Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Work-life balance? It's all in the mind

Good news for working mothers.  According to a new book just out, work life balance is eminently achievable.  You just need to think about it differently.

I started this blog to encourage women to believe that it is possible to have a high powered job, children, a husband, friends - and stay sane. Yes you need some trade-offs, but so do most things in life.  And the rewards are worth it.  Since I started the blog millions of words have been written - not all by me - about how to encourage more women into top jobs.  But most of the sentiment is negative - stressing how you can't 'have it all', rather than showing you how you can. 

Enter American author - Laura Vanderkam - has written "I know how she does it" which is firmly designed to be that hitherto absent 'how to' guide.  Apart from her name bearing a spooky resemblance to Bree Vanderkamp, the OCD character in Desperate Housewives, Vanderkam is a time management coach with four children under ten who has turned her own skills into very useful advice.  Rather like a food diary designed to help you to lose weight, the core idea is to create a time log to work out how many hours you're working each week, how many spent with your children, exercising, sleeping and so on.  She claims that once women do this, they quickly realise that they are not actually spending their time the way they thought there were.

Conditioned by an expectation that senior women spend a lot of time working and not much time with their children, she thinks we automatically self-edit, focussing our minds only on the hours we're working rather than celebrating the time were spending with our family and friends.  It's very similar to how most of us react to feedback - we immediately discount all the positives and focus on the negatives and worry about them. She thinks we're deeply conditioned to view our lives through the filter of what we have been brought up to expect we will experience, and focus on where our lives reflect those expectations.

We make assumptions without facts and a time log creates those facts. Like many people I have sometimes kept a food diary when trying to lose weight.  When you count up all the calories in the food you eat off the kids plates, that glass of wine you have when you're cooking dinner and, in my case, the inexplicably fast rate I seem to go through cheese crackers, you realise why you might be struggling to shift those extra pounds. It's a wake-up call and you can see ways in which you can trim your waistline without too many life changes - halve the cracker allocation for example.

Once you've created your time log,  it's time for some reappraisal.  Some re-framing of how you see your life.  At its simplest, if you see more balance that you thought, you can re-evaluate the frame through which you see your life much more positively.  There is a lot of evidence that this approach is very effective at increasing positivity, energy and even happiness. I really like this idea.  It's simple, free and anyone can do it.  It's really practical and a refreshing change from some female empowerment self help guides which favour the school of looking in the mirror and telling yourself you're worth it.

Most working mothers will already be time and motion experts - never going up or downstairs without carrying something for example so I think this latest idea could catch on.  Anything that is easy to use and makes us feel better about wanting to combine the excitement of a senior job with the wonderful experience of motherhood has got to be a good thing.