Lessons from a virtual assistant to working

Octopus Mum!

As a virtual assistant, a working mother, a wife and a friend, I empathise with the many working mums that I help to get through their ridiculously busy and sometimes impossible days. So, this begs the question – Are you an ‘octopus mum’?

What is an octopus mum? An octopus mum is someone who has many ‘tentacles’ to keep everything in balance.  I have had to grow several ‘tentacles’ to assist me with my daily chores, my family, my friends and then balance these with my home-based business. Sometimes I’m even a ‘juggling’ octopus – keeping all the balls in the air while performing myriad of tasks.

I have learned to become an absolute expert at time management and maintaining focus. It is through these skills that I am able to make my home-based virtual assistant business a useful tool for other working mums. At times, I find it difficult to maintain my priorities in my business, home and personal life while staying focused. I guess that’s my gift, but also what makes me human.

Our daughter no longer lives at home. However, when she pops in for a quick visit, we want to have time together to enjoy one another’s company over a cup of tea or coffee or lunch. The door is always open to friends, clients and business associates to stop in for a quick chat or hot/cold drink.

My husband is amazing and helps when and where he can, however as us girls know, there are some things that we just “need “to be in control of. Everyone wants food, clean clothes, a clean and loving home, but mostly we all want some quality time with our family and friends.

COVID has given us a new perspective on the value of spending time together and enjoying less of the material things in life and more of the love and friendship of human contact. Perhaps the blessing of this pandemic is that most of us have realised the ‘control’ modern technology has had on us all, allowing us to appreciate the love and friendship and personal time we have all neglected.

This applies as much to working dads as mums, as the balance between work-life and family-life is one that challenges us all. Here are just a few tips that have helped our family through this balancing act.

Timeout

When children are naughty, we give them a timeout – time to reflect on the event that just happened and to learn that it is not acceptable behaviour. Yet adults don’t seem to take time out for themselves. Seen in perspective, the ‘naughty’ thing that adults do is often the more ‘unacceptable behaviour’. The missed school play, the lack of time for the bedtime story, the lack of interest in the new picture.

We are all guilty of this and yet we justify it because we are too busy, stressed, too tired. Learn to relax. Even if you are not, when in the presence of your family and friends, try to be as relaxed as possible. They need to think you are coping and are giving them your full attention. Remember time with you should be quality time, not a time of stress…

Eat together

We all have to eat.  Even highly stressed families should make a point of sitting down together at least once a day – preferably for dinner, as it signifies the end of the working /school day and the beginning of family time. Sharing a meal has from time immemorial been a symbol of socialising and joining together in companionship – make this a family tradition too!

If possible, include the family in meal preparation, as this is fabulous bonding time and a great opportunity to have in-depth discussions that may otherwise not happen. Why is this? We are not looking one another in the eye, It has been proven, that children in particular, will open up far better on a difficult subject, if they are not looking you in the eye.  It should be a rule not to have any electronic devices in the vicinity that will distract you.

Set aside at least 20 minutes to be together. If necessary, block this time out in your calendar.

Make Memories

We need to make memories. Just as you should have a ‘date night’ with your spouse on a regular basis, make a ‘fun night’ or ‘play date’ for the whole family. Take in a movie or play games. Make it fun – and regular.

Get Help

If you’re trying to run your own business and keep all the balls in the air, it’s best to get the help of a good, versatile virtual assistant.  Believe it or not, I am a virtual assistant, yet have employed a VA to assist me with tasks I don’t get to.  Is that not a testament to how valuable it is to get help with the things you are not good at, or getting to?

Don’t go on a guilt trip

Many entrepreneurial mums find themselves distracted by feeling guilty about not spending enough time with the family, the kids especially. This is particularly true when mums leave babies to get back to work. The good news is that it is really just about ensuring that you fit in some quality time. Research shows that having a full-time working mum doesn’t have a negative effect on children. It’s actually the quality of time that they get with their parents, rather than the quantity, that matters.

Don’t get distracted

Women have the advantage of being able to multi-task, but don’t overdo it. You have to accept that you only have so many hours in the day and there’s only so much one person can do. By trying to do it all yourself you can actually do more damage than good, so learn to prioritise.

You are going to have to learn to be a master time-keeper, never allowing unnecessary distractions like social media and having coffees with time wasters. Make a daily schedule, ensuring that family time is factored in too – then stick to it!

Learn to delegate

This is the differentiator between success and stress. Learning to delegate will keep you sane and on top of things – be it delegating work or personal tasks to a virtual assistant, or employing an au-pair and/or domestic helper to alleviate the burden, so you can spend time with your family and friends. Don’t be afraid to rope in your husband, mother-in-law or even a friend. Some of them are in the same position as you and feel that by asking for help they are showing weakness.

Multi-tasking

Working parents need to be amazing multitaskers, keeping many balls in the air at once. Ensure you have a good family calendar, where you can record for the activities everyone is involved in throughout the day, week, month and year.  Your outsourced staff need to have access to this. An electronic calendar and possibly a big year planner on the kitchen wall, will solve this problem.

Being a working parent is a privilege, especially in these difficult times.  We need to love and care for ourselves as well as those around us.  Let’s spread the work and help others by helping ourselves.