Balance. We've all heard the word. I would venture to guess that at some point or another we've all sought to achieve it in our lives. I've read blogs and books where authors give their advice and tips on how they've managed to create balance in their life. I've also heard from authors that it's a myth. That balance doesn't actually exist. That our lives are like a teeter-totter, some areas holding more weight than others depending on the season of life that we are in.
Whether balance is something that can be achieved or not, I think the greater question is:
What are habits I can put into place to help me prioritize the things that matter to me most?
And if you are a working mom, what habits can you put into place to help you balance and be present to your work and your kids?
Balance, I believe, is relative person to person. For some, balance looks like a full-night's sleep, an 8 hour work-day, a few hours of family time afterwards, and glass of red wine before bed. For others, it's 3 days of full-on 100% focused work while a nanny watches your kids, with the rest of the week being "mama days" where you are solely focused on your home and family. Some find it easier to divide their days by morning and afternoon, with the former being devoted to work and the latter being devoted to home.
I've worked full-time as a mom and very part-time as a mom. I've been a stay-at-home-mom with no job outside of my home, and now I've started my own business while raising four kids. Balance has been always been something I've strived to achieve but to be honest, have failed miserably at it. I don't know if it's having 4 kids within 5 years or just the busyness of the season in general, but I feel like I've spent the last several years barely staying afloat. When photography came into my life and I realized how much life and joy it brought me, I knew in order to care for my family well and build a business I believe in, I needed to make some changes in my life. I was tired of being tired, overwhelmed, and constantly trying to keep up.
Here are a few habits I've adopted that have helped me find balance in my life and prioritize the things that matter to me most.
1. Get ahead of my day
This is something I've actually done for awhile now and has made a world of difference! Getting ahead of my day essentially means waking up before my kids, enjoying a cup of coffee, prayer, and scripture, and planning out my day. Some days this is only 15 minutes, others it is a glorious hour. No matter how long it is, it allows me to get into a good head and heart space for the day ahead. I'm able to greet my kids when I'm awake and in a good mood, rather than be annoyed with them for waking me up-ha! I set my intentions for the day, remind myself of appointments I or my kids may have, and set my intentions for how I want the day to go.
2. Quit multi-tasking
Man, this one has been HAAARRRDDD!!! And I still struggle with it if I'm being completely honest. As moms I think we pride ourselves at being able to multi-task. I mean, how great is it that I can cook dinner, edit a gallery, and fold a load of laundry all while balancing a toddler on my hip? And in the moment I may feel productive, but what I'm actually doing is 4 things poorly rather than 1 thing well. And the effect that this has on my mindset and emotions is draining, rather than energizing.
I love what Nancy Ray says in her Work and Play Podcast:
Wherever you are, be all there.
Essentially, be present to the ONE thing that you are doing in the moment, rather than halfway present to the five things you are attempting to accomplish at one time. This simple (yet hard-to-establish!) habit has been life-changing for me these past few months. I have found my days so much more peaceful and myself so much more present to my tasks and my people, when I'm not trying to multi-task.
3. Make my task list short
Again-this one is hard. I like to think I can meal prep, do all of the laundry for 6 humans, and edit 2 galleries all in one day. Ha! That's what a friend of mine calls trying to "Monday" this. Essentially, trying to do an entire week's worth of chores + work in one single day. Again, in Nancy Ray's podcast she says to list three things to do each day. Those may not all get accomplished, but focusing in on only 3 things is so much simpler than trying to accomplish 10. Because what typically happens is I end up doing 10 things halfway, rather than 3 things all the way. *See above-quit multitasking.
4. Block my time
If you're a mom, you that mom-guilt is real. We feel guilty for working and leaving our kids. We feel guilty for staying home and neglecting our careers. We feel guilty for leaving our kids to go out with girlfriends. We feel guilty for not playing with our kids enough and then we feel guilty that we don't like playing with our kids at all! Mom guilt is SO real. Even as a SAHM I suffer from bouts of it, mostly occurring on the days I haven't given anything my full attention; the days I've felt scattered and have fluttered from one task to the next, meeting needs as they come at me.
Something that has helped me fight mom-guilt and alleviated that scattered feeling, is blocking my time. Again-this is from Nancy Ray's Work and Play Podcast (if you haven't gotten the hint that you should go listen to it-do it! It's amazing.) I block my time in 1, 2 or 3 hour chunks. For example, the first hour of my day is spent to myself in silence, centering my heart on what matters most to me, and looking over my day. The second hour of my day is given to my kids, greeting them in the morning, getting them breakfast and then helping them get ready for the day. This summer I've stretched this to two hours, spending the first few hours of their day with them-playing, drawing, building puzzles, or just snuggling them while they watch a show. This helps alleviate any guilt I may feel later about ignoring them for an hour so I can get something done around the house. One of my favorite time blocks is the afternoon while my big kids are resting and my toddler is napping. This is where I pour 1-2 hours into my business. Again, I'm able to give it my full attention guilt-free because I've already given my home and my kids my full attention. Win-win.
5. Do 30 of housework a day
I'm an all or nothing kind of person. I either clean my entire house top to bottom, or I let it become completely filthy to the point where I'm crying and trying to find room in our budget for a house cleaner! While my husband and I attack some big financial goals, a house-cleaner is out of the question, so I've had to figure out how to keep up with my home, while building my business. This 30-minutes-a-day-rule has helped me keep up with my house while having all four kids home for the summer.
First of all, let me just say I've spent a few weeks this summer completely decluttering our home thanks to the amazing Allie Casazza, who hosts The Purpose Show podcast. (If you haven't figured it out already, podcasts are my jam during this season of motherhood!).So it doesn't take me nearly as long as it used to to pick up. My kids are getting older and able to really help with this as well But, all that to say, rather than feel like I have to do everything all at once, I set the timer (literally) for 30 minutes, pick an area in my home, and get to work. Once the timer is done, I'm done. I move on with my day knowing there's always tomorrow to tackle another area. Again, this allows me to focus in on one area of my home and really get it clean, rather than trying to do everything at once but not very well.
Balancing life and work is no easy task, and there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. We all have different lives, different kids, different job situations, and different ways we find peace in the midst of busy seasons. I hope at least one of these habits I've formed works for you as you strive to find balance so that you can embrace the season you are in and give your best to what matters most to you.