Work/life balance for mums – try these simple exercises

April 17, 2016


Last week I held a workshop in work/life balance (WLB from hereon in because I’ve had a long day), with expert Zeta Yarwood sharing her insights and advice – did you really think I’d be the expert on that?! Zeta talked twelve working mums, who were a truly lovely bunch, with jobs ranging from author to talent acquisition, through a series of exercises to help us focus.


 Last week’s work/life balance workshop at Common Grounds

First, of course, we chatted and ate (thank you Common Grounds for hosting and feeding us – the jerk chicken was insane), sharing stories of working and motherhood in Dubai; the good (home help), the bad (maternity leave – obviously) and the ugly (you can imagine).


Life and career coach Zeta Yarwood

Zeta is truly passionate about people getting the most from their lives, and WLB is a huge topic, requiring hours of coaching, but this session was a really useful way to get us thinking. As she says, “WLB is not a destination – it’s a continuous journey. Life, values, priorities all change over time. What looks like WLB now might not look like that in a year’s time”.

Getting starting

“Remember, we and we alone are accountable for the results we get in life” Zeta explains. “If we’re not happy with something, it’s up to us to change it. We are the experts of our own lives – only we know what works and what doesn’t work for us. So not one size fits all solution – we have to find solutions that work for us and not listen to other people’s opinions of what they think we “should” be doing”.

The exercises

You will need a notebook (any excuse to go to Paperchase) and some quiet time (I know, I know…).

Step 1. Think carefully about what you want from life. Think about what your ideal day would look – not when you’re on holiday, but if you have a job that needs to be part of it. Write about it all, from waking up to bedtime. What does your house look like, the view, who’s in the house, what time do you get up, how do you get to work, what is the office like, is it an office, do you work alone or with a team, how big, what is the nature of the company and your work…? All the way to when you go to bed. Fill those pages with what WLB looks like to you.

Step 2. Where are you now? Next write down what your current day looks like, including all the details.

Step 3. Compare the above. Maybe you’re not too far off your ‘dream’ life, or perhaps there are some major gaps. When assessing the gaps, what emotions come up? Anything like stress or sadness indicate that your current life is not aligned to your values – the things that drive us and motivate us. The things we must be experiencing to get out of bed happy in the morning.

Step 4. Next, write down a list of your values – aim for 10 to 20. Here are some ideas to get you started: family, communication, knowledge, creativity, laughter, friendship, helping people, justice, education, innovation, achievement, respect, empowerment, order, growth, self-expression…

Step 5. Narrow down your list to the top five, and think about what changes you need to make in work or at home, to align your life with your values. For example, if family is one of your most important values, you need to prioritise and really experience it (hands up if you are on your phone too much when with the kids). It might be that your job is aligned with your values, but your boss or company isn’t. Or maybe your job goes against everything you believe to be important. Some might be small changes (put the phone away), while some might be big (having a gap year with your family).

Zeta also shared with us the ‘big rocks in a jar’ analogy, otherwise known as First Things First, by Dr Stephen R Covey. Don’t know it? Read on…

“One day this expert was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration I’m sure those students will never forget. After I share it with you, you’ll never forget it either.

As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

Then he smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”

“No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

What are the big rocks in your life? A project that you want to accomplish? Time with your loved ones? Your faith, your education, your finances? A cause? Teaching or mentoring others? Remember to put these Big Rocks in first or you’ll never get them in at all.”

Whether you keep a diary on your phone or plan a month ahead using a calendar, making your values a priority in your day-to-day life is the key to improving your work/life balance, whether it’s a regular family afternoon, a weekly yoga class for calmness, booking a few hours with your husband without the kids at the weekend, volunteering, starting a class, course or new hobby, or spending time making strides on changing up your career.

It’s not a quick fix. It’s about recognising what makes you tick, and incorporating it into your life, making little and big changes that add up to a happier you.

To learn more, contact Zeta on, and stay tuned to the Facebook page for future events.

Don’t Forget To Play card by Marc John, available here

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