Creating the ideal work-life balance is usually discussed in terms of juggling time. But slicing and dicing our hours between work and motherhood is only half the challenge. Equally important is how we juggle our headspace and how skillful we are at separating the two worlds. Too much spillage between our work and motherhood hemispheres not only has a tendency to cause cerebral chaos, (scientifically defined as the moment a to-do list starts trickling out the ears,) it also makes it harder to fully engage with our kids when we're with them.
Even if we physically avoid dealing with work emails or calls in parenting time, policing our thoughts from drifting into work zone takes far greater control. I have to admit I'm often immersed in creating tomorrow's virtual to-dos before realising I have ('extremely absolutely') no idea what Charlie and Lola are up to or whether they've been accurately represented by my five-year-old daughter's reading. And just in case my husband (or social services) is reading this, I won't share the one about my one-year-old and the tube of toothpaste (plus ensuing vomit) when I couldn't help tinkering with my article during non-nanny hours.
As the workplace is becoming less office-centric, (giving mums more opportunity to work from home,) and as mumpreneaurs and freelancers are occupying more of the workforce, demarcating our brain space is becoming a defining skill in the quest for that (elusive) perfect work-life balance. Avoiding a commute can give us hours more in the day, but it certainly makes it harder to separate our working and mothering selves. As a freelancer I sometimes work from home and sometimes in the publication's office, but find it much harder to make that mental transformation from journalist to mum when I only have to step over the threshold from study to rest-of-house than when I have the Northern Line to navigate in-between. So I was particularly inspired by the ideas of Gail Kinman, a professor of occupational psychology whom I interviewed for the latest issue of Woman&Home.
Gail advises creating a 'corridor' between work and home - a physical activity that transports you from one mental space to the other. For Gail it's walking her dog, for me it's changing my clothes and for the many friends I've now shared this idea with it varies from taking a run to eating a humus sarnie. During this one defining activity, Gail explains, you consciously mull over the workday and emerge from the other side with a clear home head.
Another nugget she shares in the piece, one which I've been putting into practice, is setting aside 15 minutes of designated 'worry time' at the end of each day. As soon as a little niggle pops into your head, Gail advises parking it to deal with later, which avoids losing focus at work or zoning out at home. The best thing about it, as Gail predicted, is that by the time I sit down for my allotted worry time, most of what I intended to worry about no longer warrants fretting over. Deadlines have been met, Ocado order has been made and children have not been abandoned at the school gate. Yes, they might be fed pasta, tomato and cheese for supper, (not optimally nourishing,) but I won't stress about that until my worry time tomorrow - by which point my broccoli and sprouts will have arrived and I'll feel a whole lot better about their nutritional intake.
Organising my thoughts and keeping them in the right place for the right time isn't easy, but thanks to Gail I feel like I've had a little spring clean between the ears. Now it's time for me to enter my corridor -- so that tonight I can hang on Lola's every abhorrently ungrammatical word.
See Naomi's full article, 'Life Sweetners', and lots more in the April issue of Woman&Home.