Nearly two years ago, I chucked in my Managing Director role at a global PR firm to “retire” to the North Coast of NSW, near where I grew up.

At the time, I made the decision as I felt I needed to rebalance my life. Like most MD’s in high-pressure agency roles may find, work had taken over my relationship with my partner, and perhaps most concerning, I used to put more focus on my job than my kids.

I would feel guilty if I had to duck out for a school concert, work from home with a sick child, or leave the office early. And most of the time, I just simply missed those important moments. I felt like it was my fault, I had allowed it to happen and I was to blame, after all, I was the Managing Director.

I am fairly certain every single person in my team would have been happy to see me pop out for some mum duties every now and then – but I never told them, and I rarely did it.

When I told my colleagues and clients I was moving for a sea change, the response was overwhelming. Half the people I spoke to said they had planned a similar move in the future, most said they envied my decision, and lots spoke about it being a brave decision and something they admired.

Looking back now, I was totally burnt out and I didn’t have much choice. Throwing it all in and getting all out was my only way out.

My “retirement” didn’t last long, nor did my short-lived aspiration as an “influencer” as I attempted to capture my transition from MDtoMum. In fact, it lasted about five Insta posts and abruptly stopped after one kind follower saw my daughter’s school-ready hair and sent me a How to braid hair book. Life as an MD can be tough, but the level of scrutiny and expectation that comes with being a mum is next level!

I also quickly realised that I missed a lot about my old job; telling stories, working with clients, being part of a team, and I was a better mum if I had something else to do each day other than focus solely on my children.

Luckily, my friend and the Managing Director of Paper + Spark realised this before I did. She coaxed me out of my hibernation to re-join the world of comms with an opportunity to head up the PR offering in an integrated brand, content and social media consultancy.

And I am forever grateful. I won’t say I have found the elusive balance – as I believe we need to continue to adjust and redefine ourselves and our relationships – but I will say that each day I am grateful for the little things, such as taking the time to make my kids scrambled eggs for breakfast (they used to still be asleep when I went to work), popping up for school assembly (pre-Iso), and even packing school lunches (ok, not every day).

And I am able to do these “little things”, while working with some of the world’s biggest brands and with some of the smartest people in the industry. The juggle is real, but mostly it’s fun and very rewarding.

Today, with physical distancing in place and businesses, teams and brands are finding new ways to work, communicate and connect. I feel I have had a good two year start on some of you, and therefore wanted to share 4 key things I have learnt in the hope they might help you make the most of this unusual time.

  1. Work to your body rhythms

We used to talk about this in our wellbeing sessions, and my young HR manager tried his hardest to encourage early starts and early finishes. But to be honest, in corporate world it is hard to work outside the 9 to 5, or 8 to 7 as it is for some.

Today, I find myself at my laptop at 5.45am every morning. It’s when I feel most creative and focused, it also means I can pump out a good hour of work before my kids find me. It sets up my day and I feel super productive if I can get some things done before the sun comes up.

Mid-morning, I meet my PT for a quick session in the park that helps me re-energise and focus for the afternoon. By 3/4pm, I’m done, which means I can switch off and concentrate on my kids.

It works for me, and it works for them. This schedule doesn’t work for everyone. My colleague does the opposite – as her power hours are late at night when her kids are in bed. She’s tried the early mornings, but just meant she was working even more hours in the day, which is not the objective here. The key is to get to know your own body rhythms. Recognise when you are most productive and when you hit your slump, and work around them.

  1. Commit to connecting

Working remotely can be lonely. As a team player, I found it really hard in the early days not be able to bounce ideas around face-to-face and have those water-cooler conversations. My Netflix recommendations these days come from the socials instead!

Working from home means you need to make more effort to stay connected with your colleagues and clients. My Mondays are spent on the phone, just to chat and check in and do the occasional Zoom call (with video on and a smile!) While video conferencing is now all the rage, a phone chat does the trick (and I’m not stuck behind the monitor). But a smiling face can make your day.

  1. Set boundaries and treat the home like the workplace

Ok, this can be a little tricky. Working from home means the allure of the TV, fridge, and even the washing machine can provide timely distractions. Sure, take advantage and throw a load on, but also set yourself a routine and stick to it. And be honest with yourself.

If you’re having a bad day and finding it hard to focus, recognise that and work to understand why it feels that way. Try to do something differently the next day, and don’t beat yourself up if you have a slack day, just try not to have too many in a row.

A little thing, but a goodie – know when the garbage man arrives or when the strata gardeners are in. Nothing is as distracting when you are on an important call than someone starting up a lawn mower just as you’re about to present.

And let your friends and family know about your new routine. Family calling in for a video chat in the middle of a work day is not always helpful, but Dad, you are always welcome for that coffee break in the morning.

  1. Lastly, be kind to yourself

Maybe think of this time as your own “sea change” moment, or a chance to re-balance. I know things are tough, but try to make the most of the opportunity. After all, how often do we get the chance to re-evaluate how we connect with people, consciously consider how we structure our days or be able to combine work with family time? You don’t need to burn out, like I did, to make change.

I’ve had two years to adjust to working differently, redefine my role, and my work and family relationships. Hopefully physical distancing will soon be a thing of the past, but in the meantime, take advantage of this “new normal”. Go for a walk in the middle of the day if you need to refocus, finally stay on top of that washing while conducting a conference call, and enjoy a lazy relaxed breakfast of scrambled eggs with your kids, even on a school day.

Penelope Holloway is Head of PR & Brand at Paper+Spark.

   balance, brand, burnout, PR, public relations, relationships
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