I apologise for not writing a blog post in a while. Work and family life has been incredibly busy and this post seems quite fitting given the title and content!
To put my life into perspective, check out the title photo of this blog. My wife Poppy was ill recently with flu and the kids were getting over illness too so our house was a joy to be in! I wrote a LinkedIn post about having one of those days. I had a couple of meetings to attend plus plenty of paperwork but needed to look after the kids. I got to the meetings but had a bit of a nightmare day. A delivery guy walking oil into the office when I wasn’t even supposed to be there, the cat being sick on my foot and IT issues preventing me from getting on as quick as I had hoped. I have duties as a business owner but also as a parent. Sometimes I have to be both at the same time.
I started my business in 2010 when I was childless, single, had no responsibilities and nothing to lose. Now, the business turnover is more than £1million, I am married and have a 3-year-old girl and 10-month-old boy. My goodness, life has changed!
I am a company director. I source work, tender for projects and manage them through to handover and maintenance. I have employees directly report to me including engineers, managers, admin staff and apprentices. We are an SME so my role is very diverse but needless to say, I am incredibly busy. My wife Poppy is a full-time mother but is also a freelance writer and blogger. She blogs about simple living, instinctive parenting, vegan lifestyle and travel at Poppy Reflects. Check out her blog, she is an amazing writer!
In general, I go to work Monday to Friday. I am usually out of the door by 6am and get back by 6pm. I used to work weekends but I now make a point of saving that as family time unless an emergency occurs or it is business critical. Prior to having children, I worked 7 days a week and my hours were much longer during the week. Poppy looks after the children. Our 3-year old goes to pre-school for a few hours, 3 days a week. Both kids also go to a creche a couple of hours a week while Poppy goes to the gym. That tiny amount of time in the gym is the only alone time Poppy has during the week. My alone time is driving to and from work.
As soon as I get home, the hard work of my day starts! I take my shoes off, change into my lounge pants and slippers and take charge of the children while Poppy cooks us a delicious homecooked meal. It is then an army routine to get the toddler in bed by 7.30pm. She only goes to sleep with me taking her to her bed. Actually, she doesn’t sleep on her lovely expensive bed, she sleeps on a mattress on the floor. Apparently, it is more comfortable. Each evening, we talk about her day, read stories and eventually she goes to sleep. Sometimes this can take an hour or so. It used to take two or more! Our youngest is so clingy to Poppy so she tends to settle him but she can’t leave him so ends up staying with him in our bed and working on her laptop and carrying out tasks like work on our YouTube channel – Dans the Engineer or ordering the Ocado food shop until she goes to sleep. That is the case 7 days a week. I on the other hand, once our daughter is asleep, get lunches ready, do some house work and then do some work on my YouTube channel – Dans the Engineer, paperwork or read some electrical / fire based content, quite often whilst catching up on some boxset like Game of Thrones.
At weekends, I get up early both days to sort stuff round the house and look after the children while Poppy gets as much sleep as she can (she still gets up at 7.30am -8am!). Once all up and fed we get out the house early and go do some activities. We see family and friends occasionally when possible. Weekends are family time but there is always something to do round the house. We have a cleaner every other Friday which is a godsend but that just touches the surface really.
My wife suffers from depression and health anxiety. She has had post-natal depression since our baby boy was born. It is hard to empathise when I have never suffered the same mental illness, but I know my duty and I do everything I can to assist. I feel guilty for not doing anymore really.
Needless to say, our lives are busy. We don’t have family on our door step and most of our friends live far away all over the UK so we don’t have anybody that is often easily available to give a hand with our family life. Plus, we don’t expect help. We are a family unit but getting that work-life balance is tough. It seems to be more work, work, work, than play.
So, what is the priority, work or home? It is an easy answer really. Home! But to do the things we wish and live the life we want to, we have to work to afford such luxuries and lifestyle. Well that’s what I have always thought.
It is a vicious cycle but really what is the point in working to the point of exhaustion when you cannot reap the rewards?
As soon as we started a family, it was evident that life was soon to change and boy did it! I didn’t comprehend exactly how much it would change. Nothing has been the same since. Financially, priorities and mindset! I immediately found a purpose for working. All I knew since school age was to work and earn money but is money everything? Up to that point I was working myself into the ground but wished to spend time with my beautiful daughter. Having a family also hits the finances hard! Not only do you have extra mouths to feed, backs to clothe and things to buy like nappies, books and toys, you also have to work out childcare. Childcare is the expensive part!
We decided to have children when we did because Poppy’s career wasn’t kicking off how she had hoped. We wanted children whilst being ‘young’ so it was a no brainer for us. Business was booming, we had a house and felt that we were ready. The plan was for her to look after the children because financially we would be better off. I understand that in some families, both parents will eventually go back to work. If the lowest earning parents wage is far greater than the cost of childcare, I can understand why you would both go back to work. Each family has to sum up what is best for them. It is always tricky no matter what and financially difficult unless you earn a serious wage. But then again, it all depends on your lifestyle too and what you are comfortable with.
For us, Poppy wanted to spend time with the children, she enjoys the interaction and motherly instinct kicks in. Don’t get me wrong, this is tough! Our children are not an easy bunch to keep happy for long. They need regular entertainment and stimulation. It is mentally draining. I consider what I do at work is a breeze in the park compared to caring for the kids. When I get home from work I am at the back end of the day so they are tired, hungry and irritable but even at weekends when I have them on my own when Poppy is working, I sit there wondering how on earth she does it! Perhaps I don’t have the patience but I fully respect any child carer whether you are paid to do it or are a parent. I only came to this conclusion because I know how hard it is. I probably wouldn’t have the same thoughts if I didn’t have children. This is an experience in life that has changed my view on certain groups of people. My experience helps me understand others and changes how I assess various situations.
I think you get the idea that life is tough! I had to find ways to help work-life balance. In fact I still am searching for ways to improve the balance because it really is work bias. The first thing I looked into was managing my time better. In business, time equals money. Save time and you’ll save money or make more of it. I started looking at our procedures so I could reduce my working day to get home at a sensible time to perform my home duties. I also needed to find ways to be available occasionally to take my eldest to nursery or look after the children when Poppy needed to be somewhere.
First of all, I made sure that I can access our company database remotely. Why on earth I didn’t do this before is crazy but then I didn’t feel I had a need. Sometimes in life, something has to happen to make you stop and re-evaluate. Having children done that for me. I can work from home if necessary. I try not to when everybody is in because I don’t like any distractions but quite often I am carrying out site visits nearer to home than the office, so I like the flexibility to work where is suitable to save on travelling time. I also like the ability to be able to work in the evening if required so my working hours can suit what I need to do in the day. My job involves hours of paperwork each week so fortunately I am able to do this whereas I appreciate some others aren’t in the same position. However, I put myself in this position. I have also created templates for quotes using very simple Microsoft documents so once I have been to survey a job or our team have carried out an electrical condition report that needs a remedial quote, I just need to input details, add the material costs and it is done. I just need the physical time to complete it to send it off. This saves so much time oppose to starting a quote from scratch.
Technology has been a great part of reducing my time but also processes in how we operate as a business. Everything has been streamlined so we store all information in detail for each job. Clients have a file on our system that we can dig out information as and when, almost like an asset register. The efficiency of our management is incredible compared to what it was several years ago. All admin and managers work in the same way and to be fair, we have a great team. We have to make sure we are on the same page and communication is key – another example of how technology assists and that using email, CRM systems and field based software is imperative. All done on a mobile device!
I think you get the idea that the careful use of technology is a fantastic investment and it really doesn’t need to cost much if you make the right choice.
I know competitors who employ additional admin staff to carry out works that can be done automatically and more efficiently. It helps us stay competitive within the market but also maximises profits. This is also great to reduce financial risk within the business. I don’t like the idea of robots replacing people but I’m also all for efficiency.
Anyway, back to home life. Recently, we have decided that we need to change our lives to make things as simple as possible because although I have created more time to be at home, it still isn’t quite where it needs to be. I believe it is very easy to get wrapped up in modern society and spend money on consumable products that quite frankly are not needed. We are in the process of minimalizing our lives. We have sold so many things we don’t use or need on eBay, given lots away to charity and stopped purchasing anything that really is unnecessary. I personally only want a few items that I would consider my top possessions so I am cool with throwing so much out but in truth, do children really need so much stuff? I don’t think so. Having gone through the process of selling our belongings, we are now open to purchasing second hand items too because you can pick up some great bargains plus you have the added bonus of being part of a more sustainable process by wasting less and recycling.
I believe things should be kept in simple form. Why over complicate? Work out processes to manage time more efficiently. Make use of technology and work in a smarter manner. If you are unhappy with your work-life balance, you should definitely change it. Only you can do that.
Being a father and husband is by far the priority in my life so I shouldn’t feel like I should be spending more time concentrating on my family. We are still very much working on getting the work-life balance in our favour and appreciate having young children is a very hard section of our lives, but I do feel we could be doing much more. If I could have anything in life right now, it would be time! When I work out the next instalment of the work-life balance, I will let you know.