Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Working from home - How to adapt to make it work with children

Lifestyle magazines and business pages seem to be full of the success stories of "Mumpreneurs" - highly successful women who have had babies and turned their home office or spare room into a money spinning success story of a business, while juggling babies and apparently having it all.

But is working from home all it's cracked up to be? The truth is, no, it isn't. Don't think that by working from home you'll be able to get work and chores done effortlessly while your small child plays happily and quietly nearby.

Working from home is hard. It requires discipline, patience, dedication, organisation and more often than not, child care.

No, you won't get away without child care if you work from home. For the first 6 months, or until your baby is crawling about, you may well manage to get a lot of work done while they sleep or roll around on their mats, but the minute they're up and about you're in trouble!

It's not all doom and gloom though. As a mum who has worked from home for the last ten years, I can honestly say it's a great solution and the best decision I made. It definitely works for me. I get huge amounts done, both work and chores; I got to spend quality time with my baby before she went to school and I'm now in that happy place where I work in between the school run hours, but can still get out to meetings or appointments and manage her if she's sick.

The upsides are obvious for mums (or dads): You have the flexibility of working around school hours; a calm, personal and creative environment; no commute; ability to offset some household expenses; but above all quality time with the kids.

There are a number of downsides too. When you work from home, some people can take advantage, believing that you're not really working. You can find it hard to be taken seriously by colleagues, friends and family, even by your partner, and sometimes even by your kids. Children tend to try to pull the sickie card much more often when they know their mum is at home rather than 30 kms away in an office. It's just far too tempting!

There is also the fact that as you're perceived to be around (by school and other mums), you find yourself getting roped into things. Or if you say no, you offend a great many people who think you just don't want to be involved. Mums who work in offices can get away without going to a single “working bee” or manning a cake stall.

With regards to managing your work around child care, you will most likely need to organise some sort of care if you want to get anything done. If you're working for yourself, the good thing is you're not tied to an office or an inflexible boss, so you can pick and choose child care to suit you. If you've agreed with a boss to work from home on certain days a week, then you can manage your child care around those days.

You may choose a mixture as I did - 2 days at a child care centre, 2 days of a nanny/babysitter for example. It means that you can often find spaces in child care on their less busy days and when you have nanny days, your child is occupied but you can get together for quality time at lunch or before nap time, so although you're working, you don't feel like you're missing out on that important part of your child's life.

By sourcing care for your child for just a few hours every week, you are guaranteeing yourself some solid uninterrupted work time. Consider employing a babysitter or nanny on a regular basis to mind the kids while you lock yourself away in your office for a few hours.

This works really well if you have a young baby which requires breast feeding and/or you don't mind the noise of your older children around the house while you work. Use our babysitter search to find a babysitter in your area or click here for our nanny search

Occasional care works well for people who prefer to send the children out for a few hours and work in a quiet house.

Occasional care centres provide care for under school age children for short periods of time. They allow working parents to leave their kids in an early childhood learning environment where they can also socialise and interact with other children for a few hours at a time.

Councils and community organisations often run occasional care centres and our search will help you locate services offering care in your neighbourhood when you need it.

Supportive family members, friends and/or a partner who works flexible hours could also help you with some casual child care on regular basis.

When you are happy with your work environment and have implemented a few systems to make your ideal work/life balance achievable, remember:

Be flexible

Your working day will need to be as flexible as possible to accommodate your child's changing needs. Set yourself some parameters but make them elastic so you don't get stressed and frustrated when everything changes at the last minute.

Be organised

To ensure your working hours are as useful as possible try and maintain a prioritised task list that you can use to monitor your work in progress. It is all too easy to turn on the computer to do some work and get side tracked by emails or the Internet. By maintaining a to-do list that is ready and waiting, you're less likely to lose time thinking about what you need to do!

Work when you can, but make time to relax

While it may seem tempting to rush to the computer every time you get a spare ten minutes this is not always the best way of working. Try and set aside some time each day to sit down with a cup of tea and relax, it will make your next ten-minute work session far more productive.

Set achievable goals for yourself

Don't over commit and reward yourself when you achieve success! Remember that working from home effectively means you are doing two jobs at the same time. Make sure your workload is at a sustainable level and set realistic deadlines. Dividing large tasks into smaller more manageable projects may help you stay on top of things and give you a sense of progress on a day-to-day level.

Stay focused

Whenever you have a bad day or feel like you just didn't get anything done, take a step back have a cuddle with your little one and remember why you chose to work from home in the first place!

An Important note on The Right to Request Flexible Work Arrangements

All employees within the national workplace relations system now have the right to request flexible work options, such as the right to work from home, from their employer, as long as they meet certain criteria.

For eligibility and advice on how to manage your request to your employer, click here.

Fair Work Ombudsman's Best Practice Guide on The Right to Request Flexible Work Arrangements.

By Sophie Cross
Source: Care for Kids

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tips for time poor working mums

When I read that Madonna supposedly has 15-minute appointment blocks in her schedule for one-on-one time with each child for singing, homework, cooking, it sounded crazy to me. But how many parents have mobiles grafted to their ears, even navigating vehicles, slipping out of meetings with clients ... getting through the day managing their offspring?

Maybe Madonna's strategy is wise? We recommend to managers they have lots of short, set one-on-one times with staff. At least 15 minutes dedicated listening without interruption is one of the best gifts you can give to anyone, let alone your children. Is this really so hard to achieve?

Technology has multiplied our output, no question, and the demands placed on us have accordingly increased. You probably feel like one of those mice on a wheel, scurrying endlessly as the wheel whizzes around. You'll have noticed by now that when you mention your hyperactivity to others, they feel the urge to "top" this by claiming they are even busier. Most of us are now experiencing workplace Olympics, and while some thrive, others are drained. And what is happening to our kids? Do they simply not see us enough or see us too drained to be a wonderful interactive parent?

What kind of "competition" is this anyway? In the meantime, your children are growing, developing and forming impressions of you, no matter how much you airbrush matters or worse, when you snap at them to "Just deal with it!" Would you have wanted a whirling dervish for a parent when you were growing up? The answer is mostly likely "no" – it was good, wasn't it, to come home and have a non-judgmental chat with someone who'd good naturedly put aside their responsibilities and to-do list, and who cuddled up with you, or sat across some afternoon tea while you talked about the day. No hurry, no fuss, and no sense that they had something better to do. (OK, they may have conveyed that to you, but everyone will, in varying amounts...)

Times have hastened since then, and deep-seated guilt about parenting never really goes; it's built in (and perhaps is a survival of the species mind control device).

And these days working grandparents mean the grandparents are likely not retired and still chasing wild ambitions. So even grandparents might be juggling their grandkids!

Here's what you can do when juggling children and work:

  • Love and treasure them and let them know it – small gestures are plenty
  • Not endless shows of compensatory goodies, but a few minutes rough and tumble (for boys) and a sprawly chat with your girls (if they sidle up to you – that's when they're wanting it) or maybe go for gender mixing and do vice versa!
  • If you can't talk with them then and there, give them undivided attention when you tell them this and make that time for the chat. Stick to it, and give them more time if they need it. Don't let a worried look go behind closed doors on either side.
  • Don't interrupt them, even if you know what they're going to talk about. Do you like being second-guessed all the time? Give them space to be who they are, and to express themselves accordingly.
  • Don't be an angel for Facebook and a devil at home. Don't be fake, and keep private stuff away from social media platforms. Don't BS your children. Live in the real world, and not in some tricked-up la-la land of your own devising. IN FACT, step away from Facebook and spend that time FACE TO FACE with your kids.
  • Giving time is an investment that reaps dividends – crying time-poor (for nearest and dearest) means that they one day may have no time for you when you most need it.
  • Don't preach reduction in screen time when then you are also glued to your screens. Walk outside the door with them, go to a park ... plan a weekend hike or a holiday, plan big time with them. Get fit with them, get fit for you and for them!
  • Slow down when you can. That's vital for you – and your children. Take every opportunity. Really look at them and listen to them. 
  • If you do a lot of business travel make Skype or Face Time a regular slot, but have an unanticipated surprise topic or story – so it is never same old same old...
  • Plan a game that is interactive fun and creative with your kids. Don't wait to be creative for a birthday party display to other kids and families.
  • Take time off work to go to sports, attend a special competition, be an involved parent – someone they are proud of.

You may be surprised to find that those intense dedicated moments don't last too long anyway as the child bounces away, replenished – and you? (Oh, that's right – there's work to be done, but now you feel a bit sleepy.)

When you feel good and your kids feel good you revive yourself and you become much more productive, and the guilt factor evaporates!

By: Eve Ash
Source: Women's Agenda 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

How could a 4 day work week change your life?

 4 day work week Infograph in full

What would a 4 day work week look life for working parents? What would it look like for organisations? What countries are doing it? What are the results?

For the pros and cons on a 4 day work week plus some real life case examples of organisations that have implemented it check out this infograph (Click the image above for the complete infograph).

We'd love to hear your 4 day (or less) work week story and how it's worked for you and your employer!

This infograph was created by Go To Meeting.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

My 'Career Itch' story by Kiri Stejko

Kiri Stejko, Director, Career Itch

One of our great friends here at mums@work is Kiri Stejko. As a HR expert and a specialist in recruitment and talent management she is the executive director of Talented Woman (our sister company) and mum to a cheeky, curly haired one year old. We're very excited for Kiri as she's also just launched her own company - Career Itch - a six week holistic coaching program guided by 3 key experts - a career coach, a mindfulness expert and a personal trainer.

Here's Kiri's personal 'career itch' story...

Realising that my career has spanned twenty years to date takes me by surprise. Twenty years!! It feels like yesterday I was studying psychology at university thinking I didn’t have enough life experience to be of real value helping people. But what would I do if I didn’t become a Psychologist?

I worked in hospitality for a while and saved until I had enough to travel overseas. I hoped to become enlightened whilst doing something exotic and crazy like skydiving over the Swiss Alps. In reality, I created a credit card debt and returned to hospitality to pay it off. Hospitality meant working with great people, in a lively environment, with youthful late night hours. I wondered if I could make a career of it. I imagined having my own restaurant one day. I was offered a job as “Functions Manager” at a fine dining establishment and was thrilled. It was retracted the week before I was due to start. I was blind-sighted and at a complete loss.

I asked some friends what they were doing. One kindly got me an interview with a recruitment agency and was successfully offered the job. The industry is people oriented and in the realm of psychology, therefore was definitely of interest. There was opportunity to use psychometric testing in recruitment processes. I was enthusiastic about the possibilities that lay ahead.

I learned a lot about recruitment, sales, corporate employers and how people feel when they are looking for a job. I worked with some excellent people, had some fantastic managers and also experienced a horrible boss. I had a Career itch after about 2 years. It was another year or so before I left. I’m sure it was evident to management well before then that my heart wasn’t in it. My mind was often elsewhere and I lacked motivation. I partied after work and hangovers enhanced the following morning’s resistance at going to work. I was glad to eventually leave.

I was determined that my next job would be one I had chosen, rather than it choosing me. Interviewing people, I saw desperation in the eyes of many, hope in all and always the same disappointment with delivery of rejection news. I wanted to help people realise that not every job is right for them and they should assess the employer in the same way the employer assesses them. I believe that interviewing is a two way street.

To practice what I preached and be able to choose my next long-term employer, I took a temporary job allowing more time for the long-term job search. I didn’t want financial pressure to force me into a decision. After months of interviewing and temping, going through highs and lows and confidence blows, I finally landed a job I truly wanted. It was with a global corporation as a member of the internal HR team, setting up an in-house recruitment function. I was beside myself with excitement. There were times I thought no one was ever going to give me a chance without the internal experience all these types of jobs required. I needed the experience, but how could I get it if no one would give me a chance? Finally someone saw my passion, determination and motivation.

I loved that job. I was impressed by the leaders, my colleagues and the company culture. I enjoyed my day-to-day work – learning, growing and progressing. I found my feet there. For the first time, I felt I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to work my way up the ladder of a global corporation and become a senior leader in HR. I was in the perfect place to do it, with supportive Managers and lots of development opportunities. I just had to keep working hard and give it my all.

A few years down the track, a friend pointed out I had not much time left to travel to London on a work visa (they aren’t given to Australians over 30 years old). Despite loving my job, I wanted global work experience. I thought this could be my only chance to get that. If I didn’t do it now, would I regret it when I was older? This question went around in my mind… and wouldn’t go away. That told me what I needed to know.

When I resigned from that job, my boss was taken aback. I was progressing well, on track for promotion and whilst supportive of any choice I made, I was strongly encouraged to reconsider my decision. I hadn’t made it lightly, so there was no going back. I was confident that if I was doing well then, I could succeed elsewhere too.

Keeping that level of confidence in a new country, culture and company was important. The perspective I gained from working outside Australia was empowering. At the induction in my first job in London, there was a presentation with a map showing the world presence for that company. I was shocked to see that Australia was left off the map. I guess there was no room on the powerpoint slide. I didn’t have the guts to ask if they had anyone in Australia – my comfort with extroversion wasn’t strong then and still isn’t, but I’m learning.

I worked two yearly contracts (restricted by the visa) and when asked to stay on in my second role with a sponsorship visa, my instinct told me it was time to go home. Not a Career Itch, more an unsettled feeling that I missed home too much. When I returned to Australia, I took a short-term contract. Six months later I was in Hong Kong meeting a potential new boss and considering an HK based role. I was scared at the prospect of moving overseas again. However, being offered a permanent role in Hong Kong was also exciting and I had a big decision to make. I stared out at a crowd of people foreign to me and felt fear. I didn’t know anyone, knew very little about Chinese culture, didn’t speak the language. Why would I do this? Did I want to do this? Could I do this?

The “could I” question was the one that got me. So much courage was required to make the decision to take that job. It was a step up in my career and the challenge made it appealing. Part of me fought against it and another part of me asked that question: Will I regret it later in life if I turn down this opportunity? I knew I would. I don’t want to live life with regrets. So I moved to Hong Kong. Little did I know I was about to experience a huge Career itch.

I missed my comfort zone. I missed family, friends, speaking English and being easily understood. I missed working in the same time zone as my team (I covered 14 countries in this role and my team was mostly virtual spanning 20+ locations). I missed everyday casual conversation. I learned Mandarin which was useful on trips to Singapore and mainland China, but not at all useful in Hong Kong. I had underestimated the personal challenges associated with feeling lonely, isolated and overwhelmed at work.

I became depressed. I recall walking along a busy Hong Kong street crying endless quiet tears. I wore sunglasses despite the overcast day. I wasn’t sobbing. I was strangely calm, but flat. Nothing felt right. I didn’t want to be in Hong Kong, I didn’t want my big job. I questioned whether I could even succeed. I retreated into myself and obsessed over whether I could admit defeat and go home. I’d been in Hong Kong for 2 months.

I decided to confide in my manager who was not surprised and said I wasn’t performing to expectations. Apparently it was obvious I wasn’t doing well (I thought I was hiding my personal crisis successfully) and she consequently gave me “permission” to quit. She understood the enormity of the decision. She removed my anxiety of letting down the company. She knew that I had to resolve my career itch or I would never succeed. I was distracted, demotivated and desperate. In that state of mind, I was useful to no one.

As soon as I had permission to quit, I desperately wanted to succeed. I had to muster all the confidence and courage I could to give this opportunity my best shot. I sought therapy, revisited my motivation and set clear goals for myself. I set a timeframe and decided if the Career itch remained present in 3 months, I would also give myself permission to leave.

The change of mindset enabled me to pick myself out of the pit of despair and enjoy another three years in Hong Kong. I had survived my biggest Career Itch to date and came out the other side stronger, happier, more successful, more experienced and more confident than ever.

There has been several more years in my career since then and I continue to learn and grow with each new experience. The rest of the story can be shared in another blog. But with this story, the lessons I have learned when dealing with a career itch, are these;
  • Your network is always going to be a great source for career moves. Stay in touch with people you respect and connect with.
  • When your instinct tells you that you’re not in the right job, pay attention and trust your gut. Act on that instinct.
  • Be clear in your goals – plan your next step and take control of your career. It’s up to you to steer yourself somewhere you want to go.
  • Don’t be afraid to walk away from a great job to achieve a personal life goal. Be confident about what you want and can achieve in your career, and don’t forget about your life goals along the way.
  • Be courageous when offered something that feels bigger than you’re ready for. If someone sees the potential in you, you have the ability to succeed.
  • Don’t give up when you feel overwhelmed by a difficult situation. If it is impacting on your career, take action or you risk damaging yourself and your employer. Be honest with yourself and either pick yourself up, or move onto something else.
For more info about the Career Itch Program tap here.

By: Kiri Stejko
Source: Career Itch

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Inspiring mum profile: ‘I’m the unlikely combination of CEO and single parent’

When Annabelle Daniel left the public service to lead an NGO, she started with little more than a desk in a shared office and a mandate to help the one in two women in need of accommodation who are turned away from shelters.

The self-confessed 'unlikely' CEO started with Women's Community Shelters two years ago to develop innovative solutions for offering crisis accommodation for women in need.

This week, the organisation's first shelter will open in the northern Sydney suburb of Hornsby, the only such refuge between the NSW Central Coast and Sydney's North Shore.

The shelter will initially accommodate around 10 women without dependents (a segment Daniel says is severely under-resourced) and provide a holistic range of services including health, legal and housing support. While it has received some federal government support, Daniel notes the model they've used demonstrates the capacity for social financing, connecting with local community support and tapping philanthropic sources.

She believes the facility will be full within three months given the desperate need for accommodation. Offering space for ten women is a small start, but one Daniel hopes to expand on with the NGO looking to open another five or six similar centres in NSW this year and potentially expand into other states -- at a time when other services are being forced to shut down due to state funding cuts.

"A lot of groups are interested in seeing what we're doing with this one. We've done the groundwork and I believe this can be replicated," she says.

For Daniel, the opening is the culmination of two years of figuring out how to develop and run an NGO and determine innovative and sustainable solutions for women. She says leaving her leadership position in the Department of Human Services (where she oversaw the Child Support program) was a huge leap into the unknown, a move that initially "terrified" her.

"I'm female, a single parent and a CEO. Now that's a combination that doesn't happen all that often but I make it work with flexibility," she says, noting her two children are eight and five. "That's the freedom of working for a small NGO. My board is focused on outcomes rather than backsides on seats time."

Indeed, Daniel says the board has provided her with advice and experience she's not sure she could have found elsewhere. "Working with them the last two years has been like being in an accelerated MBA course in terms of the skills and knowledge they bring in."

Her desire to work in the not-for-profit sector emerged when she took a year of unpaid leave from the public sector to run Elsie, the country's longest running women's shelter. The experienced changed her life.

"It opened my eyes and made me realise what a bubble if been living in, how privileged I've been, and just how much work still needs to be done to support women," she says. "It was that experience that lit the fire in me."

Daniel did return to the public service following the 12 month stint, but made the difficult decision to leave permanently when the opportunity to build and run Women's Community Shelters came up. "I didn't have a computer and a phone for the first five weeks", she says on starting the new role. "I had a desk sharing an office with The Big Issue. One of my board members had a connection there and they organised a wonderful sharing arrangement."

She says she managed the fear of dong something completely different with her career by simply acknowledging she was afraid. "The trick for me is knowing that it's ok to acknowledge your fear about taking a leap, but not to let the fear of taking a leap stop you. You have to trust yourself, back yourself, you can't let doubt eat at you."

Managing a young family at home, she adds she's extremely organised and realistic about what she can and can't do. "Don't set the standard so high you can't possibly achieve it. The perfect is the enemy of the good, sometimes you have to be happy with good."

The short facts on Annabelle Daniel's story

Born. North Shore, Sydney

Grew up. Lane Cove, Sydney

Leadership qualifications. Currently a CEO, but academically, BA (Hons) LLB (Hons)

High school ambition? To be a lawyer because my best friend wanted to be one!

First ever job? I was a weekend receptionist at a car dealership at 17. Various positions in car dealerships kept the money flowing until well after I finished studying!

Who and what do you lead? I lead Women's Community Shelters, a not-for-profit organisation setting up new women's shelters in NSW communities.

How do you stay informed on a daily basis? I am a voracious reader and read everything. SMH, Australian, Guardian, The Conversation, New Matilda. I am also a keen Women's Agenda follower.

And manage your wellbeing? Utterly frivolous pursuits like Facebook discussion groups on clothes and shoes, swimming at the beach, Ipad games, and doing simple things like hanging out with family. I don't get nearly enough exercise though!

First thing you do in the morning? Check my phone.

An average day in the life... It's so random some days - but emails, documents, presentations to groups, a visit to a shelter and lots of talking!

Leadership 'superpower'? Being curious about other people. If you are genuinely interested in other people, what's going on for them, and what makes them tick, most of the other good leadership skills fall into place. Empathy, flexibility, understanding, boundaries.

Advice to your 18-year-old self. Don't be afraid to change direction, if you work hard and back yourself, you will be fine. Also, it's OK to be terrified, just don't let it stop you doing something that could be amazing.

By: Angela Priestley 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The risk of sniper attacks in the 'mummy wars'

Have you been ever been injured by a sniper attack in the 'mummy wars'? It could have come in the form of a random comment from a passer-by. A loaded suggestion from your great aunt. An email from a colleague. A voice of 'concern' from another parent while dropping off the kids at school. Or even a sweeping generalised statement from a male opinion writer.

However the bullet arrived, the chances are that it hurt.

Or perhaps you fired the gun yourself.

The 'mummy wars' is that perceived battle that exists between mothers who chose (or are forced into) one way of living over another, particularly working over not working.

But it's not just 'mummies' who get involved in such wars but plenty of daddies and anyone who's ever had a kid, or has spent more than an hour with a kid, and believes they're qualified to comment on the lifestyle and parenting ways of mothers.

As with any need to address the habits of another group of people who are different to the tribe you believe you're in, the reason the 'mummy wars' exist at all largely stems from guilt and fear: the guilt that the choice you believe you're making may not actually be the best one; and the fear of somebody doing something different to the way you have been taught it should be done.

The problem is that those with such fears and guilt can swiftly launch an attack on a mother that can have serious consequences. Such wars can force women into decisions they wouldn't have otherwise made. Being on guard for sniper attacks can destroy the confidence of mothers, it can lead some to try and "do it all", sacrificing much-needed sleep in the process.

Indeed, the 'mummy wars' can seriously hurt the mental wellbeing of mothers. And those who are often at most risk of attack happen to also be the ones who are at risk of dropping out of the workforce altogether.

Currently, we have some decent support services for new mothers -- although recent tragic cases involving abandoned babies in Sydney would suggest the system is still catastrophically failing some women and children.

The problem is that much of this system of support starts to break down as a child moves from newborn to toddler. Community health services are frequented less, and some nurses may even raise eyebrows if a mother keeps visiting. Doctors stop asking questions about how mothers are coping. The, 'isn't she adorable' comments from random members of the public stop as tantrums, food-throwing and a desire to climb everything in sight become the norm. Mothers groups start to meet sporadically, instead of every week.

On top of this, it's during the toddler stage that many mothers will return to work, or transition from part-time work back to full-time. They'll be navigating the childcare system, dealing with difficult drop-offs and the relentless cycle of seeing their little person's immune system tested with seemingly every virus and stomach bug imaginable. They'll probably have even less time for socialising, friendships, exercise and hobbies.

It's especially at this point that mothers feel the expectation to do everything. To work, manage the caring responsibilities and the household duties. While it's perfectly acceptable to walk around in your pyjamas when dealing with a newborn, social expectations on one's appearance start to increase just as the baby's getting more mobile. No wonder it becomes a prime time for voicing that guilt and fear through the so-called 'mummy wars'.

So, not only do support structures break down for mothers as their babies transition to small children, but they increasingly find themselves at risk of 'mummy war' sniper attacks.

Feminism was supposed to give women choice. And yet all these choices made us afraid. The 'mummy wars' have become a cultural habit that will be very, very difficult to break.

However, there a things we can individually do to reduce the risk of sniper attacks against the mothers we know.

A good start involves taking a self assessment. What is it about the choices of others that makes us so afraid? How do our personal notions of guilt affect our respond to the actions of others?

This self-assessment needs to be undertaken by women and men. Parents and non-parents. Bloggers and newspaper comments. Parents who work and parents who don't.

If we really care about mothers, then we should at least respect them enough to ask -- what is it about them that makes us so afraid?

By: Angela Priestley
Source: Women's Agenda

Monday, December 1, 2014

The second shift: The post-bedtime ritual of successful working parents

Almost half of high-earning working parents regularly burn the midnight oil to get to a full-time week. Is it sustainable?

I am writing this essay at 9 p.m. That’s not unusual for me. I write and edit a lot of things at odd hours. I started working this way when my first kid was born seven and a half years ago, and now as I’m expecting my fourth, it’s become the rhythm of my life. Working a "split shift"—some during the day, and some at night—lets me work long hours and still do family dinners and play with my kids. As I talk to other working parents, I’ve become increasingly convinced that this modern version of a second shift is far from crazy. Indeed, it’s often the key to that alleged impossibility: having it all.

This is really a matter of work/life math. While we could all be more productive during the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday, when you add small people and a household into your life, these 40 hours are rarely a true 40 hours. In the past few weeks, I’ve had a doctor’s appointment and so have my kids. I had to get new tires on my car. I went to a Halloween parade. My 7-year-old had a morning off from school when we didn’t have a sitter. I transported another kid to a post-school playdate. We had a new dishwasher delivered and installed during an 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. window. My husband and I split many duties, but even if I kept my nose to the grindstone during every non-interrupted minute, it would be hard to work more than 30-35 hours during the classic workweek 40. Indeed, according to the Bureau of Labor StatisticsAmerican Time Use Survey, the average married mother with kids under age 6 and a full-time job logs just 33.88 hours of work and work-related activities per week. That doesn’t even meet the technical definition of full-time, which is more than 35 hours a week).

It would be nice if some productivity trick could let you do as much in 34 hours as you could in, say, 45, but in the long run, that’s unlikely. In any case, working 45 hours is more likely to lead to the kind of paycheck that can support a family. Warren Farrell, author of Why Men Earn More, has calculated from census data that people working 45 hours per week earn more than twice as much as those who work 34 hours per week.

To meet my income and career-advancement goals, I generally need to work 45-50 hours per week. If I can only log 35 hours by working until 5:30 p.m. most days, I have a few choices. I could keep working every night until 8:30 p.m. and not see my kids. Or I could stop work at 5:30 p.m., hang out with my family until 8:30 p.m., and then get back to work.

So that’s what I do. I’m far from the only one. I recently completed a time diary study of 1001 days in the lives of professional women and their families while researching a book. All these women earned six figures and had kids at home. They worked, on average, 44 hours per week, despite the presence of dentist appointments, preschool volunteer shifts, and the like. About 45% made this work by doing a split shift like mine. In some extreme cases, I saw women leaving work around 3:30 p.m. to get their kids at school, and then scheduling conference calls (often with people in other time zones) from 8-10:30 p.m. They weren’t just catching up on email. They had literally moved the latter chunk of their workdays to the night.

Of course, if I saw this strategy in 45% of time logs, that means that 55% of high-earning moms didn’t do it. Some kinds of work don’t lend itself to this; if you’re doing procedures on patients, you’re probably not going to schedule one for 9 p.m. A split shift requires doing work that can be moved around on dimensions of time and place.

Some people were also just philosophically opposed, which I understand. There’s a certain simplicity when work is work and home is home, and never the twain shall meet. Split shifts cut into leisure time and, if you’re not careful, sleep. Since I usually work from 8:30-10:30 p.m., and I rarely watch TV. I’m fine with that tradeoff, but not everyone is. Since I write for a living, I have an adequate creative outlet. But if I had an office job, I might want to knit or scrapbook at night. My husband generally does a split shift too, but if he worked fewer hours, he might reasonably expect me to spend a bigger chunk of my late nights with him.

There are ways around these problems, though. I’ve started arranging our childcare so I can work through the evening at least one night per week. If I work until 7:30 p.m., then I can often relax that night instead of going back to work. As my kids get older, they sometimes sleep in on weekends. That means I can get up early on those days and use that time (at least until the baby arrives). Two hours on Saturday morning is one split shift I don’t have to work on a weeknight.

But overall, this schedule is a great tool in the work/life toolbox. Sending emails at 9:30 p.m. gets a bad rep, but next time you get such a missive, don’t assume you have a workaholic on your hands. You’re probably just working with someone who’s found a way to get it all done.

By Laura Vanderkam
Source: Fast Company