Sometimes work really gets under your skin and can stress you out. It really shouldn’t. There are two barriers to protect you before work should be detrimental to your health. First, there’s the organisation you work for. Lots of people and processes are in place so that we can all get on and do our respective jobs, cogs in a big wheel.
Then there is your role and job description. This is what outlines your do’s and don’t’s – one to follow. THEN, there is you.
So before you let work get too much into your headspace, remember those two barriers, and operate within them.
The barriers are like sunscreen. And as you know, we really shouldn’t go out without sunscreen on.
When spirits are low, energy is depleted and work seems a bit shite, how are you meant to keep on doing a good job? I really don’t know but that is just how I felt last week.
Being over-worked sometimes means things get left out, over-looked, mislaid and then mistakes are made. I had got myself into a rut where just looking at my email inbox filled me with dread. “You need some Sacred Time,” said a business coach. “Time when you can calmly look ahead and plan.” I kind of knew that and I could see a window in my diary when that might be possible.
I also just needed a day off. I booked one first and then the other (guess which :)).
I’ve been toying over swapping roles – basically changing one set of problems for another. I do find change energising, but actually, when I’ve three kids and general life to manage, plus a full on job, do I REALLY need to add a large scale job change into the mix? Probably not. I must be getting older and wiser as I wouldn’t have said that pre-40.
But I digress. Instead of just swapping one problem for another, how could I get my work-mojo back? There are two bits of advice that I heard last week that made me sit up straight and Get On With It. One was from my husband (he’d be so proud!) He just stated as a matter-of-fact; “I always do a good job.”
Crikey. No confidence or internal struggles there then.
The second was from a fabulous entrepreneur who was keynote speaker at an event. He quoted Martin Luther King:
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
Today I am sweeping my street.
‘I don’t know how you do it,’ said an ex-Olympic Athlete to me once. She meant how I managed to work full-time, go to a running club, bring up three kids, be mostly nice to my husband, organise the house, the washing, the homework, the meals, the cleaning and all that essential but unlisted stuff you have to do as soon as you’ve given birth.
I remember nearly shattering like a defeated cartoon character the minute she said it. ‘WHAT DO YOU MEAN?’ screamed my internal hysterical voice. ‘DOESN’T EVERYONE OPERATE LIKE THIS??? AND SURELY you DO know how To Do It?!’
It seems not. Some people quickly realise that bringing up kids ‘is a full-time job’ as my own mother tells me. Frequently. Others consciously choose to take a career break (of – say – ten years). Yet others still find something that they like doing and then extend that into a small business, some part-time consultancy work – something that can slot into life. I haven’t been quite that smart and have always let work drive the family diary.
I am trying to learn to balance, to do better, and thought it might be handy to share some of my survival tips I have learnt along the way.
- It’s not easy. So sometimes if you’re too busy, just delete something from your calendar (play date/ night out/ gym sesh.) Just cancel.
- Plan the week’s meals in advance. Yes probably loads of you do this already but after a working day with no breaks the last thing you want to do as you step in the house holding you laptop under one arm and a toddler under the other is figuring out WHAT THE HELL WE ARE GOING TO EAT TONIGHT.
- Figure out how a slow cooker works (see point 2) and see if there are any recipes that you could stomach.
- Get loads of help. Your partner. Childminders, neighbours, nannies, friends. Learn to ask for help. I am still learning.
- Go out. Anywhere! To do something that you love. Got for a run, see a friend, go to the cinema, take a book and sit at a bus stop – just get out of the house. It’s allowed, and everyone will still be there when you get back.
WHACK. For those of you that don’t know what the hell this means, basically, when you see a yellow car (quite rare, non?) then you have to be the first one to shout ‘YELLOW CAR NO RETURNS!’ and whack the nearest person to you. A simple punch to the upper arm is fine.
First I thought it was stupid, then when it has happened a few times, you get the hang of it and end up joining in, too. On the M25 recently I saw a rather snazzy yellow Ferrari. “YELLOW CAR NO RETURNS” I shouted to no one in particular, and hit the window.
It reminds me of the mindfulness message – to be present, to be aware of your surroundings. So when you’re driving at 70 miles per hour, trying to remember if you said the right thing in your presentation and did you get the salmon out of the freezer, it’s quite helpful for a yellow car to come streaming by and bring your thoughts back into the present. Just don’t whack too hard.
I was at a women in business brunch today. One solicitor asked for referrals or recommendations of local independent estate agents. The trouble is, she told us, since going back to work after a four year break things have changed. Now, solicitors are very much in the pocket of estate agents. An estate agent refers a buyer for conveyancing, and voila, the solicitor pays a nice £300 or so for the referral. The estate agent can therefore manipulate chains of buyers – ‘use this solicitor, they are great! we use them all the time’ etc etc. Buyers go with this recommendation in the hope that their house purchase will go through smoothly. Extra quick, like. However, if the solicitor is getting a steady stream of work, why speed any one up in favour of another? And why should the buyer look elsewhere for another service (that may be £500 or so cheaper, mind you) if the estate agents selling their dream house recommends that one?
You’d want to do whatever works for you, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t read the small print that states for each referral the solicitor pays the estate agent £300. Because you want the house.
Just like the way I’ve had this really expensive shampoo for ages. It’s meant to HELP my hair, goddammit. I thought – I know I’ll tell the hairdresser this week, this stuff is really dud. Then I read the small print. I’ve just used it the way they recommend instead of the way I assume it works. It’s quite good, actually.
And another thing – the skills and pay gap.
Yes we covered this at the brunch too. God it was depressing. How much talent goes to waste (because we’re female and can have babies, basically) How little flexible roles there are for senior and mid-level execs (because it’s men in senior roles, making all the decisions, obv.)
The mall glimmer of hope was hearing about the 30 Per Cent Club aiming at getting more women in senior decision making roles. And then reading The Sunday Times Magazine and hearing about ‘Come-Back Communities’ – that help retrain and refresh women to get back into the work place.Phew. I bet they are all started by women 😉
I was quite surprised to hear this at a recent women in business conference. An entrepreneur and mother of three telling a room of startup business women, mums, partners – ‘we have time’?
For the past 10 years or so I have felt as if I am on a permanent countdown. Has the baby breastfed for long enough? Has the baby slept for long enough? Then I go back to work and it was finding 20 minutes to finish a report before running to meet the nursery pick-up time. Speeding through traffic, wishing for a clear journey.
That’s moved to to seeing if I can just squeeze in mopping the floor, clearing out the litter tray, checking my diary, Tweeting and doing my hair as I can see a spare window of 10 minutes until the school run (Ages!!) Basically, I’ve been operating at high speed – and high stress levels over a long period of time.
And then I hear that! I have time? Well by god perhaps I do. Having just completed the MIND Run Every Day challenge apart from making me realise I need a new pair of running leggings, it made me realise I could choose the way I wanted to spend my time.
So if I wanted to go for a run for half an hour I could and the world wouldn’t stop. (Neither would the washing be done or the litter tray emptied, but that would be my choice.)
And if I could fit in half an hour a day for a jog – what else could I do? Perhaps I could stop multitasking and talk to my teenager. Which I am now going to do.
OK so having stated quite clearly I would stop and enjoy what I have, why then do I go ahead and apply for another role? Yes, it is local but No it would not necessarily pay more or be as flexible as the role I have. (So – Duh?!) In a year when a) the kids will be as demanding as ever (in a good way of course, they are basically growing up and need a helping hand) and b) we are going to completely wipe out and rebuild the downstairs of our house – why introduce more change into that?!
I think it’s because I thrive on it. In the past 10 years I have had, ooh, about 6 jobs. Compare that to my husband’s more coy two jobs at two different companies. I have also set up my own networking group and run my own business. So for me, change is fun and energising. New stuff is good.
The thing is, now a job has to suit me AND three other people (aged 12, 9 and 6). My three other job-sharers don’t really want me to be away too often. They ideally would like me at home when they get in from school a couple of times a week. Not for any particular reason (I am a pretty awful cook) but just in the way that it is comforting to have the same furniture when you get in from work, they like me ‘around’. Plus they would probably like to continue with their sports which would be a logistical-childcare-nightmare if I were not here. When I was working full-time and they were younger, they went to the same after-school club four times a week and didn’t get to choose the clubs they attended. They also like quite a good salary – who doesn’t – which keeps them in Match Attax cards, New Look vouchers and Beanie Boos.
I do think it is handy to be on the look out. See what other options are available. Not get stuck in a rut. So I’ll go to the interview. It’s a good reason for a manicure, at the very least… And then I will see..
I was impressed to read in The Sunday Times* about two sassy mothers who make work work for them. They job-share, but with intent! When a new role came up, they both went for it – and got it. They are combining the needs of their family with their skills and the need for a good, engaging role. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if this style of working became more normal? And that employers offered this without questioning?
*Yes, now I have no nappies to change I can read UP TO THREE WHOLE articles in one weekend! Result.
Instead of looking forward to a gaspingly long 12 months, I thought I would list a few quick wins… So far this year I have:
- Ran 57km in aid of MIND (*smug)
- Not drank any alcohol (yes really!)
- Found some great new bloggers so I can nick their ideas, suggestions (Sali Hughes and Kat Farmer, mainly) and good advice, obv.
- Started this blog.
So for the rest of they year – What next? Being 40+, having had the kids, got a house and found a job that’s flexible it’s time to take stock. What if I focus on bringing up three decent human beings and enjoying myself? Having had a mental melt down a year ago, it seems all the more worthwhile to enjoy the good stuff you got.