One of the biggest things I struggled with when I started working for myself was time.

Oh and guilt.

Time and guilt.

For the first few years I had no dedicated childcare so scribbled down blog posts during nap times, grabbed weekend mornings to concoct a business plan. At one point I was setting up my business whilst working 2 days a week for my employer (with a 90 minute commute), whilst moving house (twice in 6 months, don’t ask), and pregnant with our third. In hindsight there is no wonder that I remember asking a friend if it was usual to feel like I might burst into tears at any moment.

The thing is, I was the queen of organisation and a huge feminist. I wanted to prove that I could handle it and kind of mistakenly translated this to mean that I didn’t need any help whatsoever. I must add that my husband is definitely a feminist and we have a very equal relationship but I’d been the one to go on previous maternity leaves and therefore to take on the majority of the childcare — we’d fallen into unhelpful habits.

I was knackered. I felt like I was on a treadmill of never-ending jobs, my head full to bursting and yet I wasn’t doing anything that well. I’d use the TV babysitter and feel guilty, I’d work in the evenings and feel guilty, I’d not get around to replying to emails and feel guilty.

I think, particularly as mothers, we have these expectations on ourselves that are so high. We live in a world where being busy is seen as good, getting faster is the aim, but doing ‘everything’ sometimes means you lose track of why you are doing anything in the first place.

So over the last few years we’ve made some changes as a family that have had a real and lasting impact. Some are quite individual to us (my husband has just taken a career break to be a stay-at-home dad which has thrown our whole dynamic of equality into the air, in a really good way) but others are far less dramatic and potentially easier to achieve. So I designed an online course earlier this year to share some of our experiences. I’ve picked out three of my favourite tips — quick things that we’ve done which have made a real difference:

Reduce activities and trips at weekends

We would book our weekends up months ahead leaving no time to stop. I know this might sound like a small thing but we now try to keep at least one day free to just play and be a bit more present. And we also plot in some free time for ourselves each week — as in, time on our own, without kids, not working or exercising just to read a book or do whatever we like. I know this isn’t always easy depending on your individual circumstances but whether it’s finding a friend to do this with, asking family or having that agreement with your partner, just see if you can make it happen. It’s amazing!

Dedicate time to planning the week

I know, when did life become so riveting?! We do still have weeks where it feels a bit like we’re passing ships but with a bit of planning, at least now we know exactly who is doing what and when so there isn’t that feeling of being out of control. If you’re in a relationship then try and do this together so it isn’t just one person pulling all the strings. Choose an evening each week, stick to it, make it part of your routine.

Streamline anything that’s not worth your hard-earned hours

Examples for us were when we did the shopping. Somehow we kept ending up doing a big shop with the kids in tow on a Saturday morning — not one person was happy with this arrangement, including the staff who would have to collect the crumbs from ripped off pieces of baguette used to quieten the incessant whinging — and we’d then go again on Tuesday when we’d need more milk. Now we shop online once a week, the slot is booked in advance and we never run out of milk. (Well, actually sometimes we still do but these kids drink a lot of milk!) And we have an arrangement with another parent to share pickups from an after school club. Both sets of parents benefit and appreciate this new found time. It’s not until you take a step back and sit down to consider your week and your time that some of this comes to light!

I can’t and won’t say that I no longer battle with time (and don’t even get me started on that pesky guilt). I’m not sure that the perfect balance even exists and the constant strive to achieve it is exhausting in itself. However, I do know that there are definitely ways to take back control of your time and make changes to clear your head and feel more organised. Which means more time for playing and that’s surely what it’s all about!

Photograph by Jo Worrall.

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