and identify the tasks which will have the greatest impact in helping you achieve your goals and put them first into your calendar. The things which are not going to help – cross them off, delegate or outsource them e.g. the ironing!

2. Boundary setting

Statistics set out by the Mental Health Foundation: when working long hours 27% of employees feel depressed, 34% feel anxious and 58% feel irritable. Are you someone who takes on extra work? If so then I have a quick tip, now I am not saying this is going to be easy but…..try not to answer straight away. Say you will get back to the person who is asking, and then use that time to decide if you want to say yes or no. There is no need to justify your actions or give excuses.

  1. Disconnect to reconnect. Is this incessant checking of emails and social media by their employees adding to productivity or just pointless stress?” Almost certainly not, try and take some time each day or at least each week to disconnect from your devices
  2. Be clear on your boundaries. Know where your boundaries lie at work, particularly around when you can/can’t be disturbed. This is especially important if you work from home as you will need to find things that work for you, so, if your ‘office’ is also the kitchen table, that’s OK, as is having a separate space in the house – it has to work for you and your family.
  3. When you aren’t working, or just before you are about to stop: write a note to yourself listing outstanding tasks or any work things that are on your mind. Then close the calendar, turn off the computer and walk away. Really focus on the image of shutting it all down. Take a slow breath and acknowledge you have left. Ideally, do this at the office door but at least on the bus/train or if you are driving sitting at the wheel before you start the engine to set off. I call these tripwires as they are something you have to do each time.

3. Work smarter, not harder

You will almost certainly have heard of working smarter, perhaps your company encourages you to do so already? For some people working flexibly is key, others work when their brain is most active, so for me, that is the early morning up until about lunchtime. When do you do your best work?

I definitely think that working in this way is beneficial. In the last three years, I have made a conscious effort to build in me time, specifically and mindfully. I take an hour a day before the house wakes up because that’s when I do my best work, and I do the following:

  • 5.15 get up and grab a drink, check facebook
  • 5.25 pull a couple of affirmation cards and begin meditation
  • 5.40 15-30 mins yoga
  • 6.10 schedule social media posts for all my pages

If everyone else is still asleep I carry on working or do some reflective work/journal etc. Three times a week I go for a run instead. Sometimes I just do things I enjoy, that isn’t on my list – I go for a walk in the beautiful fields near my house, I do silly things with the kids, I read a book. You’re probably thinking, “I could never do that!! Because I have to [insert 500 good reasons]!”

Here’s the truth: I do this not because I’m lazy or don’t care about being productive. In fact, I’ve found that taking time off makes me more productive because I do it strategically–meaning that I take breaks at designated times, for regular intervals, in ways that sharpen my focus when I sit back down to work. I find it helps on a number of levels:

  • I can focus on one thing at a time and not feel guilty
  • It stops me feeling overwhelmed and helps me feel more balanced
  • I work when I have most energy (and actually find working this way means I have more energy
  • I can be more creative

No-one gets it all done

Now then, having said all of that I want to tell you something really important. No-one gets it all done, it’s an illusion and a fallacy that we all buy into. One thing I learned at the MumsNet work conference is that we can’t do it all and we need to prioritise and choose what is important to us. So what don’t I do? I don’t iron unless it’s vital, I don’t deep clean, I don’t wash the car or the windows, I don’t always make a healthy dinner, I don’t wash dishes, the dishwasher does that! Seriously though, I pay others to do things, I get my partner/kids involved, I delegate at work. The top women in business do the same- some of them cook, others choose not to; some of them are in relationships; others choose not to; some clean; others choose not to….there’s a common theme and that is that there is a choice.

There is a choice on how you spend your time and yes, sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want, especially if we are by ourselves or it really needs doing, like my pile of washing or the admin work stacking up when I’m avoiding it but even when we don’t make a choice – that is a choice

Let me know in the comments if you find yourself trying to do it all and/or your best tips for creating balance in your life. 

7 thoughts on “How to have it all”

  1. Love this article – I think since I have had my child and am back at work, the key thing I have learned (and which you more eloquently put forward here) is how to say no, and to better identify what my boundaries are. I still say yes far too often, but I am getting better. Delegation is the other – I say that I have moved to the 1st century since I had a child (dishwasher – someone to do cleaning – and online supermarket shopping are all new things to me life)

    • Me too! Though it took me a long time to realise it was ok to get help with the housework…now I don’t know how I would cope without it. I think when they’re all at school I will reassess it as I will have more ‘free’ time.


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