The No.1 Thing to Work-Life Balance
You know, when you run your own business, juggling juggling, there’s very little slack (and a lot of worry) if you are not able to deliver for whatever reason.
I mean, I have a great team of people to help make things happen, but the ‘engine’ of the business is, at the moment, essentially me (although Alex often puts a rocket up my derrière when needed!).
There are countless articles out there telling you how to manage your time better, how to prioritise and how not to procrastinate. I’ve read a lot of them. My favourite productivity tip EVER is about writing down the six most important things you need to do that day and just focusing on those (in order of priority). Then move them to the next day if you don’t get them all done. That’s it.
Also saying ‘No’ more. I read a life changing book called The Power of Less by Leo Babauta and it helped me cut back immensely (although my husband would struggle to tell you what I cut back on, I’m not very good at ‘doing nothing’…)
However, the most important thing I found in juggling that work/life thing is making sure I look after myself.
I know a lot of mums like me who are managing kids on a school run, homework, after-school classes, childminders, meetings, keeping house, shopping, organising parties and presents for birthdays, daily cooking…and oh, having a job or, increasingly, running their own businesses on top of that.
That clichéd ‘ideal’ is of a mum who puts her kids and partner first. I know lots who do, and they frequently run themselves ragged doing so. They are also rarely thanked for that level of self-sacrifice. Oh, OK, maybe a card on Mother’s Day. So you might think I sound selfish when I say, “You know what? I’m the priority in this family”.
But I didn’t always think that way.
Three years ago my hubby Andy had been travelling with work a lot leaving me to look after two small children under 4. One got chickenpox. Then the other did. So I was in quarantine, solo-parenting ill children and going stir-crazy. I’d also been studying for my degree, volunteering for a parenting group and running long distances in prep for a half-marathon to raise money for Cancer Research (me and my friend Solange pictured).
I was burning all the parts of the candle and was exhausted but thought I was ‘too busy’ to look after myself.
My immune system started collapsing. Having always had generally good health, I thought it would sort itself out given time. I don’t like to worry our beleaguered NHS with ‘minor’ ailments. That’s being a doctors’ daughter for you. I ignored the signs my body was breaking down, telling myself I ‘didn’t have the time’ to go to the docs when I got a bladder infection…then a stye on one eye…and finally cyst in the other…
Sometimes we can be such martyrs, eh?
Ten days later I was fed up with feeling rubbish and looking even worse, so hubby did the school/nursery run whilst I went to the doctor. I took my first antibiotic tablet that night…and spent the next 48 hours throwing up, shivering and burning up. I thought I had flu or a bad reaction to the drugs. In the end I stopped taking them; I wasn’t keeping anything down anyway. By Monday, hub had to drive me to the doctors as I couldn’t walk, I was so severely weakened and dehydrated.
I was admitted to hospital straight away, put on 3 drips and had blood samples taken. Turns out, the bladder infection had spread to my kidneys…and then my blood.
In the delay to get treatment, I had developed sepsis, which, “is a life threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to an infection injures its own tissues and organs. Sepsis leads to shock, multiple organ failure and death if not treated promptly. (September has been designated Sepsis Awareness Month so I wanted to share this story with you before the month was over).
I was in hospital for eight days and Christmas was pretty much a write-off. I wept when I realised I would miss my 3 year old’s first nativity. Friends and hubby brought me nourishing food; fruit, homemade soups, herbal teas and smoothies mainly as I could barely face the hospital’s offerings. I’m sure that helped give me the strength to fight the illness.
I found out later that I’d had a 60% chance of dying. Then my facialist died of the same illness eight months later. She had been just 33.
I had a nutritionist friend and hired a personal trainer to get me back to fitness (I’d lost a stone in weight in that week and I was very feeble). It took months to feel normal again.
Ever since then, I’ve prioritised my health. The way I see it, I need to be strong and fit and have the energy to do everything I do. To look after my boys. To be a good friend. To run my business successfully and look after my clients.
I eat better than ever and I exercise – even if it’s half an hour with a YouTube video before the boys pile down for breakfast. My aim is to be stronger than and keep outrunning them for a long time yet!
I also realise how fragile life is, and how easily I might have left my family, so I make sure I enjoy quality time relaxing and having fun with them and my friends, even if that means I end up working late once everyone’s gone to bed.
I don’t get much sleep (that I need to improve on, I know) but I reckon years of clubbing and a misspent youth set me up perfectly for parenthood and working late (“Sleep deprivation? Pah!”). And I love my fizz – hey, a girl’s got to have a vice!
I have to be selfish at times though; if my kids aren’t eating their food, I ignore them and enjoy my meal whilst it’s still warm. Like sorting out your oxygen mask out first on a plane, once I’m fed, I’m far more able to deal with them; otherwise I’m annoyed and ratty because they are ruining my lunch too. Even my four-year-old knows that, “if Mummy doesn’t eat, she gets grumpy!”
I also ALWAYS go to the doctor if I have a health niggle now (which thankfully is rarely).
Having said that, I did have a not-that-serious skin condition recently but I allowed it to go on for months. One night I Googled my symptoms and of course every article or post led me to conclude I definitely had The Big C. (My best friend died of cancer at 38, so it is a real worry). Having self-diagnosed and admitted my fears to hubby, I went to the doctor the next day. She took one look, prescribed me an antibiotic cream and it was gone in two days!
So my point is: the number one factor in juggling work and life is to look after yourself (which includes making time to relax and have fun). Don’t keep going to the point of extinction as I nearly did.
Because if you’re not around, fit, healthy, happy and rested then, I guarantee you, nothing else will happen.