I think one of the things that I struggled most with, when I started Itty Bitty Book Co was the idea of a perfect work/life balance. My son was only a few weeks old and I had high expectations of what my life should look like. Pretty soon I realised my actual life was looking nothing like the dream I had created in my head. Having spoken to hundreds of other women (working or not, mothers or not) I know this is a common feeling.
Whether you’re self-employed, unemployed or you work for someone else everyone has an idea of how their life would look if it had ‘perfect balance’. But what if real life just isn’t meant to work that way, what if life, instead of being like an old fashioned set of balancing scales is more like a pendulum? Would that be so bad?
There has been lots of research done on the most effective ways to work, how to be your most productive self. Most of the researchers agree that being able to get into a state of flow is key for productivity and satisfaction. This state of flow is when you become completely immersed in the task at hand, with no distractions you are able to get more done and achieve better results than you would otherwise. But how many of us actually achieve flow during our regular work days? I know I didn’t, ever. Most of us work in short bursts, inturrupted by phone calls, meetings, co-workers, lunch or 5pm...
When I first started working for myself I worked whenever I could, when my son was napping, before he got up, late at night, basically whenever I could see a few hours of free time. Sometimes I thought I was nailing it, doing three things at once can make you feel like superwoman. But over time, that leads to burn out and when you look back you might realise you weren’t doing any of the tasks particularly well. This is hard to admit when one of the tasks was being a mum. When I realised that my most important job wasn’t getting the best of me I knew something had to shift.
As I made the shift to embracing the pendulum swing of work/life I started to hear other people talk about it too. The more I read about it the more it just made sense, when we multitask we are not giving anything our full attention. When you think about it, it seems obvious that it’s not the best way to run your life. But as a society we are so in the habit of being distracted it’s actually a very hard habit to break.
How I started was with small changes to my daily routine, agreeing with my partner to set aside time for me to focus 100% on work with no interruptions. I immediately started to see myself getting into a state of flow, over time I built on that, setting aside larger chunks of time for individual responsibilities and stopping myself when ever I started to slip into multi tasking. It was hard, but the difference in results showed immediately.
The most rewarding part of this change for me was seeing myself become a better mother. When I was looking after my son I was 100% focused on him, no more trying to reply to emails whilst nursing (that was a particularly bad habit of mine)! The time I had set aside to be mum, that was my only focus and it took away so much of the guilt I had been carrying around.
If you want to give this idea a try, choose the area that is most important to you, or causing the most frustration right now. Once you have an area in mind set aside time each week to spend focusing 100% of your attention in that area, remember that it needs to be a block of time that is larger than what you would normally spend. This will encourage flow to happen. Make sure you will not be distracted - shut off email, phone on silent etc.
If the area you have chosen is parenting you might be thinking well how does flow fit in this area, productivity isn't the goal here! When you are spending time with your children flow can happen when you’re fully immersed in any moment. It might be a game, reading a story, making some art or helping an older child with homework. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing as long as you are 100% present in that moment you can find flow. It's not as easy to measure as work productivity but if calm, secure children, who know they're loved is your goal then this time in flow with them is definitely productive.
Hopefully if you embrace the idea of finding flow you’ll see more results and find greater satisfaction in each task. Plus you'll notice that nagging feeling of things not being 'right' start to fade. When this starts to happened to me I was inspired to push the boundaries of the pendulum further and further. My husband and I completely changed our work schedules to encourage more time in flow and more time together, without guilt, stress or distraction from other responsibilities. It's not perfect, or even close but it's 100% better than how I used to feel; like I was always sacrificing something...
What do you think of this idea of exchanging the scales of balance for a pendulum? Would you rather work 2 x 10 hour days in flow then spend some completely uninterrupted quality time with your family? Or are you happier with multi tasking? I’m interested to know!