Back when I was still photographing weddings and family portraits for the majority of my work (oh and running a wedding blog for a couple years at the same time), I was attempting to juggle these things with a toddler and newborn needing my full-time attention. I was on social media constantly, producing blog posts multiple times a week, shooting and editing for clients on a regular basis, and trying to do all of this while tending to the needs of a toddler whose position as only child had just been usurped by a new baby, and of course, feeding the baby (which for me included countless hours of pumping which resulted in producing barely enough milk). I never took a maternity leave with either one of my daughters and was working from bed just days after giving birth.
After recovery I’d sit at the desk in our living room while my oldest sought attention, and my patience regularly gave out. It’s hard to admit, but even while I struggled desperately to pour my best into both motherhood and my business, I felt like the results were mediocre at best. Often I’d wake in the early hours to work, attempt to squeeze in a couple hours of work again during nap time, and then continue work after the kids were asleep for the evening. I felt like a pathetic, frizzy-haired zombie. You can guess that eventually this lead to burnout. Exhausted and disappointed in myself, I took a year-long sabbatical from all paid work (you can read about that journey here) with no agenda but rest and focused family time.
“…even while I struggled desperately to pour my best into both motherhood and my business, I felt like the results were mediocre at best.”
When I began contemplating my return to work, I decided that two things would have to change:
I would no longer be a slave to my career and my work would have to accommodate our family and our preferred lifestyle, rather than the other way around.
I would limit the time I worked with my kids around. Trying to cook dinner, write a blog post, and breast-feed a baby all at the same time left us all overwhelmed. Time for work and family would need to be compartmentalized with minimal overlap.
So far, we are six months into this new way of functioning and I’ve never felt more alive in my work or confident as a mom. Of course I have my down days, but that’s just part of the ebb and flow of life. Here are 6 things I’ve changed that have helped me to balance motherhood with working from home.
1) Designing and sticking to a work schedule.
Before jumping back into work I determined how many hours a week I felt I could invest in my career while still feeling like a good mom. If ‘mom guilt’ started creeping in, then for me there was no point in pursuing my work. I just didn’t want that looming guilt to be a part of my life anymore. Initially I thought that when Will wasn’t traveling for work, I could commit more hours than has actually been reasonable, but at this point, my typical work schedule looks like two mornings a week for about 4-5 hours each, plus about a half hour’s worth of social media, emailing, etc. for each work day. So about 10-12 hours a week. When Will is away, that number might look a little lower, but I just have to do what feels manageable. Having parameters like these also help me to stay on task, focus well, and work much more efficiently as I have zero time for wandering off on rabbit trails.
2) Arranging childcare.
When Will is home, his schedule is quite flexible and he can work from both home and a nearby office with pretty adjustable hours. The two mornings a week that I dedicate to focused work, he is fully in charge of the kids. I try to get started before breakfast so that they know I’m out the door and working for the morning. When Will is traveling, I hire a sitter to watch the girls on those mornings. I also plan to scale back on social media and admin when he’s gone, as my capacity for that is diminished by my exhaustion with both single parenting and another baby on the way!
3) A separate space to work.
After our second daughter was born, we built out the back half of our garage to serve as both a guest room and as a potential workspace for me. This has been key to working with focus and productivity. If you don’t have a space in or around your home that offers this type of setting, perhaps ensuring that your spouse, another family member, or sitter takes your kids out during your work hours. Another option would be to arrange for preschool or daycare as a way to ensure you get time to work with minimal interruptions. If heading to a coffee shop or library would suit your work style, those are viable options as well. Also, I make sure that the guest room/office space is clean, inspiring, and free from distractions. Whenever I walk in, I feel ready to work, purely because the space around me is inspiring and distraction-free.
4) No working during naptime.
This was a hard habit for me to break, but I realized that if I was going to be a more congenial personal during the hardest hours of the day (which, for me at least, occur after naptime and between the kids’ bedtime), I needed a solid break in order to veg out. Even though I have a 4.5 year old who doesn’t nap anymore, and a 2.5 year old whose naps can be shorter than I’d prefer, this is still a sacred quiet time in our home. My oldest is set up with audio books and plenty of quiet activities she can enjoy in her room. I’ve worked hard at establishing this time as my quiet time as well, and have set up an incentive that usually works well: no interruptions during quiet time results in a 20 minute show for the kids afterwards.
If you’re unfamiliar with this term, it basically refers to getting one type of job done all at once. I try to batch everything I possibly can, from kitchen work (I’ll be making breakfast while that night’s chicken and veggies are roasting in the oven), to correspondence (I make running lists of texts/emails/calls to respond to and tackle them in one fell swoop a couple times a day), to business-related work (all my Instagram posts for the following week are put together each Friday). Around the time I realized that multitasking wasn’t cutting it and was actually a truly inefficient way of functioning, I was introduced to batching. This has become an almost habitual way of life for me and as a list-maker and efficiency-lover, the concept makes me giddy. But I also feel like this tactic would work really well for someone who tends to be more scattered or spontaneous because it helps to bring a healthy rhythm into the home. My family gets more of the focused attention they need, and my business receives the same.
6) Hiring a business coach.
When Will and I discussed the prospect of me returning to work I told him that I felt strongly about the need to hire someone who could help me build a sustainable business that would suit our family’s lifestyle preferences. Clearly that had not been my strength in the past, and I didn’t want to repeat my actions while still expecting different results—because that’s the definition of crazy right? Hiring D’Arcy Benincosa has been the single best thing I’ve done for my business. She has enabled me to gain clarity and confidence where I had none, encouraged me in my strengths while helping me understand where I require help, and set me on a path to creative productivity and success that I look forward to pursuing every day. The decision was no small financial investment, but I knew that with a finite amount of time at my disposal, I needed to find a guide to help me use that time to the best of my abilities. She has been a lifeline and I have thrived because of her guidance and accountability. I highly recommend finding someone like D’Arcy who can mentor and come alongside you in your business.
And that’s the gist of it! I’m sure as the business progresses and our seasons of life evolve, I’ll need to shift and explore other aspects of balance that can enable both our family and the business to function well, but I know that these tactics will come with me along the journey.
If you’re a business woman just starting out or are pivoting from one type of business to another and are looking for some support, I offer one-hour consultations to give you the boost you need, as well as photography services, and brand partnerships to help you grow your brand. Click here for further details. And if you have big dreams and want to see them become reality, or don’t even know where to start when it comes to defining your dreams, I’ve written another post just for you.