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Work life balance: three tips for parents

Nowadays, parents don’t have choose either their careers or their children; but seeking to balance the two roles requires circus levels of expertise.

New research from KidZania shows the average UK family spends just 43 minutes a day – or three hours a week – of quality time together. And chances are, the reasons for this will sound familiar, with nearly half (47%) citing work commitments as the culprit.

According to Working Families research in the UK four in 10 parents work full-time, and more than a third (34%) of those working part-time end up putting in extra hours each week. Nearly half (47%) say work gets in the way of spending time together as a family.

Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families, she suggests 11 ways to help you go home on time more often and create a better work-life balance

1. Share responsibilities
If you live with a partner, encourage each other to review both your working commitments and make changes at home to help share the care of children, household responsibilities and earning money. Often, a nursery or school pick-up is the best way of making sure you go home on time, so sharing more childcare could be beneficial in more ways than one.

2. Prioritise tasks
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with too many tasks, there are simple tools that can help you sort what needs to be done first, done next, given to someone else, or not done at all. The ‘Eisenhower matrix’ is a good example – it’s just a four-box grid where you plot tasks depending on how important and/or urgent they are.

3. Just say ‘no’

It can feel very difficult to say ‘no’ when you’re asked to do something, especially if it’s by someone senior. But they might not realise what else you have on – you need to tell them. Focus the conversation on how they can help you prioritise tasks in the time available, rather than giving a flat ‘no’. If the requests are coming from someone using your services and you feel uncomfortable saying no to them, speak to your line manager about your workload.

4. Delegate
Ask yourself if completing a certain task is the best use of your time. Could someone else complete it more efficiently, or use it as a learning experience?

5. Write things down before you leave
Have a to-do list and update this at the end of the day. This should help you switch off and leave work stresses behind, knowing the tasks are safely written down.

6. Stay focused
Avoid checking and responding to requests as soon as they come in, especially if it’s getting close to the time you finish. For example, you could turn your email alerts off, and set aside certain periods of the day for admin tasks.

7. Conquer procrastination
If you have big and small tasks on your to-do list, get your biggest task, or the one you least want to do, done first. It’s easy in theory but in practice, we all procrastinate. Tim Urban’s TED talk is a funny and helpful starting point for understanding and tackling procrastination.

8. Work with your body-clock
Everyone has a ‘chronotype’. It’s believed that 40% of us are larks, which the world of work is mostly configured to., but 30% of us are owls, and the other 30% are somewhere between the two, according to Matthew Walker’s book, Why We Sleep. If it’s possible to engineer your day around your chronotype (larks work best in the morning and owls late afternoon/evening), your official working time will be much more productive and efficient, enabling you to finish on time, whenever your personal ‘on time’ is.

9. Request flexible working
If you’re finding work and life incompatible, ask your manager about flexible working. Anyone who’s been with their employer at least 26 weeks can request flexible working. But if you’ve not been in your job that long, it’s still possible to talk informally to your boss. Many are far more receptive than you might think. Flexible working isn’t just about reducing hours – though that might be right for you – you can also amend your start and finish times, compress your hours, and change where you work all or some of the time. Some employees can work differently during school holidays, or work as a job-share. There are lots of options to consider that could increase your productivity at work and quality time at home.

10. Reduce travel time
So much time is lost travelling to and from work. Could you work from home? If you’re the boss, could your team work at home sometimes? Travelling is tiring, expensive and – often – bad for the environment. Evidence shows employees who have more control over where they work are more productive and engaged, so cutting down travel time is a win-win situation for everyone.

11. Be kind to yourself
Our own expectations are another challenge when it comes to finding the right work-life balance. We can’t be perfect parents all the time, so be kind to yourself and cut yourself some slack. Sometimes, being good enough is genuinely good enough.

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