The secret of “balance” for working parents

Opinion by Rachel Hickingbotham

You may not agree with me, but I believe that a perfect work-life balance is unattainable. If I do happen to find some balance, it is often short lived due to the unpredictable nature of being a parent. That’s not to say that my life is in complete chaos. In fact, my life is often the opposite due to my secret remedy: acceptance. Acceptance that balance is not the thing we should be striving for.

My own personal revelation came when I stopped striving for balance and focused on doing the best I could each day. One way I do this is by using a system called ‘time blocking’. Each day, I slot my to-do list tasks into different ‘blocks of time’ over the day. This gives me a better chance of getting tasks ticked off and also allows me to roll with the punches of parenting as well.

In a notepad (or diary), each of my weekdays is divided into identical 1-3 hour (timed) blocks. My days are divided into 8 blocks: Morning, First Work, Lunch, Second Work, After School, Dinner/Bed, Evening and Sleep Block. This works for me as I am a work-from-home-parent and I have kids with me after school, but you can easily tailor this if you have a napping baby or work full time.  Each morning (or night before), I make a list of tasks that need to happen in each block. Sometimes they are identical day to day (like feed my kids breakfast), and sometimes they are specific tasks on my work to-do list (like writing this article).

The key to making this system work is to focus on what block you are in and sticking to your task list. Get laser focused, put your phone on silent if needed and tick off those tasks. Work until your timer goes off. Stop what you are doing and move onto the next block.

Without wanting to sound cliché, using this system has been a game-changer as a working mum. The biggest change is that I no longer feel mummy-guilt because I schedule in time that is all about the kids and nothing else. Try and put your phone away during this time and be present, even if it is only 10 minutes at the breakfast table and at bedtime. You will notice a difference.

The second exciting change is that I rarely experience overwhelm because there is always a block of time to get things done. If I remember something I need to do, I make a very quick note of it and in my breaks, I pop those tasks into the best block of time they can be done in. And speaking of breaks, I am now able to enjoy my break time properly (as long as I don’t snooze my timer!)  

Of course, when the timer goes off, I don’t always slide seamlessly from one block to another, but I feel better. If I am in a Work Block and I need to collect a sick child from school, I can more easily get back on track later on.  By letting go of striving for balance, I now feel happier that I am doing the best I can for both my work and my family. And that’s the best kind of balance I could wish for.