Sarah Dowzell shares her tips for coping with being both a frantic mum and a tech start-up COO
Managing an expanding global business while making sure I’m the mother my two young boys need me to be is a challenge. It’s one I have battled with over the past few years. Like many working parents, I feel a pull between my two roles but want to fulfil both. I’m far from perfect and there have been a few occasions where I’ve really dropped the ball – a missed school play comes to mind – but from these I’ve tried to implement changes that might just make this balancing act possible.
Have one calendar
My professional life runs off Microsoft Outlook, so after the guilt of missing a Christmas school play, I decided that I would have only one diary. Everything is colour coded so I can clearly see what’s work and what’s family time. On entering appointments in relation to our children into my Outlook diary, I also invite my husband. I’m fortunate that there’s two of us raising our boys, but it also means both of us should know about important family events so there’s an extra person to remind me if I overlook it.
If you’re a working parent, don’t feel you can’t mix business and home life in your work calendar. We all have many hats to wear in life, so if having everything in one place it means you don’t miss a thing, including business commitments.
Prep the night before
By the time the evening comes around and children are in bed, it’s tempting just to collapse on the sofa but prepping the night before has resulted in much calmer mornings, both in the house and at work. I make sure school uniform, bags and shoes are ready the night before as well as my own clothes. If I know I’ve got a particularly early start, I’ll also prepare my breakfast the night before. My current favourite is chia seed pudding, probably because it’s so quick to prepare – chia seeds and almond milk put into a lunch box and left in the fridge overnight.
Across a week I work full-time hours, but these are spread between a late start and early finish in the office and one day a week working from home (as well as quite a few late nights in our home office). It’s not just about the practical aspect of flexibility; I’d say it helps me mentally too.
As determined and career driven as I am, the feeling of a battle between business and motherhood does appear. Flexibility provides a sense of calm in this battle as I know that I can attend our son’s English workshop at his school on Tuesday by swapping my usual day at home for this day instead. Let go of feeling guilty about working flexibly. Just because others are doing a 9-5pm, it doesn’t mean you’re working any less; you’re just making it work for you and your family.
When arranging customer meetings, I let people know my hours of availability. I don’t hide away the fact that I have a commute and two children to drop off/pick up from different places. I also make it clear to our children if I’m going to be doing something outside of our usual pattern. So, if I’m staying late in the office or attending an event, I’ll tell them a few times before I leave them that I won’t be picking them up that evening. Being clear with all involved avoids disappointment on all sides.
Have a mid-year clear-out
We usually clear out our children’s toys before Santa comes to visit, but six months on from Christmas and our boy’s bedrooms seem completely overrun with toys, packaging and general clutter, so I’ve found a mid-year clear is the best way to help prevent our home becoming a toy shop.
You might wonder what de-cluttering has to do with work-life balance but for me, an organised environment means an organised and clear mind.
Like many entrepreneurs who are also parents, I work from home sometimes and don’t want to be distracted by a mess which could potentially take me away from the work I’m supposed to be doing. Having more space and less clutter also means it’s quicker to tidy up; so when I am at home being a parent, I’ve got more time to spend with our boys rather than on household chores before the working week starts again.
Sarah Dowzell is chief operating officer and co-founder of human resources solution Natural HR, a digital HR platform