Is work-life balance a myth for home-based female entrepreneurs?

Photo: CC Ninahale via Flickr

Photo: CC Ninahale via Flickr

You set up your own business because you wanted a better work-life balance. Now you are working more hours and longer than ever. If work-life balance seems impossible to achieve when working from home and you’re wondering how to have more of a life, here are a few simple tips from Ute Wieczorek-King that may help you to achieve some of that elusive balance!

Most women I have mentored over the last 10 years started their own business to benefit from the flexibility and the freedom that comes with being your own boss and having full control over your time and how you work. After all, working whilst caring for younger and older family members and still having some work-life balance appears to be so much easier when you are not working for someone else.

The definition of work-life balance according to Wikipedia confirms that it is ‘about people having a measure of control over when, where and how they work.’ All good so far?

Freedom and flexibility seem to come at a price

Whether you’ve just started a home-based business or have been running one for years, my guess is you’ll know that busy women generally have to fight for something even faintly resembling a balance.

Realistically, demands on our time are often so much greater than we think, as running a home-based business is very different to going to work: Surrounded by domestic responsibilities, we may have to carry out a mix of business activities that have nothing to do with our core skills and expertise. Feeling under pressure to get everything done, we hope that balance is easier to achieve by running the business along strict work hours, thus creating a split between work and life.

But as a mum of three now grown-up children who has juggled a home-based business for more than 20 years, I don’t think it is the act of separating work and life that leads to balance. Most busy women — especially mums — seem to move seamlessly from business tasks to domestic tasks… and yet more work!

What’s more, a lot has changed in recent years: advances in mobile communication technology and social media help us to stay in touch with our customers and colleagues outside our core work hours, effectively blurring the line between work and life. No matter how much you strive to separate the two, we can now be reached at any time, and anywhere, perhaps even whilst on holiday.

For example, it is not unusual for women to be on Twitter or Facebook in the evenings, in order to be visible and engaged in real time — important if your target audience is online too. So for me and many other women I know, the ‘blended work-life’ seems to have become the ‘new normal’ with balance becoming even more elusive.

Won’t blending work and life lead to less balance and more stress?

Blurring the boundaries and blending work and life can feel quite threatening to those for whom balance is only achievable by separating the two. It may seem less stressful to have fixed hours especially if you are a person who likes a structured day and is disciplined at enforcing her boundaries.

This used to be me until I discovered that a blended and highly flexible work pattern need neither be stressful nor confusing. I now never feel guilty for taking time off or for having my time off interrupted by work, not even on holiday! My three children may have grown up, but my new way of working now helps me to be around for a husband who isn’t well… and I still get lots of me-time too.

Here are four of my tried-and-tested ‘balancing’ tips:

1. Have realistic expectations

Whatever your circumstances, try not to be misled into thinking that women can ‘have it all’, all of the time. It isn’t always easy to maintain balance: sometimes your family will require more attention — when children or elderly parents are ill, for example. At other times your business may have to take priority, such as when you take on new customers or start new projects. It is not always easy to compartmentalise the different areas of your life, so being flexible and adjusting your expectations a little, may help to prevent stress.

2. Build-in time for yourself

If you are not yet outsourcing any of your business activities, think about areas where you could get some regular support. Asking your babysitter, cleaner or home help to come a little more often, can buy you some me-time too. However, try not to be tempted to only use this time for work!

3. Unplug

Have regular times — even during your work day/week — when you switch off your devices to allow you to stop and ‘unplug’ in your busy day. My colleague Melanie Mackie, owner and social consultant at Scarletta Media, calls this a ‘digital detox’. In my experience, by detoxing regularly in small amounts you may not need to feel compelled to have a big detox on holiday or weekends away.

4. Know what works for you

Try to understand your needs and what recharges ‘you’. What is ‘work-life balance’ to one person could simply be having five minutes of me-time to another. What helps you to disconnect from your various commitments? What recharges your mind?

Whether you create small chunks of balance on a mental, physical, emotional, creative or spiritual level, do what is most meaningful to you and try not to feel guilty about it.

Finally, imagine you have ten minutes for ‘you’ right now. What will you do? Even if you only use this time to think about creating regular 10-minute slots of me-time starting from tomorrow, wouldn’t it be lovely to feel a little more balanced knowing that it may not always need lots of planning or require you to make huge changes?

Ute Wieczorek-King

Ute Wieczorek-King

Ute Wieczorek-King is an experienced mentor and business coach who runs Success Network, a business support organisation for female solopreneurs and micro-business owners. Ute specialises in helping busy women to be more visible, productive and profitable in business. She is co-author of networking handbook “From Contact to Advocate (TM)”, a seven-step approach to developing referral relationships that generate more business.
Ute Wieczorek-King

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11 Responses to Is work-life balance a myth for home-based female entrepreneurs?

  1. Alice Elliott November 27, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    Yes, Ute, it’s a crazy fact that women (or anybody) who works from home gets far more done than in the office, and that it is interspersed in between household chores and child care. It’s a pity that more businesses aren’t aware of this, since the majority of bosses think that working from home is a method of skiving and doing less, when the reverse is actually the case.

    Women will achieve more if they are time restricted (if they are organised enough). I bet people in offices have no idea what a home-worker can achieve in the same time they are stuck at their desks, and the woman that leaves early to pick up her kids has probably achieved far more in her restricted time than some people who hang around until 7pm looking industrious in order to please the boss.

  2. doreen gowing November 27, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

    I think you have a very good point there Ute about expectations women solopreneurs put upon ourselves as if ‘superwoman’ actually existed. I used to we make such comparisons and low and behold find myself coming up short, filled with disappointment I would proceed to beat myself up (metaphorically speaking) and all my enthusiasm and energy drained off down a big hole.
    Like you say when we take time out in our day to recharge our battery and my I suggest focus on all the great things we have achieved and then feel what happens to your energy.
    Where our thoughts go, our energy flows and results follow.

  3. Ute Wieczorek-King
    Ute Wieczorek-King December 3, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

    @Alice, I agree it is easy to underestimate what women are capable of achieving and the saying “If you want to get something done, ask a busy woman” is so often true! I do feel that no matter how busy or productive we are, the key to balance is in knowing when or how to step out of that busy-ness and ‘unplug’ on a regular basis.

  4. Ute Wieczorek-King
    Ute Wieczorek-King December 3, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    @Doreen- isn’t it odd how we usually know that it is counterproductive to put ourselves under that kind of pressure, yet we do it anyway?!
    But whatever drives us, your tip to stop and focus on something positive -like our achievements- will indeed change the energy quite quickly…definitely worth trying!

  5. Angela Sterling-Noel October 19, 2014 at 9:47 pm #

    Great article Ute

    I like the tips you have shared, because it is so true we do get into business think it will be a doddle and we are proven wrong. I believe that we could benefit from mastering the art of cat napping 5-10 minutes could recharge our batteries and give us the power to work more effectively.

    Thank you for this reminder.

    • Ute Wieczorek-King
      Ute Wieczorek-King October 20, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

      Thanks, Angela for mentioning cat napping – it is such a simple technique, isn’t it?! Definitely works for me :-)

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