As most working mums will no doubt appreciate, the key to success lies in ‘fitting it all in’ or if not quite that ‘fitting in the most important stuff and being able to recognise the bits that aren’t really that important anyway’!! I am always busy – a state of affairs you simply have to accept and common to millions of parents around the country. I run my own business as a freelance marketing consultant and I have two daughters under 5 . I also have a husband but he generally speaking has to take care of himself!
I go out and about to client meetings, networking events and training courses and the like but essentially I work from home. This has quite a different culture from leaving the house and going to work in an office. For a start there is a blurred line between home and work and figuring out where one ends and the other starts is often the biggest challenge of the day!
There are many pitfalls to this arrangement – not being able to switch off, checking e-mails and answering calls even when you’re not supposed to be working and so on but there are also a lot of benefits. I use time blocking a lot as a way of managing my time. I used to have a traditional ‘to do list’ on a spreadsheet which I still have but I found that there was no easy way to see how long each task would take. “Ring up and book networking event” sat alongside “Devise strategic plan for client XYZ” – one task a simple 2 minute job, the other a good couple of days work not to mention requiring a few days thought process before fingers even hit keyboard! It’s really difficult to plan your time that way and that’s when I was introduced to the idea of time blocking.
Time blocking allows me to plan my week (month, quarter etc) by blocking out when I plan to work on each task and how long it’s likely to take me. This way I can see exactly how I think my week will pan out (I say ‘think’ – something always comes up in the meantime!) and I know what additional work I can take on and when.
Time blocking can work for anyone whether they work for themselves or a large organisation but the way you use it can be quite different. This is where it gets clever for us working mums! I always build in what I call ‘buffers’ to my days! By this I mean little half hour slots where I don’t put anything in. My day might look like this 9am – 10am Check e-mails and catch up with admin, 10am – 10.30am: Buffer, 10.30 – 12.30pm: Prepare proposal for ABC company, 12.30pm – 1.30pm: Lunch (it’s no coincidence that this happens at the same time as Loose Women!), 1.30 – 3.00pm: Work on campaign plan for Joe Bloggs Ltd, 3.00pm – 3.30pm: Buffer, 3.30pm – 5.00pm: Continue with campaign plan.
So what are the ‘buffers’ for then? Well that’s the clever part – the buffers I fill with the little jobs I can get on with through the day that save me time in the evening which I want to use to spend with my family. One day my buffers might be filled with washing – putting machine on, transferring clean clothes to dryer, putting next load on, folding clothes up etc. Another day I might use them to peel a few potatoes for tea, pop to the shops for milk, tidy the lounge, flick the duster round etc; all things that most people who work (note I didn’t stereotype and say ‘women’!) have to fit in when they get home.
Of course we all know don’t we mums that the working day rarely finishes at 5pm so the rest of my unwritten time blocker could well read 5pm: Pick girls up, 5.30pm: Finish off tea, 6pm: Eat, 6.30pm: Bath time, 7pm Girls’ bedtime, 7.15pm: Possibly another hour at the computer, 8.15pm: Flake on the sofa and watch telly, 10pm: Wake up dribbling on said sofa!!
Like I said at the start of this blog it’s all about fitting in what you need to in the time you have to do it and discarding the things that just don’t matter and for me that includes ironing underwear and bedsheets and painting behind radiators!