A balancing act
Ten working women reveal how they try to balance their work and home life – with varying degrees of success…
‘Leave work at work and home life at home’
Georgina Maric, 42, deputy editor of at home
‘In my role at work, I do around 18 hours a week (two days one week, three the next). I try to go to the gym at least twice a week, which I see as ‘me’ time, and I’m currently doing a creative writing course once a week.
‘I don’t get any time on my own and my husband and I don’t get enough time together. He does taekwondo twice a week but, because we are both part-time, we don’t have much spare cash so can‘t often pay a babysitter so that we can go out to enjoy a meal or drink together.
‘Otherwise, I think I have a nice work/life balance. I have two small children and can pick the oldest up from school on the days I’m not in the office and spend time with my little one, but I also get to do a job I love, in a relatively senior position.
‘My little boy is at a private nursery in the afternoons, either two or three days a week depending on when I’m working. My oldest is picked up from school by my mum once a week, goes to an after-school club one day and my father-in-law collects her one day every other week.
‘My secret is to leave work at work and your home life at home and to be very good at juggling everything!’
‘You need to work to live. Don’t live to work’
Anahid Basmajian, 31, marketing and communications manager
‘I work full-time (35 hours a week) for a charity. My commute is a bit of a nightmare so that does affect how much time I’m at home in the mornings and evenings. It’s a struggle but I choose to make it work.
‘The gym is my way of letting go of stress and it gives me time to focus on myself. I love zumba and pilates and go religiously each week.
‘My partner and I make a conscious effort to arrange our schedules so we can enjoy time together and living together helps! You need to work to live. Don’t live to work.’
‘My partner and I don’t get enough time together’
Shital Patel, 41, events director
‘I’m responsible for organising events for the company I work for and I clock up at least 40 hours a week. I have to travel quite a bit and can be away for a night or two each week. There are also a lot of early starts and late nights involved when we’re busy.
‘My partner and I don’t get enough time together. We both have very busy jobs with erratic hours and when we are together, we generally end up napping on the sofa because we’re so exhausted. I think the fact that we don’t have children allows us to do the jobs we do without feeling guilty that our work/home balance isn’t quite right.’
‘Don’t get distracted by the household chores’
Stefanie Hopkins, 34, PR consultant
‘I officially work 20 hours a week from home, though often it’s far more than that. I will frequently end up working in the evenings to catch up and, because I work from home anyway, it can be hard to keep it separate from my family life.
‘It was easier before I had children as I was able to do a full day’s work and then literally shut the door on it. Now that I have two young children, and am busier with two, I find I have to return to my desk once they are in bed.
‘I’m glad that working from home is an option for me, though, as I’d far rather work during the morning, spend the afternoons with the kids and catch up on any outstanding work in the evening, than be gone all day!
‘I don’t really have much time to myself; this is something I definitely need to work on! I do try to go out for dinner with girlfriends once or twice a month and also get to the gym a couple of evenings a week.
‘My partner and I try and go for dinner together at least once a month, too.
‘I think it’s important to prioritise and not to give in to the “instant and immediate answer” syndrome, which is an easy trap to fall into with all the mobile technology we have available to us today.
‘Also, stop work avoidance! When you are working, be disciplined and make sure that nothing distracts you. If you work from home, don’t be tempted to catch up on the household chores instead. And turn off your personal phone and don‘t log on to your email and Twitter accounts.’
‘We have imposed a 9 o’clock rule’
Leighann Kirby, 37, travel counsellor
‘I have my own franchise, called Travel Counsellors, and work from home helping people to arrange their travel needs – whether that’s a family holiday, a honeymoon, or just a flight.
‘In the beginning, I struggled to find a work/life balance as I wanted to prove myself in my role. But I soon realised l was doing the job for a better life for my family so now l think I’ve got it right. I very rarely work weekends (unless my clients need me) so my partner and I often do things together then. We also have a 9 o’clock rule – it’s our time at home and we catch up on programmes we’ve missed and just chill out together.
‘Luckily, I have a job I love and one that gives me huge flexibility. But I also have a lot of support from family and friends as well as from my children (who are my biggest ambassadors), all of which makes the balance a lot easier and more enjoyable.’
‘I am the master of multitasking’
Joanne Dewberry, 31, business owner and freelance writer
‘I have three children (aged four, three, and 10 months), and run my business from home, so I tend to work from 7.30pm to 11pm and do odd bits during the day when the children are at school, nursery or asleep.
‘I used to struggle to balance things but now I have a system that works for me. This includes making sure I don’t worry about what other businesses are doing, and not stressing out about the children being sick, and so on.
‘I balance my day between children’s activities and work, which is useful during holidays. I’ll entertain the kids with soft play or by scribbling in a notebook, hang my washing out at 9pm and block book as many meetings as I can when my children are at pre-school. I’m a multitasking master. I also take my 10-month-old, Olive, everywhere. She’s a regular on the networking circle and people are more surprised now if they see me without her!
‘I spend so much time juggling work and children that it’s hard to fit “me” in. I tend to spend a bit of time with my middle daughter, who’s three. We have our hair cut together at a salon – it’s just one of our many girly treats.
‘I try to balance my activities, so I’ll take the children to the beach or the park in the morning. Then, when we’re home, I’ll set them an unsupervised activity while I do some work. They’re happier to give me five minutes’ peace now that they understand mummy works so they can have days out.
‘Communication is the key for me and my partner. Even if he is walking into the house and I’m walking out, we still take five minutes to chat. We discuss everything. We’re a team. We try every so often to have a meal without the children or catch up on TV shows.’
‘Work will always be there in the morning’
Teri Larsen, 37, business owner/interior designer
‘I’m self-employed and specialise in residential design. I’m also a freelance writer and founder of ALittleDesignHelp.com, a free interior design resource.
‘I work 40-plus hours a week, some of which will be at night or over the weekend. I think every working woman struggles with balance and owning a business takes more of my time than I’d like.
‘As a self-employed designer and writer working from home, it’s so easy to work into the small hours. This isn’t healthy for me or my family as it cuts into our time together and means I don’t get to recharge my batteries. Giving myself a cut-off time for work is the best way to tackle this. Work will always be there in the morning!
‘I don’t schedule “me” time into my life but I’m trying to change that. My work days vary with the availability of my clients, so I’m either very busy with appointments or I have none!
‘When I do get some free time, I’ll go for a walk or create something. I enjoy art and crafts, so I’m always making things.
‘My partner and I don’t get enough time together. As parents of two school-age children, it’s hard to fit it all in. But, we do make time for each other, whether it’s a quick lunch on a work day or after the children are in bed. It’s so important for a strong marriage.
‘Plus, being self-employed allows me to drive my children to and from school, to volunteer in their classrooms and to attend special school events.’
‘I try to take one day off a week to relax’
Soula Zavacopoulos, 32, designer and director
‘I run The London Studio, a design and publishing company. I design greeting cards, homewares and gifts that we sell to retailers such as Selfridges, Harrods and Fenwick. I also licence my art and design work to other companies. As I run my own business, the hours I work can vary greatly and it’s not unusual
for me to work late into the evenings or on weekends. I need to be flexible.
‘Achieving a balance can be difficult, particularly when I have a big event to prepare for, such as an art exhibition or a product launch at a retail trade fair. My workload increases dramatically during these periods and it’s then that it can be hard to get a work/life balance.
‘My partner and I always eat together in the evening and we often prepare the meal together, too, which gives us a bit of extra time to chat about our day and spend time with one another.
‘Several times a year, we will launch new card designs, gifts and homeware products at retail trade shows. My partner is also a designer and we go to the shows together. Although it’s hard work, it’s still quality time that we share. And we enjoy the excitement of building the business, of winning design awards and also of meeting customers who love our designs. It’s a different way of spending time together, but still enjoyable.
‘I think it’s very important to have “me” time and it helps me to be more productive at work. I try to take one day off a week to relax or go out and do fun things, like catching up with friends and family, visiting a couple of art galleries, browsing a crafts fair or going to the country or to the beach. During the busiest times, this isn’t always possible, so it gets reduced to winding down for half an hour before bed!’
‘An extra hour won’t change the world’
Hayley Chalmers, 47, runs her own business
‘I have my own business called Short Couture which provides office wear for petite/short ladies aged 35 to 55. I have all the garments made in a small factory in London and I do everything from finding the designs and fabrics, to sourcing all the zips, buttons and so on. I also try to do my own PR.
‘It’s definitely a full-time role and takes me between 40 and 45 hours a week – but there comes a point when I just can’t look at a computer screen any longer.
‘I work from home and that can be a real help when it comes to achieving a good work/life balance. However, it can be a poisoned chalice, too. I’m not very efficient when I work from home. I’m far more effective when I’m in a work environment, and I know that I get more done there.
‘I often get frustrated when Friday comes around because I want to carry on working. But, in general, I won’t work at the weekend, as it gives me a real break and it’s just as if I had a regular office job. Then I’m raring to go again on a Monday morning.
‘My advice would be that when you think you’ve done enough work in a day, you should stop. Doing an extra hour or two won’t change the world but it will stress you out – and no-one will thank you for doing it.
‘I’m trying to build my new business and I could work 18 hours a day, but I don’t. If I’m tired or stressed, I’m not being efficient, so there’s no point in working at all.’
‘I joined the work netball team and a samba class’
Jennie Field, 32, head of marketing department
‘I work full-time as head of marketing for Panache Lingerie. Officially, I’m meant to do 37.5 hours a week but in reality it’s more likely to be 42 to 45. It can be difficult if I’m working away from home but I enjoy my job so I understand that there will be times when that’s part of the deal.
‘In previous roles, I have had a much longer commute, but now I’m only 20 minutes away from home which has given me back more than an hour a day – time which I use to go to the gym or simply to relax.
‘I recently decided I need to have some “me” time. My boyfriend plays football so spends quite a bit of time with his male friends. I think it is harder for women to do that and going to the gym alone is not much fun. I wanted to do some activities with other women so I’ve joined the netball team at work. (I’m not very good but they still let me in.) I’ve also signed up for a samba dancing class with some school friends and it’s definitely entertaining.
‘This year, my boyfriend and I have made a conscious effort to do the things we rarely find time to do – putting aside one weekend a month so we can spend time together. Our plans so far involve visiting the Land of Lost Content museum in Shropshire, visiting my dad who lives in Edinburgh, and seeing friends in London.
‘You need to plan time for yourself and time with your partner, and then stick to it. When life gets busy, this time is always the easiest to cancel, and yet when you actually stick with it, it can be the most precious.’
[This article was originally printed in at home magazine’s ‘Just the Job’ careers supplement in April 2012.]