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When I grew up, I wanted to be an artist, complete with the romantic notion of living in a loft full of canvases, drinking red wine with poets and writers. Alas, my foray into painting at university was less than satisfactory and my creativity took a different path when I discovered gold- and silver-smithing. Tools, gold, gemstones! After becoming a jeweller and working in the industry for several years, my journey took another turn when I decided to become a stay-at-home mum.
For three delightful years, I cooked, cleaned and cared for my son and husband, filling in my spare time with creative hobbies. I began playing with my tools again, and after much urging from family and friends, I started my own business. Over time, I taught myself everything I needed to know as I needed it. While I researched how to run a business, I learnt many lessons on how to run that business with a child, then two children, and now three children...
Five years, and many nappies and sales later, here are five of the lessons I have learnt.
1. Make time instead of finding time
This was a huge mindset shift for me. When I was trying to ‘find’ time, I could only find the odd block of free time. But somehow when I had an appointment booked, it was non-negotiable. When I changed my mindset from hobby to business, I realised I needed to ‘schedule’ in work. If I don’t schedule time to go to the gym, I don’t go. If I schedule in work time, I say no to playdates, ignore the laundry and get to work.
I was told early on that if you give your child ten focused minutes of your time, he or she will give you an hour to yourself. This depends a little on the age and temperament of the child, but I have found that even as toddlers, getting down to my children's level and joining in with them, or simply listening to them fills their cup and they are less likely to even notice that I am now doing my own thing.
Naptimes, nighttime, weekends are all great times to get to work. Depending on the type of work you do, you may be able to work at your laptop while your children play beside you. Think about when you work best. Are you a morning person or a night owl? I know I am fresher in the morning for tasks like writing, while I can do repetitive tasks at night. Schedule time for chores, too. Embrace the flexibility of working from home to create a routine that works for your whole family.
2. Enlist help
I am blessed to have a father-in-law who comes to our house and babysits one day a week. That is my bench day. I have tried working with my children in my workshop, and while it is sweet at first, it almost always ends in disaster. There was the time my toddler dropped a steel block on his toe, which resulted in a trip to emergency to stitch it back together. Or the time another of my little ones drew beautiful pictures all over my professionally printed postcards. Or the time my daughter was playing with my metal ring size gauge, which does make a lovely rattling sound, and which has never been seen again.
If you don’t have the convenience of grandparents, enlist friends for babysitting swaps: you take her child one day, she takes yours the next. The kids get two playdates and you get a whole day of work. Think creatively about other blocks of time you could use to work. My gym offers two-hour crèche sessions, which means I can work out and then write on my laptop in the coffee room before collecting my treasures.
Free up your time in other ways by enlisting help. You may not be ready to hand the reins over to an employee, but perhaps you could hire an intern, get a cleaner, hire a courier to pick up your parcels rather than going to the post office, have your stationary orders delivered instead of picking them up at the store and indulging your paper addiction… Think about your rate of pay as a business owner. Is it worth driving half an hour to pick up that item yourself, or would you be better off paying a ten-dollar delivery fee? Can you hire a bookkeeper, invest in a product photographer or ask for guest articles for your blog to free up your time to do the things that only you can do?
3. Batch your days
When I was working full-time (before there were small humans dependent on me), I answered emails, ordered supplies, posted to social media, did paperwork, did bench work and went to the post office each day. Now, I have themes for each day. It stops me from multitasking and is the best use for my time.
One day might be for emails and ordering, another day is my bench day, another is for scheduling social media and another day for packaging and posting orders. Even if I am interrupted a million times, I know exactly what I am up to that day and there is no time wasted getting out the packing supplies five times a week, or making five trips to the post office.
4. Set boundaries
This applies to both yourself and others. It’s easy to get lost in your workday and forget to make time for your children, too. When your scheduled work time is up, resist the temptation to do just a little bit more and focus on your children instead. Go to the park, take a walk, paint a picture, read them a book, bake with them or do your chores with them. These are the things they will remember. These opportunities are the reason you are working from home.
At first, I felt ‘mama guilt’ whenever I was working, feeling like I should be with my children instead, while with my children I felt guilty that I should be attending to my business. I couldn’t win! Over time, I have realised I need to be where I am in the moment. By scheduling my time I can be present with my children while I am with them and forget about work, and while I am working, I need not feel guilty about expressing my creativity and contributing to our finances.
Setting boundaries for others can be more difficult. I am a people pleaser and try to oblige whatever is requested of me. Oh, you need that tomorrow? Sure, not a problem! Argh! It is your business. You make the rules. Learn to say no. Ask for what you need: the time you need, the money you need, even the help you need from your partner.
5. Take Sundays off
Your business won’t love you back, but your children will. Early on, I treated my business like a newborn, attending to its every need immediately. Now I realise it is more like a tween. It needs my help, but can exist independently for longer periods of time without my undivided attention. The separation between home life and work life are blurred when you work from home. There is always so much to do on both fronts that it is easy to become overwhelmed.
Several cycles of overachieving followed by burnout have taught me that much of the pressure is of my own design. Everything doesn’t need to be done at once. Give yourself at least one day off a week when you don’t think about work and focus on your family and yourself instead. Reconnect, do self-care, ignore your emails, work on projects for fun with no pressure or financial goals attached to them.
It's not always easy, and I am often asked how I do it all. I think all business owners have a streak of crazy! But the satisfaction of having my children home with me and being able to build a business and watch it grow as they grow has been the best decision I have ever made.
Christina Lowry is a designer and jeweller who creates fine jewellery for creatives. Her work is featured in several Australian galleries, as well as in her online store. Christina fell in love with jewellery making while studying a Bachelor of Fine Art/Visual Art. Each piece is lovingly made by hand in her Brisbane workshop, incorporating precious metals and gemstones and using traditional metalworking techniques. To see more of her work, visit her website, Facebook page, and follow her on Instagram (@christinalowrydesigns).
Photos by Trudi Le Brese Photography