I must admit since all this Covid stuff kicked off my planning has taken a bit of a hit. I’ve actually spent most of my time reflecting and consolidating which are also a really important part of any planning process and with so much uncertainty around just managing to get through the day has been about all I could do. Things are starting to change though and as we come out of the cloud, it could be time to really start to think about how to start to tackle all those things that have been put on the back burner.
When it comes to planning I used to think it was for other people. I wasn’t brought up a planner, coming from two parents who pretty much go with the flow on most things, it doesn’t feel “in” to me and I’m not a naturally detailed person.
I have learnt to plan over time, however, and as time goes on I can increasingly see the benefits, especially now as I try and do more than I ever have with less time than I ever have had.
I first learnt the art of planning when I was a solicitor, back in the day. I had constant deadlines, court hearings, client meetings etc, so missing any of those just wasn’t an option, I had to plan it all out. I then took my planning to another level when I became a team manager as head of a Careers Service, having to look at events schedules, staff rotas, and strategic planning far in advance. I became really quite good at it actually. And for a while I thought that was enough.
For many us that’s the case. We plan really effectively around work, we focus on the tasks clearly set out and as a result get stuff done. But how many of us plan to same level at home, to include all of the things that we as women dealing with managing households, kids’ agendas and need to think about and to also include time for ourselves?
I would say a lot of us plan to a certain extent, mainly because we often have to especially with school-imposed schedules. But for many of us we’re still feeling like we’re not covering the whole picture, not getting everything done that we’d like to or just feeling like we’re not getting to what we’d actually like to be doing while we’re dealing with everything else. So how do we plan more effectively so that we feel like we’re covering off all that we need to?
To lead a balanced life as a working mother I believe that you need to work from 3 key pillars: Self-care, Support and Organisation. We’ve got a lot on our plates to contend with so if we don’t manage all three of these then we are likely going to feel unbalanced.
These three things feed into your home and working life so they can be used in either context and should interlink. I don’t believe in separating how you act in your personal and professional life and equally I believe that you should manage both of them with the same approach. So work-life balance for me isn’t about operating in silos and dealing with one and then the other it’s about managing them as co-existing and co-dependent parts of your life.
Often I hear women say to me things like “I just don’t have time to exercise” or “all I seem to be able to do is to get to the washing on the days that I’m working”. Fair enough, there’s only so many hours in the day. When I ask them have they thought about scheduling those things into their week then I often get a blank look as if that’s just crazy talk.
But that’s the way to do it. Look at the whole of your life, ALL the things that you want to do and then plan down. Obviously you need to be realistic about what can be done so then its about how. It’s about getting clear on your priorities, setting your boundaries to make sure your priorities happen, getting support if you can’t do all that needs to be done yourself and creating space to look after yourself so that you can continue to drive the engine. Organisation, Support and Self-care.
So how do you actually plan?
Well for me I like to start big and then chunk down. Any corporate machine will be constantly looking ahead to think about their goals and then plan down to achieve the day to day results. It’s the same for us.
So start big, think of the year head and then chunk down into quarters. This ensures that you identify your Big Rocks and plan the space to fit them in. Your Big Rocks are your bigger life or career goals that, if you don’t plan for them to happen tend to stay floating around your head and are more commonly known as dreams. It’s really important to get these sorted first or else, with everything else that’s going on they just won’t happen.
Detail down and then plan monthly, weekly and daily. I like to start looking at the end of the month to plan the month ahead. So I will sit down and use a monthly planning tool. I have a main theme of focus that I know will take priority over everything else eg Marketing for my business and then I will map out all of the other things that are already in the calendar, both work and home life related. So, holidays, key kids events, and social events go in so that you have a clear picture of where all of your time is going. This gives you an idea of what energy levels you will have to complete those bigger tasks and gives you a realistic picture of how much time you actually have to play with.
I then look at planning my week ahead. I like to put some reflection time in on a Friday and then map out a loose plan for the week and then I detail down on a Sunday afternoon/evening to hit the ground running on a Monday morning. It really depends on whatever else is going on though and I’m never too rigid with it. Things come up and you have to work around them too. The idea isn’t to live by the plan, just to make yourself aware of where you want to be focusing your time.
I then have “live” to do lists and ideas list that I add to on a daily basis, which I keep on my phone and this covers all sorts of things like, ideas for posts, admin tasks that I need to remember to do, shopping lists created as I run out of stuff. And at the end of the week this all goes into the planning pot.
But don’t forget you. The other key thing that goes into my planning pot is time for me. Self-care drives your energy engine and if you don’t make the space in your day/week for it then you will put too much of everything else in and potentially crash and burn. So when you look at your week, always think back to your Big Rock goals and say for example, getting fit is one of them, then you need to make it a priority in your day to day. Set yourself a weekly goal, eg exercise 3 times a week and then look to see where you could fit that in, before you start putting in the other stuff.
It sounds like a lot and it is. The key though is to identify what is important to you, what you’d like to versus what needs to be done. When you’ve worked that out then you can also decide what needs to be done by you and bring on support to help you ensure that it all gets done.
So that’s a snapshot of how work and life planning together could work for you. It’s a big area and I’m really only scratching the surface. If you’d like to find out more about how you can manage the day to day and create space for the big vision stuff come into my Facebook Community Work Life Thrive and join other career-focussed mothers like you to get the support you need.
Jo Oogarah – Women’s Career Development Coach
I help career-focused mothers lose the overwhelm, avoid burnout and build a fulfilling career that works around their family and helps them to achieve greater work-life balance.
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I also run a coaching based group on Facebook for career-focused mothers looking for greater work-life balance in the day to day. Come and join us at: