Friday, January 27, 2012

Top tips for being a part time mum

Blogger Sarah Wayland from That Space In Between considers her new existence as a part time mum and what works for her.

A lot of mums re-entering the workforce after the fog of maternity leave choose to work part time. It's akin to having a few secret identities you have to have an ability to wear different masks at different times. Working part time is not only a juggle in terms of how you separate your week but it can be a little tricky in terms of how you fit into the workplace.

I returned to work part time a few months back. I stepped back into the workforce gingerly as Id gone back full time after my daughter was born 6 years ago (full time over 4 days) and I had really found the pull to be at home unbearable some days. This time I wanted to ease myself back into it so that I was home more than away. Working one day in the office and one day at home is an opportunity that not many are provided with but I must admit some weeks I feel like I'm there so little that I don't feel connected to the workplace so here are a few tips I've developed for myself with some input from other PTMs (part time mums....I'm a public servant so it goes without saying that I love an acronym)

1. Get to work early on the day you're in the office. It gives you a few more minutes to pop around and say hi to people without feeling guilty that you're not using your limited time to the best of your ability.

2. Have a really clear outline of what you want to achieve on the days you're at work. You don't have the luxury of staring out the window and working back late when small people have to be collected from various places.

3. Pop in randomly for work social activities that fall on days you're not there. At Christmas time I packed up my littlies and went in for a morning tea. Sure there were some people with their mouth hanging open that you'd come to the office on a day off but it made me feel like I belonged a little more than my name on my door.

4. Check your emails on the night before you return to work. It helps to offset any nasty surprises when you've forgotten you're interviewing a job applicant at 9am and you might be swanning around drinking a coffee and reading the paper online (this has never happened to me).

5. Send your boss (and any other colleagues it affects) an email when you finish up at the end of your work week. Just a bit of a heads up while you're not there, an update on where you are at and even a gentle reminder when you wander back in the following week feeling like it's been months since you were there last.

Part time work is great but remember it's just that, it only makes up part of your week so the camaraderie, the connectedness and the engagement you felt when you lived there before you had kids won't be the same. On the flipside it also doesn't mean that the work day is devoid of laughs and the occasional opportunity to eat the birthday cake of someone you barely know.

Sarah Wayland has been working as a Social Worker in the missing persons field for the last 10 years. She is currently a part-time stay-at-home mum, part-time public servant and part-time postgraduate student in the field of hope and loss at the University of New England. She blogs at

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Are you a victim of your own perspective?

By Emma Grey from WorkLifeBliss

There was news last week that a family who had lived through the ravages of last year's Queensland floods had won $5million in the lottery. This time last year, the newsagent where the ticket was bought was submerged.

What a difference a year makes. Bad things happen. Sometimes several bad things happen in a row. Good things happen. Sometimes great things happen.

Your house doesn't 'always' flood, and nor do you 'always' win the lotto. In reality, we have a mix of experiences - positive and negative - but we tend to pick a side and either focus on lows or highs.

It is said that we're bombarded with two million 'bits' of information at any one time. The conscious mind cannot hope to process a sensory load of this magnitude, so it triages the input - deleting much of it, distorting some and generalising a lot. This is why you and your sibling may have entirely different recollections of that family holiday when you were little.

In the end, you can comfortably manage about seven (plus or minus two) 'chunks' of information at any one time. There are times in life when we're dealing with more than this - like when we start a new job or course of study and we experience that steep learning curve. We're exhausted at first, from the juggling of more chunks of input than usual - and gradually, as we become more comfortable with it, we start chunking the information together.

Think back to when you first learnt to drive a car. All of your seven chunks were fully occupied in learning to drive - working out the gears, the pedals, the road rules, watching for other motorists, keeping an eye on the blind spot, listening to your instructor and obeying the speed limit.

If you've been driving for a while, you're probably only using one chunk to do all of that now - while you plan your shopping and talk to your passengers, listen to music, do your pelvic floor exercises ... you get the drift.

How we choose to fill our seven conscious chunks is enormously influential on how we experience our lives. Imagine you're heading into a job interview and filling your seven chunks with this:
• I hate interviews
• My clothes don't fit right today
• I didn't get enough sleep
• I never know how to answer the questions
• There's no way I'm going to get this job
• They've probably already given it to someone else
• Why doesn't anything work out for me!

Seven negative chunks, and it's not hard to predict the outcome.

If all of the experiences in your life - good and bad - were kept in a large, dark warehouse, and you got to go in there each morning wearing a miner's hat with a headlight on the front, and focus your light on something that would set the tone for the day - where would you focus?

Some people zoom in only on the corner of the warehouse where the 'failures' are kept. The pile of things than went wrong. The time the house was flooded. The jobs that fell through. The relationships that didn't work out. It's no wonder the story becomes 'nothing ever goes right for me'.

If you tilt your head slightly to the left, though, you may notice the times things went well, the time you won the lottery (if you're lucky!), the promotions you had, the relationships that brought you joy.

Turn your head again, and there's a pile of dreams for the future. Ambitions, hopes, plans...
It's up to you how you behave in your warehouse, how broad your view is and whether you choose to limit that view or not. You're at the mercy of your perspective on life and you can change your future because of this. One way or the other.

Emma Grey is a Life Balance specialist and runs WorkLifeBliss. Through a suite of innovative concepts and tools, Emma offers organisations and individuals practical solutions to the modern challenge of ‘having it all’.

Emma holds a BA (Hons), Graduate Diploma in Education and Advanced Practitioner certificates in Coaching, Training and NLP. She is a published author, speaker and freelance journalist. Her book, Wits End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum (Lothian, 2005), was reviewed as ‘fresh, witty, hilarious, sharply-observed and relentlessly truthful.’ Emma writes regularly on a range of social issues in the national media, including for Mia Freedman’s ‘Mamamia’, The Punch, Australian Women Online and HerCanberra. She is a mother of three and has two step-children. When she can sneak the time – she’s writing a vampire-free novel for young adults.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How will you manage your energy in 2012?

By Emma grey from WorkLifeBliss

Lining up at the starting gates of 2012, how would you rate your energy level on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high)?

If you've been able to properly switch off over the holiday season, perhaps you're still floating on a blissful combination of high energy and low stress. Maybe you're wondering how long that state-of-mind is going to last once you're back in the swing of 'normal life'.

How can we capture that post-holiday balance and keep it flowing as the year marches on?

Take the WorkLifeBliss challenge for a high-energy, low-stress year:

1. Flick the switch
Imagine that you have with you at all times a personal remote control. When you're engrossed in one 'channel' for a long block of time (particularly at work), you may notice things becoming a little 'fuzzy'. Thoughts aren't as sharp as they were and you're irritable or drowsy.

This happens because our brains have a natural 'ultradian' rhythm that allows for concentration blocks of 90-120 minutes. After this - whether you want it to or not - your brain will disengage and wander. Performance drops, and often we make the mistake of reaching for caffeine or a chocolate bar and pressing on.

Instead, take the remote control, flick the switch and find a channel that uses another part of your body. That might mean a brisk 30-minute walk, or a chatty lunch with friends or sitting on a park bench, escaping into a novel.

After resting your brain, flick the switch back again and notice how much clearer that concentration channel has become. Repeat this throughout the day whenever you start to flag, even with short breaks of 5-10 minutes and notice your rise in mental energy.

2. Stop colouring in the title page
Do you experience 'compulsive preparedness'? You've got something challenging to do and, rather than do it, you get everything 'ready'. It's that 'I'll just tidy my desk, put the washing on, make a cuppa...' syndrome.

We've only got a certain number of waking hours and a long list of tasks. We could go on indefinitely, ticking off the minor, easy stuff that won't make a big impact. At the end of the day, we pay for it with more pressure to get things done, and a sense of failure over our procrastination.

The simple decision to tackle the hard stuff when you're fresh and the no-brainers afterwards can make an enormous difference to your day. Manage 'energy' - as opposed to time - and throw yourself at the most challenging tasks when you're at your peak.

3. Plan your next holiday
People who take proper holidays organise them early. People who don't, tend to blame 'no time and no money'. Spontaneous breaks are great, but they rarely happen - particularly once weekends are taken up with social and kids' stuff, and when there's not enough money in the account.

This January, sit down with your partner, or a friend, and your near-empty 2012 diary and lock something in. Make it far enough away to be able to save for it comfortably and think about what you'll cut from your weekly budget in order to squirrel some cash away. Seek leave well in advance.

If it's not time or money that's stopping you, perhaps its a belief that: 'I'm too busy/too important/the place will fall apart without me...' While it's nice to think this way, and gives us a sense of significance, the 'nobody does this as well as I do' notion is just one of the ways that we manufacture our own busyness, to our detriment.

Start now
Choose whether you will power strongly through 2012, or drag yourself through it. It's then a matter of selecting the circumstances that will either boost or drain your vitality. This could be about getting more or less sleep or changing what you consume or the amount that you move. These are all choices within our control (noting the sleep one can be tough with littlies - I'm there right now!)

What it's not about is getting it right all of the time - just enough of the time to make a positive difference.

Emma Grey is a Life Balance specialist and runs WorkLifeBliss. Through a suite of innovative concepts and tools, Emma offers organisations and individuals practical solutions to the modern challenge of ‘having it all’.

Emma holds a BA (Hons), Graduate Diploma in Education and Advanced Practitioner certificates in Coaching, Training and NLP. She is a published author, speaker and freelance journalist. Her book, Wits End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum (Lothian, 2005), was reviewed as ‘fresh, witty, hilarious, sharply-observed and relentlessly truthful.’ Emma writes regularly on a range of social issues in the national media, including for Mia Freedman’s ‘Mamamia’, The Punch, Australian Women Online and HerCanberra. She is a mother of three and has two step-children. When she can sneak the time – she’s writing a vampire-free novel for young adults.

Monday, January 9, 2012

How to make job sharing a success

CareerMums spoke to Angela from Canberra about her successful negotiation to job share a full time high school teaching role. This case study will give you confidence to explore and negotiate an opportunity, despite the position being advertised as a full time role.

What do you do?

I am a high-school teacher returning to work after being on maternity leave for 4 years with my two boys. Returning full-time was not an option for me. My husband is away frequently and I felt that my boys needed some consistency in their lives which I would not be able to offer with the commitments involved in teaching.

Was the role being offered as a job share role?

The role was not advertised as a job share. I had spoken to a close friend who taught the same subject areas that I did about the idea of job-share. As she also has young children, the job-share idea was also an attractive alternative to part-time teaching which usually involves attending school every day due to the nature of time-tables in a high-school. A job which suited both of our teaching areas was advertised so we decided to give it a go. We handed our resumes and answers to the selection criteria in the one application with a cover letter addressing our intention to job share.

How did you negotiate a job share role?

We spoke to Kate from CareerMums about the position and asked for some advice about negotiating a job share role if we made it to the interview stage. During our interview (where we were interviewed together) we discussed the benefits such as experience over many fields in our teaching area, and the fact that we were able to cover each other on the days which the other needed to take off for various reasons. This is an attractive feature as relief staff are very difficult to get and creates disruptions to the students. We also mentioned our child-care arrangements which allow flexibility. I am teaching the Monday and Tuesday, my partner the Thursday and Friday and we will alternate the Wednesdays. It was also our personal decision to both be present at the school on the Wednesday for planning, marking and contact time with each other when there isn’t classroom contact.

What do you think are the benefits of job sharing?

Flexibility to be at home with my children while still continuing my career is the main benefit. With teaching, it is not just the student contact, it is the planning, assessment and administration involved which takes up many hours. Having another person sharing this responsibility makes a huge difference in the stress involved with the occupation.

What makes the partnership with you co-worker so successful?

We are very alike with a similar work ethic. Both of us are committed parents and wives yet also career minded. For this arrangement to work, both members need to put in an equal effort so it is important to know about your partner. Communication is a huge factor, especially with teaching. It is vitally important that the students have consistency with their subject matter and that we are providing fluid delivery of the information. The fact that we are both at school on the Wednesday provides an opportunity for discussion. It has taken us some extra work to develop a system for each subject so that we can go into school and pick up from where the other left off. This means always being a week ahead planned in detail as well as a term outline. We also call each other frequently. The only disadvantage of the job-share arrangement is it has destroyed our social life and we can no longer meet for coffee during the school term!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Motherhood Merry-Go-Round

Every 6 months, WD and I have the same fight discussion. It normally starts when I am so exhausted I turn into Snappy Tom Tuna lady and he finally bites back after ignoring the tantrum I have had about the state of the kitchen drawer (the second one's always the second one down).

Our conversation goes something like this:

Me: I'm just so tired. You don't know what it's like being a mum and being at home with this all day (point to 1YO and 4YO who are drawing on each other and the wall while simultaneously pulling each other's kids are nothing if not multitaskers!)

WD: And you have no idea what it's like being a Working Dad.

Me: Yes I do. You get to go to your office for 12 hours and escape all this (point to kitchen which has turned into a bomb site after 1YO ripped his way through the first three shelves of the pantry and the tupperware drawer).

WD: Yes, I get to go to the office and deal with adults who have similar behaviour patterns to this (points to 4YO). And then I get to come home to you complaining about my long hours and how tired you are (points to me).

I look over my shoulder just to make sure that he actually IS pointing at me and my alter-ego,the screaming banshee, isn't standing behind me.

And then we synchronise our watches and make an appointment to have the same conversation in 6 months time.

Recently, after our bi-annual conference on who has it tougher, I got to thinking about what it feels like to be a mum.

And this is my theory.

It's like starting a new job every 3 months.

Sometimes, it's just like changing departments within an organisation. But mostly it's like starting a new job.

Just as you and Stella get your groove on, something changes.

A behavioural milestone is reached like eating with a fork and spoon.

You start to enforce a behaviour like toilet training.

Your job situation changes. As a contractor this happens to me regularly and I have to be so flexible.

Child minding situation changes.

The kids go on school holidays.

The kids go back to school.

And you go through the whole rigmorale of the household adjusting to these changes, only to have everyone settled for....oooh, about 8 weeks......then to have it change again.

The past few months I got my time management sorted out with the whole work and home integration. I set boundaries about how often I worked out of the home office. I planned ahead and mostly all went to plan. The boys were in daycare on the same 2 days. We have fallen into a rhythm.

That's about to change. Next year, 4YO is enrolled into pre school, which is on different days to 1YO's daycare.

I am restructuring (can you restructure when there's only one of you?) my business to support this.

And once again we'll go through the whole new job thing again.

This is what I feel when I start a new job:

- a little bit of anxiety around meeting new people
- a little bit of anxiety around 'proving' myself and my capabilities
- a few scheduling hit and misses as I settle into a new routine and schedule
- that feeling of being on 'probation'
- the borrowing of the 'communal' mug because you haven't brought yours in
- getting stuck outside without your security pass
- no stapler

Now in the working world, generally it takes a few months to settle in. You do all of the above. You may even get your own hole punch. And work up the courage to heat up a curry in the microwave in the kitchenette.

You are normally given an induction, undertake an OHS course for those dangerous paper cuts and you may even have a performance appraisal a few months in to make sure you are happy and to see if you need any additional support.

Not motherhood. Talk about perpetual motion.

Your routine is changing all the time.

You're meeting new people / cliques all the time - soccer mums, preschool mums, canteen mums.

And you can never find the garlic crusher (metaphoric representation of the workplace stapler).

And an induction? Forget about it. The closest you get to an induction is asking your mum how she did it in 1976.

So when WD and I get set for our next discussion about whose job is harder - working mum or working dad - I'm going to use that analogy.

I'll let you know how I March.

In the meantime, I'll use this strategy. It's as good as any on some days.

Penny Webb loves being a mum. And working. It’s when she put the two together that she ran into trouble. When Penny had two children within two years and tried to keep her career and her sanity intact, she discovered it was one of the more difficult things she had ever tried to do. That’s when the Working Mums MASTERCLASS was born, followed closely by the Sshh Mummys on the Phone blog.