The challenge of balancing business and family

It’s a challenge, no doubt about it. Children can be demanding, unpredictable and all-consuming. l to think of it, so can a business.

If you’re growing a business and a family at the same time, sometimes it feels like there’s just not enough of you to go around.

It’s a learning curve for sure, and the more I work with different clients on this, and the more I deal with it in my own experience, the more I find that there is no one-size-fits-all perfect formula for balancing business and family.

Some people find that strict boundaries work for them. Others will say that there’s no such thing as balance.

Different things work for different people. It really depends on your personality and preferences. Here are four different approaches I have identified. See which style suits you best.

The Organiser

Probably the most common approach we think of when it comes to balancing business and family is to “be more organised”, to set aside family time, have work scheduled in an orderly fashion, have boundaries and stick to them. It’s all sound advice, but some people definitely take to it more naturally than others.

The natural organiser loves to have things structured, well thought-out and planned. She likes to know what’s coming ahead and prefers to have a set routine, with distinctly separate times for work and family.

For the organiser, balance is a matter of equation. As long as her time, energy and attention is proportionately divided between each of her commitments, life is balanced, like a set of scales.

If you’re an organiser, your sense of balance depends on keeping things separate. You have high standards and like to be able to devote your full attention to each of your commitments in its own separate place and time. If two areas of life get blended together, you’re likely to get distracted, unfocused and frustrated.

Your less organised friends probably envy how your life runs like clockwork in comparison to theirs, but the tricky part comes when plans change. When the unexpected happens. When life refuses to fit into neat boxes. And life with kids can definitely be unpredictable! That’s when you can end up feeling frustrated and out of control.

Tips for the organiser

  • Build margin into your plans. It gives you room to manoeuvre when plans change, emergencies or unexpected glitches crop up, or our children (or our clients) decide to operate on a completely different timing!
  • Embrace opportunities to create new plans. There’s a great picture that went round Facebook recently that said “If Plan A didn’t work. The alphabet has 25 more letters. Stay cool.” As an organiser, your strength is in planning, so rather than despairing when things don’t go to plan, lean on your strength to plan around the changes. The fact that you’ve planned in the first place means you have a head start in rescheduling, and you’re not starting from square one.
  • Celebrate each achievement. Your high standards can lend themselves to perfectionism, and have you being quite critical of your achievements focusing more on what you haven’t achieved rather than what you have.

The Action Hero

You are direct, decisive and you love to get things done. You’re focused on results, so once you start something you want to see it through. You want to dive in and get on with it. In fact, when you have your eyes set on something, your determination and single-minded focus is really quite breathtaking.

You prefer to work spontaneously, rather than to a set routine. You’d rather go hell for leather than take it systematically and while you can see the logic for planning, you can get frustrated or bored if things get too structured. In fact you probably thrive on a bit of time pressure.

Taking action is not a problem for you. Stopping is.

Stopping and starting, switching your focus between family and work, can be really frustrating for you.

When you’re deep into a business project you might find it difficult to switch off, and even when you’re with your family you find you’re still thinking about your business. Your single-mindedness is a talent, but taken too far, your focus can become all-consuming.

Tips for the action hero

  • Work in bursts of action. Focus on high impact tasks that make up the overall project, so that you get a sense of completion every step of the way. This can help you to find more natural pauses to switch off, celebrate, reward yourself with some well earned time with your family.
  • Be equally intentional about your family time. When you get down to business you probably know exactly what you’re going to do, what impact it’s likely to have, and be raring to go. Get the same energy going with your family time by having some high action, high impact family fun together. The kind that you find yourself eagerly looking forward to and become fiercely protective of. Chances are, it will also fuel you with fresh energy and motivation when you get back to work too.
  • Do it your way. Design your business and your goals around what’s important to you – your family. Rather than keep them separate, and trying to split yourself between the two, keep your family central to the business goals that you set and how you go about achieving them.

The Juggler

Jugglers like to keep everyone happy. That’s why they would rather juggle than to drop a ball or put one down. In fact, they are more likely to pick up another ball than to put one down. If you’re a juggler you probably find it easier to say ‘yes’ than to say ‘no’.

You value relationships, so you always make time for your children, your clients and other people. The one thing you hate more than feeling time pressured is when someone you care about is feeling under pressure, so you often juggle your own commitments with helping others too. You get a great sense of satisfaction from helping people, even though you probably suspect you’re a bit too soft at times.

You’d much rather take things at a steady pace, so that you can have the best of both worlds – grow a business and a family at the same time. However, your reluctance to say ‘no’ can lead you to over-committing and becoming overwhelmed with responsibilities. And when something’s got to give, your own needs are often the first to go.

Tips for the juggler

  • Repeat after me “Let me have a think about it.” Rhythm is vital to a juggler. When something new comes up, give yourself time to decide how it will fit in with your existing rhythm, where it will fit within your busy schedule. Resist the urge to say ‘yes’ straight away. If something’s worth your help it’s worth your considered, thoughtful help – not just a reaction. And sometimes, for their sake and yours, it’s worth saying ‘no’.
  • Schedule in me time. If you’re the juggler, then the only person keeping all those balls in the air is you. If you fall, so does everything else. You can’t expect to disconnect from yourself and stay connected with everyone else, so take some time to look after you. Make it part of your regular rhythm, so that you can give from a place of plenty.
  • Ask for help. You know how much of a gift it is to be able to help someone else don’t you? Wouldn’t it be selfish of you not to let someone else have that gift once in a while? Having the wisdom and humility to be on the receiving end of help, can be just what you need sometimes to be able to continue helping others.

The Dancer

Dancers love movement and variety. These are our natural multi-taskers. They can’t help but get involved with lots of different things, involving lots of different people, often all on the same stage.

You’re at your best when you are passionate, expressive and creative. You get bogged down with too much structure and detail, preferring instead to go with the flow and live in the moment. In fact, if you were to try and achieve balance like an equation, you’d probably find that you’re forever tipping the scales one way, then running back to the other side to balance things out, putting your focus more on what you’re not doing than what you are.

As someone who values flexibility and freedom, the idea of putting things and people in boxes goes against the grain. You prefer to see things as inter-connected, looking for ways of doing things that benefit everyone – time spent on your business is time invested in providing for your family. Time spent with your family is time spent connecting with your motivation. Time spent on you refuels and recharges you to be the best mum and business owner and the best you that you can be.

Your idea of balance is more fluid and intuitive than measured. Life as a dancer can be pretty intense. There are times when you’re working hard, there are full on family days, days where you make it up as you go along, and everything in between. Trusting your intuition, adapting as you go along and being creative in designing family life and business around what’s important to you, are some of the fundamental steps in mastering the dance.

Tips for a dancer

  • Blend rhythm and variety. Every dance needs a beat, so don’t be afraid to build in some regular rhythm, with lots of room to be flexible. It can help to set a pace, maintain momentum and give you the freedom to invent new steps rather than constantly reinvent old ones.
  • Embrace the beauty of simplicity. Sometimes creative, impulsive multi-taskers can get carried away and make things far more complicated than they need to be. Take the time to step back, strip away all the trimmings and get to the core of what you’re doing to restore your clarity.
  • Invite others to dance. Let’s face it, it’s much more fun. Your enthusiasm, energy and natural way with people can bring many projects and collaborations to life, while allowing you to draw on other people’s strengths and style, rather than try and be an all-rounder yourself.

Which of these styles resonate with you?

Are you an organiser, action hero, juggler or dancer? How do you balance business and family?

 

GraceM

Author of the award-winning "How to be REALLY Productive", Grace writes and speaks on productivity at Grace-Marshall.com and runs workshops as a Productivity Ninja. Her kids are 12 and 9, with her 10 year old business a little bit like her middle child. She’s a recovering perfectionist and is continually working on being good-enough most of the time, with intermittent lapses into hopelessness and brilliance.

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