The laundry in the washing machine had been there so long it was threatening to mold, I hadn’t loaded (or unloaded) the dishwasher in about three days, and I almost forgot to shower.
And that was during my week of “free time!”
Well, I did something audacious: I asked if anyone would care if I didn’t go with my husband and daughter on a trip to visit my in-laws.
My husband wanted to go down to his parents’ house to work on an old car they’re giving him, and he was going to take our daughter because his parents wanted to see their granddaughter.
And I? I really wanted to stay home and get some work done.
Living the dream.
I’m a work-from-home mom, and I work about 20 hours a week as a ghostblogger while my daughter is at preschool, while she’s asleep, or occasionally when my husband is home to watch her. And, as some of you most certainly know, it’s tough running your own business and being a full-time mom.
So when the opportunity presented itself to have five whole days all to myself…I jumped at it. I worked up the courage to ask — because I certainly didn’t want to offend my in-laws — and nobody cared if I stayed home! It was on.
A whole world of possibilities suddenly opened up to me! FIVE WHOLE DAYS of precious alone time!
I’m very much an introvert, so alone time is a necessity for me. Don’t get me wrong: I adore my little family. It’s just, they’re always here. (You know that feeling??)
My entrepreneur friends were wildly jealous. My mom friends were jealous. “What are you going to do???”
Well, I was planning to work. But even that sounded amazing! I planned a couple of dinners with friends, getting a massage, going to yoga class, trying to balance work with a little “me time.”
Was I a little giddy to wave goodbye to them the morning they left? Oh yes, just a little…
Living the reality.
That day, I got a massage, then came home and hosted my mastermind group. It was amazing.
Monday rolled around, and I sat down at the computer at around 7am and didn’t look up until 1pm. Woah. Feeling a little shell-shocked, I decided to spend the afternoon shopping for dresses to wear for my branding photo shoot. I got my exercise in at the mall, came home and ate some dinner, and then continued to work at the computer until 9pm.
(That’s 11 hours, for those of you keeping track.)
Tuesdays are my “regular” work days when my daughter is at preschool and I get the bulk of my client work done. To celebrate my freedom, I decided to ride my bike to a morning yoga class. Came home, showered, then sat down to work…
…And barely moved for the next 10 hours.
Wednesday and Thursday were pretty much the same, because by that point, I was starting to panic — I had set so many goals for myself during my “free” week that even working 10 or 11 hours a day, I was falling behind. And then on Friday, I got up at 5am, got on a plane, and spent the weekend with my family.
What the heck happened to all that balance I was shooting for??
Falling in and out of balance.
I love my work, so I was excited to have the opportunity to spend as much time as I wanted working on my business instead of just in it. As a full-time mom, I’m always trying to make sure I put away my work to focus on my daughter when she’s around, so I thought it would feel like the ultimate balance to focus just on work for a while.
But the reality was very different.
I’d never thought about it before, but it turns out I need my family to provide balance to my work life as much as I need work to balance my family life.
Without my family around, there was nothing to pull me away from my work. When my daughter is around, there is a natural end-point to my work day. I have to get showered and dressed to take her to school, have to stop to pick her up and fix dinner for the family.
Without that schedule, I got lost. Without my family as a framework, my work had no boundaries, and it took over.
I also discovered that even with practically unlimited time to work, (OK, I still only had 24 hours a day!), there still wasn’t enough time to complete my massive to-do list. And without deadlines (like dinner or preschool pickup), I wasn’t as motivated to work efficiently, and found myself dawdling and procrastinating. The lesson, then, was not that I needed more time, but that I needed to manage my time a little differently.
5 ways to find balance, even when you’re busy:
Manage your expectations.
My to-do list got so long and fanciful, I couldn’t have accomplished it if I’d worked 24 hours a day for the five days I had free. It’s a much saner process to choose between one and three “must do” things on your list each day — and actually accomplish them.
Know how long things take.
One step that has changed the way I manage my time is by simply making a note of how long each thing on my to do list will take. Then I can easily see when in my day or week I have time to accomplish each task.
Deadlines are your friend.
At least, if you’re like me, they are. I work best when I know I have only a certain amount of time to finish something. Scheduling set blocks of time in my schedule to accomplish a task works well to keep me focused — and working efficiently.
I thought only having a few hours a week for “work” time was a disadvantage, but I was wrong. Having discrete pockets of work time and family time makes me more efficient during my work time, and lets me turn off my work self during family time.
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t feel “balanced.”
I once had a yoga instructor tell me that “balance” is not static. In a balance pose in yoga, you’re constantly falling in and out of balance, adjusting, recalibrating. The second you go rigid and still, you fall over.
Work life balance isn’t something you “achieve” because the second you think you’ve found it and stop moving, everything falls apart.
We need the pull of family to balance out the pull of work, and vice versa. Even though sometimes it feels as though that pull will tear us apart, I think it’s actually harder to be successful at one without the other.
What do you think? Do you try to find that elusive balance, or go with the flow? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Latest posts by Lacy Boggs (see all)
- 5 Things I Learned About Work/Life Balance from 5 Days Alone - March 8, 2015