Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The Loneliness of the Work-At-Home Mum

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find running my own business and working at home can be a lonely place.

When I started out, I knew that if I didn’t have some basic rules about when I was working, I would find myself pottering around the house and getting distracted by ‘This Morning’ so I am very strict about separating my work-self from my home/mum-self. However, there are still some days when I catch myself day-dreaming too much and I talk to myself far too much!

I wouldn't change it; working for myself is my favourite of all the working mum options, but I want to share with you something that happened a couple of weeks ago that worked brilliantly for me (and a friend) and gave me a refreshing working change:

Kirsten, a friend of mine who also runs her own business (got to give her a shout out... was struggling to make herself sit down and do one of the jobs that she hates with a passion.... Bank reconciliations. Now, I’m with her on this in that I am not so keen on doing my accounts either! However, I’ve been unashamedly nagging her for ages to get started on them and they’ve been getting more and more out of date.

So, a couple of weeks ago Kirsten asked me if she could come and work at my house for the day so she didn’t have any distractions. She had previously been managing to convince herself that tidying out some random cupboard was much more urgent than the task in hand!

In today’s wonderfully technological world, this is easy. I have a wireless internet connection and Kirsten has a laptop. All she needed to do was put her files and laptop (and her dog!) in the car, and come on over. So she did.

I don’t mind admitting that when I originally said yes to this idea I was slightly curious as to whether we would actually get our work done, or whether it would be a day of gossip, tea and biscuits which we are both quite capable of and happy to do!

However, it was great. It took me back to the days when I actually worked in a ‘proper’ office with other people beside me:

We made each other tea, we stopped for a lunch break, we used each other as an occasional sounding board for things that we were working on, we used each other for motivation when we were flagging on the tasks in hand, we had a laugh and a chat (of course!) but we both got LOADS of work done :-)

So since then we’ve done it again, and I imagine we might carry on doing this when it suits both of our diaries.

There are more and more of us work-at-home mums, but it hadn’t ever occurred to me that you don't have to be a ‘work-at-YOUR-home’ mum. We can start a new trend and bring the equivalent of hot-desking to our world!

What would you call yourself then? ‘Work-at-Any-home Mum’, ‘Work-anywhere-where-there-is-tea-on-offer Mum’?!

I would really recommend this - if the opportunity arises give it a whirl and see if it works for you.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Queen of Procrastination

I’m normally pretty good at finding ways to keep procrastination at bay. I made a promise to myself when I first started coaching that I would practise what I preach, and procrastination comes up a lot when I'm working with clients. However, recently I’ve had a bit of a lapse!

If there was a queen of procrastination, I would be giving her a run for her money recently and trying to knock her off her throne.

So, the reason for me writing this blog is to ask you as my reader to help me by:

a) Allowing me to bring it out in the open, to come clean and confess my sins, and
b) To give me a well needed kick up the bum and put me back on the straight and narrow!

I can feel the relief rushing through me as we speak... I’ve said it, I’ve confessed! That's the first part complete. On to the kick up the bum....

I thought I would list down the things that have happened due to my professional procrastinating (or pro-procrastinating as I like to call it!) so it is in black and white as to why it never pays! So here we go:

1) Starting with a small one, I had a stack of plastic wine glasses on the worktop. I have looked at them countless times and thought ”I’ll put them away in a minute”. This week, and several weeks after I put them there (yes weeks, not days, weeks!), my 2 year old knocked a cup of milk over which pretty much got every glass in the stack covered. So, instead of just having to put them away, I then had to wash them all up again..... ****at this point I realise that they are still on the worktop having washed them and so I get up to put them away*** Hoorah, my strategy must be working!

2) My eldest son got a ‘paint your own mug’ set for his birthday and therefore created his own masterpiece (am I biased?!). Since then (and I can’t even bring myself to confess how long ago he did that) he has asked numerous times ‘mummy can I use my cup yet?’ to which I have replied “I need to do something to make sure the paint stays on first”. Now this one is in a different league of the pro-procrastination stakes because it is not only about the mug cluttering up my worktop (in a different corner to the plastic glasses I might add!), but it has also been creating a huge amount of mummy guilt at the same time; you know the kind "I'm such a bad mummy, he's so proud of his mug and all he wants to do is use it and... blah blah blah."
****at this point I get up to go and read the instructions so I know what to do with the mug, only to find they are no longer in the box! I think I can roughly remember what they are, so I have just done what I think I need to do, chucked the box out and put the cup in the cupboard!****
OK – not a perfect solution, but action of some form at least.

3) A slightly more serious one this time. In the milk incident in number 1 above, I didn’t mention that the milk went ALL over the laptop as well as the glasses. Now, I know full well the impacts of not backing-up my work. In my IT consultant days I saw many a company pay the price for not having a good back-up strategy. Despite that, I have still successfully managed to convince myself that doing my back-ups “tomorrow” was fine, at which point of course something much more urgent came up and I didn’t.... until the milk incident that is! When that happened I felt sick at the prospect that my laptop might just die and all the hard work I’ve done this year on the business would potentially be lost (and no not just sick at the prospect of not being able to feed my twitter and facebook habits!). So, not surprisingly, having dried the laptop off a bit I did my back-ups there and then... and guess what, it didn’t take very long at all! Looking back on this one it’s scores very highly in the pro-procrastination championships. It could have cost me dearly, but also without really realising it, it was also niggling away at me, taking up my energy in worrying about it. The weight that lifted off my shoulders once I had done it was more substantial than I had given it credit for. All that energy could have been much better spent.

4) Blogging..... look at my last blog date.... say no more! But at least I am here now :-)

If I’m not careful this blog could be in danger of turning in to the longest blog on record, so I am going to finish up now and retire to the privacy of my sofa to continue in private by writing a list of all the other things I am putting off and continue my good work so far.

Thank you for reading this and helping me find my way again! You never know, by reading this I might just have inspired you to go and tick something off your list that has been there for a while? :-) and if you need any help with unblocking your procrastinating, then follow the link on the right and you'll be in good company with someone who is back to walking the talk!

Friday, 25 September 2009

And in the left corner we have the working mum... and in the right corner the stay at home mum. Let the fight begin!

I don’t know about you but I get a bit bored of the ‘Stay At Home Mum’ (SAHM) vs Working Mum (WM) debate.

I see so many articles written about which is harder, which is better, which we should choose, and I always read the mums comments with interest but slight surprise that anyone feels the need to take sides on this one.

I’ve done pretty much every combination of the mum and work thing over the years – working, not working, childminders, day nurseries and self employed work at home mum (WAHM).

I guess that’s why I find it futile to take sides on the ever popular debate. Because each of them have their pressures, stresses, loves and hates in different ways and in different combinations.

Over the last couple of weeks I started to ponder my ‘balance’; my business is growing and demanding more time and No. 2 has gone off to school so I’m revisiting my working hours and childcare situation once again. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want, what is my ideal and how near I can get to that.

Some mums work for financial reasons, some because they need their work/business as it’s a vital part of who they are, and some (dare I say it?!) enjoy the time away from their children as much as they enjoy their time with them. I think to be honest I am bit of all of those.

Whatever your reasons for the combination you choose I thought it might be useful to look at the really important angles of being SAHM vs WAHM vs WM...

SAHM - As many cups of tea as you like, as long as you only want to drink luke warm, half cups.
WAHM - Tea glorious tea (and perhaps a bit of cake!) Not great for the waistline and you have to make it yourself.
WM - Depends who your working with or for, but a few cups of tea a day and if you play your cards right you get someone else to make it for you AND you get to drink it hot!

Bodily Fluids
SAHM - Generally covered in poo, snot and sick. But when the going gets tough you can put on a movie and all just snuggle up on the sofa!
WAHM - A danger of the poo, snot, sick and the laptop colliding! Yuk.
WM - Someone else has to deal with most of the snot and poo... but sick is where the real challenge begins.

SAHM - Feel guilty about not contributing to the household income, but feel like an economic master when you manage to feed the whole family for £4.23
WAHM - Feel guilty about looking at the laptop when you should be giving your children 100% but feel privileged to be able to shut the laptop lid and go and play Buckaroo!
WM - Feel guilty about putting your children into day nursery but feel so proud when they come home with a great painting which if undertaken at home would have resulted in complete redecoration of the house!

SAHM - Can sing any Cbeebies theme tune at the drop of a hat – probably to the point where you sing it aloud in public without really noticing!
WAHM - You’re a dab hand at finding new and exciting things to entertain your children to give you that time to send that one important email!
WM - Interruptions from work colleagues can be handled much more effectively than from children. If you tell them to go away and come back later, they will!

School meetings
SAHM - You go to school meetings simply to talk to another adult human and not necessarily anything to do with your child's education!
WAHM - Go to school meetings because you can, but then spend most of the time trying to stop your mobile making a noise!
WM - Can't make most school meetings, but tend to find out afterwards that really they can mostly be summarised in about 2 sentences!

Now, before people think I’ve lost the plot and I’m trivialising what we do, or making light of it – I’m not. Being a mum whether you’re working or not, or somewhere in between is a really tough job for all sorts of different reasons.

I am just a firm believer in everybody finding what is right for them, and the sooner we all just accept that what is best for each individual family is the best solution to work / life balance then the happier I will be.

Now all I need to work out for me is which bits of current motherhood role I want to outsource to someone else, and which I want to keep.... hang on, I'm just reaching for a cleaner's phone number! :-)

Friday, 4 September 2009

...And for lunch I will be having a nice big bowl of my own words!

Well it was in black and white published print, so I can't exactly deny what I said about our camping trip this summer in my last blog....

“as a grand finale we are feeling brave enough to attempt a four night family camping trip. I might be eating my words, but the site has an indoor swimming pool and there is a load to do in the local area and so even if the weather isn’t kind to us I think it’s going to be great.”

Excuse me while I roll around on my kitchen floor laughing for a few minutes!.... 

Here’s what ACTUALLY happened....

Things started really well, we sat on a beach near Bournemouth on a beautiful Sunday, blazing hot and watched the planes in the Bournemouth air show. Fantastic. I’m not a plane geek or fan in anyway, but even I muttered the word ‘awesome’ at one point!

We set off for the camp site the following morning, and parked at our pitch as the drizzle started coming down. Not to be put off, we got on with it, and as the tent took its form, the drizzle stopped.... 1-0 to us.

So smugly sat in our camping chairs, the kids riding around on their bikes and scooters, with a nice British cup of tea we were not to be beaten.

Now, it might be worth pointing out at this point that the campsite we chose was called ‘highlands end’. Call me naive, but it hadn’t even occurred to me that ‘highland’ was a clue to the fact that it was right on a cliff top; a beautiful cliff top in Dorset with views of the beach and the rolling countryside, but a cliff top nevertheless.

As Monday went on the winds starting getting up a bit and so we had a rather blustery but reasonable successful night where we all managed to get some sleep despite a bit of musical airbeds here and there.

The winds got even more excitable on the Tuesday, at which point my husband grasped the opportunity with both hands (literally) and got his kite out. It was an interesting hour watching him (well more accurately hiding my eyes and peaking through my fingers every now and then) stand a bit too near a cliff top flying this thing that really took on a life of its own. I was very glad that his Dad was stood behind him to anchor him to the ground when necessary. I breathed a big sigh of relief when they decided enough was enough and stopped.

And then on to our second night...

The series of events went like this:
1) All went to bed reasonably normally
2) Me and husband lay in bed awake wondering when the wind was going to blow our tent down, and not being entirely comfortable with the kids being in the own separate bedroom compartments at the other end of the tent (only 10ft away or so, but at this point that was WAY too much, and it’s not often I welcome them near me at night time!!)
3) Repeat 2) for several hours!
4) 2 year old wakes up and cries, and I’ve never jumped out of bed so quick, I think I was in her bed with her between ‘Mu..’ and ‘Mmy’! Phew, now at kids end of tent so feeling more in control!
5) 4 year old wakes up. ‘Mummy I’ve wet the bed’.... bless him, that NEVER EVER happens, he has generally inherited my bladder that can go on forever before needing a wee!
6) 4 year old then takes my place in the master bedroom!
7) I look down and realise that 6yr olds bed is empty and for a few (very long) seconds we don’t know where he is. Rational thought thankfully comes back after those long few seconds and I realise he IS in there, just has turned himself round and is sleeping horizontally across both airbeds at the other end. Phew.
8) Husband decides to reinforce tent pegs (this is now about 3am). I stay inside to protect the children... really nothing to do with me not wanting to go out in the wind and rain, honest!
9) Husband decides to pack up our bags so we are ready to bail at short notice.  
10) Eventually, tent poles start snapping at about 6.30am and we bail out of the tent in to parents-in-laws caravan on the pitch next door!

After searching the local camping shops for replacement tent poles and not being able to find any, we eventually call it a day and head for home taking in a happy meal for tea on the way!

That’ll teach me for being so flaming cheery and optimistic!

But, true to form in finding the up-side I must confess that I was ecstatically happy to be back in my own bed on Wednesday night, and I also remember a camping holiday gone wrong when I was a kid that I just look back on as a great adventure. I have no doubts that we’ve made a similar memory for our kids too. Oh, and I also consoled myself with a great big glass of red wine. Mmmmmm.

Anyone else have any holiday adventures this summer?

Friday, 21 August 2009

Summer holidays... am I surviving??! (she says whilst frisking herself to make sure she is still all intact!)

I took a very big deep breath at the beginning of the school holidays as with three children all 6 and under, I knew I needed to pool all the energy and patience that I could muster for the next 6 weeks. And at the beginning of the summer 6 weeks felt like a looooooooooooooong time!

But my goodness – here we are almost at the end of the hols and I am still alive... still (vaguely) sane, and still managing to sit here and write a blog. Woohoo!

I always find it amazing how being a mum changes every step of the way. Last summer with a five, three and one year old was tricky. I remember enjoying it (sort of), but the weather was rubbish and so finding rainy day stuff to do all the time was quite trying and I kind of collapsed over the finishing line in September happily packing the older two back off to school and playgroup with a BIG smile!

This year though has been so different. The lazy starts (the oldest two are old enough to enjoy a bit of TV in the mornings so I can get a lie-in), the days on the beach (two year olds don’t seem to want to eat sand which is progress), even the occasional rainy day (a good film, or even the occasional emptying of the recycling bin to do some making) have on the whole been great J
And next week as a grand finale we are feeling brave enough to attempt a four night family camping trip. I might be eating my words, but the site has an indoor swimming pool and there is a load to do in the local area and so even if the weather isn’t kind to us I think it’s going to be great.

Wow, and then it will be over. And I kind of need to remind myself of the bits about the normal routine that I can look forward to, because at the moment, getting everybody up and to school for 9am is not feeling like a benefit!

So here I go, my personal top ten things to look forward to as I say goodbye to the summer holidays....

1) Time alone with my 2 year old. This is a first really, with number 2 starting school it will just be me and my girl at home during the day. Excited about doing stuff with her that I’ve not done so far.

2) Exciting phase of my business. Haven’t done as much as I would like over the summer so will be nice to give my fourth baby a bit more attention too.

3) Training for my 10k race in October. I’ve got lots of free vouchers for using various gyms so am looking forward to putting those to good use too (or is it the steam room after that I’m looking forward to?!)

4) Cleaning the house (Might make me sound like a weirdo but summer hols don’t go well with housework, so just need one big fix of getting it back in order and I will be happy!)

5) Lunch with my husband with only 1 child with us... we might actually get to have a conversation over lunch... Wooohoo

6) Seeing all the mums again that I haven’t managed to catch up with over the summer.

7) Getting some of my income back... with number 2 starting school less nursery fees = more cash to have fun with :-)

8) Picking them up from school. I will miss them so will be refreshed and ready for after school fun.

9) That Friday feeling! Not complaining obviously, but Friday’s don’t feel the same in the summer hols.

10) O yeah.... and all the funny looks I get when I scoot my son’s scooter back home from school. It so makes me feel like a kid again :-)

So, I’m going to put this list on my bedside table, and make sure I look at it on that first day back to make sure I don’t wallow too much... onwards and upwards (but secretly really looking forward to half term... and Christmas... and Easter!)

What are you looking forward to?

Friday, 31 July 2009

Life before children.... 10 things I just wouldn't have done!

1) Gone for a wee with the door open.

2) Gone out knowing full well my top wasn’t entirely clean.

3) Eaten a piece of food that had been near someone else’s mouth.

4) Eaten a piece of food that had fallen on the floor (it’s the 5 second rule!!!)

5) Told someone else that a piece of food that had fallen on the floor “Will be fine – just give it a blow!” (or is that one just me?!)

6) Been happy walking down the street with peppa pig stickers stuck all over me.

7) Gone for an early night – where the time started with a 9 and the objective was just to sleep sleep and sleep!

8) Let the play dough colours get all mixed up in to one big brownish lump (not that I played much with play dough I have to say!)

9) Been so knowledgable about poo, and able to deal with it at 5am in the morning!

10) Carryied a colouring book and pencils with me at ALL times

11) Had lots (and I mean lots) of half finished, or just started conversations EVERY DAY!

There must be loads more of these.... feel free to add yours to the list!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Keep on running......

You may have seen, I did the race for life a couple of weeks ago, and looking back on how I went from zero running to 5k reminded me that anything is possible, for anyone, if they tackle it in a way that works. So I’m going to tell my story here, not because I want to show off, but because if I can do this, YOU can do anything you want to do too.

As I might just have mentioned a few times(!) I’ve had 3 children in the last 6 years, so if I had told anyone I was going to do the race at the beginning of the year I’m sure they would have choked on the chocolate biscuit that we would have been sharing over a cup of tea! Exercise has kind of been a swear word in my book for the last few years.

However, having decided that our third baby was our last, and really wanting to get back in to a size 12 I decided to set myself a challenge. I used to say that I hated running – simply too boring, but I knew that it was my best chance of getting exercise. So, I bought myself a decent pair of shoes, mapped out a very small circuit (I used this website if anyone is looking for something and went out one Saturday morning for my virgin run!

Now when I say run, what I actually mean is that I ran for a pathetically small distance until I was out of breath, and then I walked until I got my breath back... then I ran another pathetically small distance! BUT even though it was a small amount of running, it was still more running than I had done for a very long time, so I came back feeling great!

Other mum friends of mine said things like ‘I would be worried about people seeing me’ and I could totally understand why they might be feeling a little self conscious, but I had two tricks up my sleeve that stopped me feeling like that....
1) The people who saw me were (on the whole) either walking, or in a car, and so were probably thinking about the fact that I was running and they weren’t. One-Nil to me!
2) The people who saw me had no idea that I was out of breath because I had just run a pathetically small distance. For all they knew I could have been just finishing a marathon distance and therefore looking GREAT! Two-Nil to me!

As the days / weeks went on, it was still quite obvious to me that my chosen form of exercise wasn’t enjoyable enough, and I could feel my motivation waning a bit. That was, until my iPod Shuffle turned up on mother’s day!! (Thank you thank you thank you to my genius husband!). All of a sudden my ‘boring’ running was transformed in to a treat; I have always loved my music, but haven’t been making time to listen to it enough in the midst of the family chaos in recent years. I also realised that going for a short run when my husband got home from work was a great way to blow the day’s tensions away and therefore set us up for a much more cheery evening!

And as for the progress in my running, that was almost the easy bit. By doing just 2 or 3 runs a week (20 minutes each, so the family hadn’t even really noticed I had gone!) my pathetically small distance started to become a slightly more respectable distance. I challenged myself every day to run just a few paces more – to the next lamppost or to the next road – before I was allowed to walk for a while, and then I challenged myself to start linking up the bits of running without the walking... little by little I managed to run the whole way round my small circuit.

Then I just did the same thing again and mapped myself out a bigger circuit... allowed myself to walk when I needed to, and before I knew it I was running 5k.

So, my point is that I did some simple things to get me over the finish line – and whatever it is that you want to do, the same thing applies:
a) Start by taking the first small step towards your goal... however small, it is still a step towards it.
b) Think about how you can make the time as enjoyable as you can.
c) Don’t worry about the negative thoughts people ‘might’ be thinking. Spin it around; they could also be thinking extremely positive things.
d) Once you’ve taken the first step, take time to stop and think what the next steps are.
e) Although the goal you are trying to achieve may be big, the smaller the actual steps are in getting there, the easier are to complete.

As for my dress size, I've still got a little way to go before I fit comfortably in to my size 12 - so next for me is a 10k run in October :-)