When you’re a busy mom, it’s hard to find work-life balance. You need to shift and adapt both your schedules and expectations. Several years ago, I was busy trying to balance my graduate school work while preparing to become a new mom. At five months pregnant with twins, I was already huge. I didn’t know if I could make it to the end of the semester. During one evening seminar, my professor said, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it all. You can. Just not all at the same time.” So, how do you find the balance between work and family?
Plan for flexibility
If your kids are very young, you can plan your freelance work around their meals and sleep schedules. I started translating professionally when my twins were potty training and I was pregnant with my third. I didn’t have large chunks of uninterrupted time (or sleep), so I would budget extra hours or days for each project. This let me pick it up wherever I left off, and not miss any deadlines. I’m a bit of a natural multitasker, but when it was time to translate, I had to practice my…
When it’s time to work, make the most out of it! Have you heard of the Pomodoro method? Turn off the notifications on your phone and computer and set a timer for 25 minutes. Work (without peeking at your phone) for those 25 minutes, then take a 10-minute break away from your desk. After the break, set the timer again. You’ll be surprised how much you can get done when you know that you only have to work for a limited period of time.
Maximize YOUR peak time
Most of us are either owls (your circadian rhythm helps you work late at night, and wake later in the morning) or larks (you prefer to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier). Follow, don’t fight, your body’s rhythm. When my kids were toddlers, I tried to work after they went to bed. I’m a natural lark, so I wasn’t very productive (I can’t speak either language after 8:30 or 9:00 pm, lol!). Now, I set my work hours to match my body’s natural energy. And if it’s getting late and I’m getting slow, I’ll just shut things down and set my alarm to get up early.
If you’ve got a lot going on with the family during the day, don’t accept rush jobs with same-day delivery. Anything marked “urgent” will probably add stress to your day. Before accepting a translation assignment, ask your project manager if the client is open to an overnight turnaround. Sometimes I will offer to deliver first thing in the morning. This gives me a chance to work on the translation throughout the afternoon and evening and proofread early the following day before delivery.
Train your kids to respect your work time
This is easier said than done, but not impossible. Kids don’t understand work-life balance. If you’re working at the kitchen table, kids will assume that if they can see you, you’re available. Set a timer to let them know that you’ll be working for the next 25 minutes, and then you’ll be free. “I have 15 minutes until my next break. Can this wait until then?” Usually, they can wait. When the timer goes off, make sure that you keep your promise. Seek them out and ask them what they needed from you or how you can help. Then they know that your promise will be true next time, too.
If you’re translating a document, this may not be as big of an issue, but what about when you’re interpreting? Before the assignment, make sure that all their needs are met (bathroom, snacks, squabble mediation). Let them know that Mama will not be available for the next 45 minutes, 1 hour, etc. Give them a timer so they know when you’ll be available again. When I started remote medical interpreting, I would go into the basement for privacy. My kids hung a sign on the door as a visual reminder that I could not answer them right away. I told them these were private doctor’s visits and they could not enter while I was working. Again, when you finish or the timer goes off, seek out your kids and ask how you can help.
Recharge with “me-time”
Finally, work-life balance means scheduling some “me time” to recharge. Try not to scroll. After staring at a computer screen all day, scrolling through my phone is not as restful as I’d like! When I started to feel closed in and miserable as a working mama, I started a couch to 5K program. I got up extra early and worked my way up to a 30-minute run, a couple of times a week. This helped relieve some of the pressure of everyone needing something from me all. the. time. Other times, Netflix and chill are just what the doctor ordered. Whatever you choose, you should come away feeling more rested inside and out.
Finding a work-life balance is possible when you have a plan. In that graduate seminar, my professor let me choose a presentation date early in the semester. I was able to meet my deadline and accommodate my pregnancy. This was a good plan because the twins decided to come a month early! I went into labor during a take-home exam… but that’s another story for another time!