I am a working mom. I have two kids that I absolutely adore and a job that I absolutely love. Yet, for the past 7 years, I face the daily challenge that every working mom that I know faces - how to balance it all. Here are 3 things I've learned along the way to help achieve work/life balance on a daily basis.
1. Be present.
Whether you spend 1 hour or 24 with your kids today, and whether you spend 4 or 12 hours at work, make absolutely sure your mind is present. Stop thinking about the 20 things you need to get done tomorrow, or the bills you have to pay. Instead, focus on enjoying the present moment. If you are like me and find it difficult to free your mind from wandering thoughts, carry a pad and pen, and write down your thoughts as they arrive, so that you can address them later.
If you are in a meeting, ensure that you are adding value to the meeting and are getting something out of it. If not, ask permission to leave. At my company, every person is permitted to leave a meeting if they aren't contributing or getting value out of it.
If you find you can not be present, try leaving the room for 5 minutes to clear your head. Maybe send yourself an email to write down your thoughts. If something that happened in the past is bothering you, say to yourself that you are going to "put your thoughts in a box" for the next hour. Give yourself permission to "open the box" in an hour and think about the bothersome thought some more. Set a timer on your phone for one hour so you can focus on the present and know your phone will alert you when the hour is up. If it is still a problem, spend 5 minutes brainstorming constructive ways to address it.
There are always going to be things at work and in your personal life that you just can't attend, no matter how organized and efficient you are. Prioritize what's important to you and make a decision to attend those things. It's always easier to make larger, overarching decisions than to make one-off decisions (but that's another topic for another day). For example, I get 3 emails per day from my kids's school asking me to help with this and that. When asked to help out with something that allows me to spend quality time with my kids at school, I volunteer. If not, I pass. So, if I'm asked if I want to volunteer to sell brownies at a school bake fair, I pass. If asked if I want to chaperone a field trip where I get to go see a 3D movie with my daughter, I'm all in.
Same for work. I am the type that instinctively wants in on everything. But, I try my best to work on only those projects that I feel I add specific value to. I am also invited to many weekend and evening work events. I limit myself to one per week max, with almost no exceptions.
3. Plan time for yourself.
You have to nurture yourself before you can be useful to those around you. One thing that's worked very well for me is scheduling 1 hour each weekend to myself, I can lay on my bed and read, go shopping, surf the web, do whatever I feel like at the moment. This is not a time for errands or taking care of others, just focusing on relaxing.
Also, I find that I need at least 30 min of down time each day. I know this seems silly, but I can sometimes get up at 6, go full speed to get the kids to school, go straight to work, forget to take a lunch break, get home at 6 to go full speed again until the kids are asleep and then realize I didn't take any breaks at all during the day, not good. Sometimes I'll actually schedule the 30 minutes into my work calendar to ensure it happens. Sometimes I'll leave work 30 minutes early to give myself a cushion that way.
I also find that taking a few minutes each weekend to look at the week ahead, and do some light weekly planning goes a long way in ensuring balance and productivity throughout the week. For example, if I know Monday is a light day but Tuesday is packed, I can plan around that and not let it surprise me Tuesday morning.