Balance Arc

"Work-life balance" is basically a cliche, if useful, concept that life coaches (and business coaches, and us ADHD coaches) talk about a lot. When you work from home this balance is a more detailed and intimate thing, I think. With the New Year, and at the (hopeful) end of some very taxing times, it's time for me to re-examine that balance for myself.

As a parent working mostly from my house, with two little ones I'm working hard to advocate for, this balance is about the moment-to-moment arc of my day. There are many things I can't do at all when the kids are home.

In the big picture, this has led to a large backlog of organizing projects that I simply can't do with two little ones, and I've mostly accepted that. On a more immediate level, it's about this:

In the past couple of years, life and work have run best with a certain arc to my day. By my day, I generally mean the day when the kids are at daycare and preschool, so it is quite time-limited. At some phases in their development, I've been able to include some household chores and such in days that they're home with me. At other stages, it has been out of the question.

So the day without the kids includes some coaching, some writing, admin, business  e-mailing and such. It includes a load of laundry and some dishes and ideally getting dinner started. It includes some exercise, which may be a walk up the hill behind my house or a swimming class at the Y. When things are going well I also process the mail when it comes in.

The dishes and laundry actually fit in perfectly to my coaching day; they give me a physical and sensory break that helps me stay focused on my work. My schedule is often full enough that these things cannot become sticky distractions; I don't have that long before the next appointment time- or kid pickup time- arrives. This relative time crunch is something I've considered a benefit of having kids to structure my day.

At one point last year I sat down and looked at the balance between actual coaching time and other time in my workday. I asked other coaches about it- how many clients or client hours do you book, maximum, in a work day? I didn't get that much information from other people, but realized I did well at a maximum of 2 parts coaching time to 1 part admin/slush time. If this was a loose amount, for example, I have 4 regular clients on a 6-hour Tuesday schedule, but I don't work with those clients every week, it gave me enough time to do both some non-coaching business and a bit of household stuff.

And to stop and remind people here, because I think that people working from home put undue pressure on themselves to be continuously productive; people in offices also stop to eat lunch, to go and buy lunch and come back and so forth; to run out for an urgent errand; etc. So washing up some dishes isn't a crazy distraction. And folks in offices have lunch buddies around them all the time- so that if you work from home and occassionally take two hours out of your day to drive somewhere for lunch with somebody, it's still not crazy, and probably doesn't add up to more than the time your office counterparts take when you divide it out. Just a reminder.

No matter. I found a balance in activities- the physical/sensory/coaching/home/work that kept me focused and well, and theoretically kept things running fairly smoothly. But when extra demands came on board in the late fall, the balance was thrown.

The fact that I could go ahead and spend every available ounce of time on things that needed to be handled I think meant that I was doing fairly well to begin with. The other day someone passed on this concept to me: you need to operate at 80% capacity in general, so that when something happens that demands crisis response, you have something available.

I experienced this for myself last week. First let me say that I think I had struck a balance for myself- and then hit a long string of crises. And when I was diagnosed with shingles on December 23, I realized the crises had taken their toll.

But when my grandfather passed away on December 29, I realized I had nothing available. I already had a "free pass;" what I mean is that no one expected me at the funeral (a 6-8 hour drive from here) with shingles, and it pretty much took it off the table. But it really hit home for me that at a certain point, you have nothing available for a crisis. I do not fault myself for being in this position; I dealt quite well with a really big pile of stuff that had to be taken care of immediately for the sake of my children. My body gave me a clear signal that it was time to rest, when the other stuff generally taken care of. But wanting to be at the funeral was not part of the calculus anymore.

I am proud of myself for understanding that. And I did take all holiday festivities as gently as possible. We picked those rituals that would make the traditions happy and vibrant for the kids, and the rest didn't matter. Now that the New Year has begun, and my son starts his new preschool, and a work/childcare schedule is coming back online, it's time to take a look at my balance.

Do I need to adjust my baseline ratio of coaching hours to non-coaching childcare hours?

In other words, how many clients and groups can I take on?

Before (or alongside) that, how much rest do I need to recover physically?

Are other things going to take more time than I have mentally alloted them? Things like advocacy for my kids; business admin; medical appointments?

How is my schedule changing because of my son's new schedule? Do I need to stop working earlier? How would this change the shape of the day?

What does it look like to add back in all the things that "fell out?" Things like walks and loads of laundry?

What will my work days look like next? What is my next normal work-home day arc?