Category Archives: Work/Life Balance

Healthy work-life balance for teens

My thoughts published in my quarterly advice column for a community magazine.

My mum says it’s important to eat healthily and to exercise and to keep a healthy work/life balance so I don’t get stressed. I however find this very challenging as there never seem to be enough time in the day to get it all in. Can you please give me some tools to help me with managing my time better so that my life will be more balanced and I can live in a healthier way.

The life of a teenager is very busy and can feel stressful.  In this case your mum is 100% right.  Eating healthily and learning how to manage your time so that you get enough sleep and exercise are life skills that you will benefit from throughout adulthood.  It is far easier to establish good habits and routines when you are young. Good time management can help you find extra time for the things that really matter.

Firstly let me explain why sleep, diet and exercise are so important for your physical and mental health. These 3 factors keep your operating system on top form.


There is a very clear link between feeling stressed and lack of sleep. The amygdala is the part of the brain that is the seat of emotions and anxiety.  When it senses a threat it goes into fight, flight or freeze mode and when it’s tired the brain struggles to tell the difference between threat and non-threat.

During adolescence the natural sleep hormone (melatonin) is released later than in children or adults, which is why teenagers often struggle to fall asleep. Ideally you should be getting 9 hours a night.  School starts early so you really need to force yourself to get into bed at a decent time. This can be hard when there’s lots of homework and other activities happening.

Be aware that the light from screens delays the release of melatonin, so try switching to a book, music or mindfulness at least an hour before bedtime.


The gut and the brain are very closely connected and the gut is like our ‘second brain’. When the gut is unbalanced it affects your mood and stress levels. Teenagers tend to prefer fast foods but eating healthily (fruit, vegetables and less processed food) will lower stress levels.  Don’t forget that drinking water also improves your memory and helps you to think clearly. Try to avoid caffeine after 2pm.


Any form of physical activity helps you rest and de-stress. It gives you more energy but at the same time improves the quality of your sleep.  Even 20 minutes of walking can have a real impact on your well-being, so try to incorporate extra walking into your daily routine, such as getting off 1 bus stop earlier than usual or always committing to walking up escalators and not using lifts.

How can you manage time better?

  • We often start with very good intentions but after a few days lose momentum. Positive habits are how you create real change, so start small with tiny changes and targets.  Getting into the daily routine of doing things in a certain way or order helps you work on auto pilot so you don’t have to waste time thinking what to do next.
  • Take some time (Sundays are usually best) to think about the coming week and make a list of your goals. 

Put these goals into 3 categories:

What really needs to get done (homework or revision)

What you would like to get done (less urgent)

What you want to do (perhaps exercise or seeing friends)

Try to have a real sense of how long each task takes and be a time realist as opposed to time optimist. Your overall productivity will really improve when you begin to understand how long things really take rather than how long you think they will take.

  • Use a planner, wall calendar or app to map out your weekly schedule of what you are doing when and how long for. There are so many available but it’s about finding one that works for you. Set aside time after school for homework, extracurricular activities, exercise and unstructured down time. Being organised saves a lot of time and stress. 
  • Set limits on your screen for things like social media or playing games as these activities can steal huge amounts of time without you realising it. Constant screen interruptions strain your brain and contaminate your time.  Use a timer in 30 minute intervals for any task, which prevents time passing away without too much thought.
  • It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed. Break large tasks down into manageable chunks with deadlines and they won’t feel as daunting. Small steps make something big seem possible to get the ball rolling and help with procrastination.
  • Know yourself and which times of the day you function best.  Everyone goes through phases and there are times when you are really in flow and fully focused, times when attention is quite active and times when you are feeling tired. Think about all the tasks you have to do which require full focus and what you can do that’s quite easy and repetitive to complete in the time when your attention is flagging, so you can switch tasks and make use of all the different times.
  • Chunk your time to minimise constant multitasking and create periods of uninterrupted time to be with friends, family or exercise.

Time management is something that many adults struggle with and needs to be learnt. The best time to start is right now.

It’s hard but so valuable to try to spend more time on things that are not urgent but still very important. What matters more than what we are doing is how we feel about it.

Our perception of time is our reality. cked0

How to successfully return after maternity leave

I’ve been talking to a number of businesses lately whose focus is on supporting those going on extended leave and in particular their return. There are numerous initiatives organisations can introduce that make a real difference (workshops and employee networks to name a couple) – but what about individuals? What can we do to help ourselves?

Going back to work after looking after your new child is tough. Even if you love your job and have the most supportive team going.  Even if part of you is really looking forward to getting back to work. Therein lies the first clue. It’s not just about you anymore. So you may feel guilty about being excited about going back to work, even before you step through the office door. I know I did. Did that make me a bad mother? Had I chosen the right balance between work and home? How would that effect both parts of my world? Your emotions play a big part in this. And if you step back for a moment, this is a good thing. It will help you bring more to your role (more on that another time) but it’s important to let your rational brain play its part too. So what can you do?

1. Start before you go

Some conversations are much easier to have before you disappear on extended leave. You are likely to need more flexibility when you come back, formally or informally. If you already have an idea what that looks like for you, start sounding out colleagues and peers before you go. Think about your key stakeholders too – what are their concerns likely to be? Is there anything you can do to allay those now?

2. And do some prep before your first day back –

You might feel you shouldn’t have to but if you take the initiative you’ll walk back in feeling more confident which has to be a good thing. What am I talking about? Arrange a catch up / pop in with your baby and find out what’s changed since you left. Who are the new team members, has the business restructured, what are the current major projects / priorities? Set up meetings with your key stakeholders for your first week back. And check on the practical stuff – the IT – is everything going to be good to go on Day 1 or will you be left awkwardly feeling like the new girl / boy but probably worse as everyone will expect you to sort it out yourself?

3. Make use of KIT days and accrued annual leave –

KIT days are a great way to do that prep and slowly reintegrate, particularly if your team has regular meetings or offsites. You can also use them as a way of doing a few days a week before you go back to your full pattern (whatever that may be), and test out your childcare arrangements so when you’re properly back you have one less thing to worry about. The same goes for annual leave. You accrue a lot while you’re off (including public holidays) and it’s worth considering adding it to the end of your leave either in a block or in odd days.

4. Remember nothing lasts forever –

When you first go back it’s tempting to think you have to get everything right immediately so that your new work/home arrangement will work all round. The reality is like anything new, it evolves and changes, and you need to evolve and adapt with it. You don’t have to get everything right on day one.

5. Be honest with yourself and others about what you need –

Whether it’s the hours you want to work or at what pace, avoid assumptions being made – because you can guarantee they will be if you don’t make it clear.

6. Seek out support – from others in the same boat.

If your organisation has a parent or family network and / or offers transition workshops, sign up. If they don’t there’ll always be others like you, even if not in the same team / department. And whether it’s a regular coffee with someone who’s “been there done that”, or a chat between meetings with a colleague who’s also recently come back and “gets it”, finding those you can share moments with or even just a knowing look can make all the difference – so make it one of your priorities in your first few weeks back to build yourself a network.

By Catherine Oliver – facilitator at Educating Matters specialising in maternity coaching and work-life balance

Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love & Play

I regularly read books on ‘parenting’. In fact it has become a bit of an obsession! I am fascinated to find out what techniques other experts have discovered, what advice they give and what the latest research shows. I thought it would be helpful every now and then to share some ineresting things I have learnt from my reading so you don’t necessarily have to go away and read the whole book!

I get so many questions from parents I meet in corporates about how to balance/merge work and family life so the title of this book was very enticing.

Below is a summary of some of my favourite take aways from the book

Firstly, the point is raised that people tend to exaggerate how busy they are and saying “I don’t have time” can be another way of saying “I’d rather do something else”. Busyness has become a sign of high social status.

Our perceptions of time and how we spend it can be powerfully wrong.  However our perception is our reality.

Studies have consistently found that those who feel the most crunched for time are women.

Psychologist Erik Erikson said

“The richest and fullest lives attempt to achieve an inner balance between three realms: work, love and play.”

‘Contaminated’ time is when you are overloaded by too many roles, namely work and family. Your brain is full of different demands.  It’s the constant switching of roles that creates the feeling of time pressure and we need to find ‘time serenity’. Contaminated time saps mental energy and makes us feel stressed.


Research shows that work is more productive when employees have more control and predictability around their time and workflow. If you have time for your life, you are more productive for a business. Performance, not hours should be measured. In Denmark you get a lot of status for what you do in your leisure time. If you are working long hours, that actually suggests you are doing something wrong and being inefficient.


Studies show that in families where both partners share work, child care and household duties, they are the most satisfying. Human happiness is built on meaningful connections with other humans so take care of yourselves and be mindful of how you spend your time, how you to talk to each other, build support networks and savour moments of connection.


Making time for play, saves your soul. Play enables us to improvise, imagine, innovate, learn, solve problems, and be open, curious, resilient and happy. Very few women engage in pure play for its own sake. True leisure is free from obligation and being really present. Play is also a state of mind: feeling light and keeping your brain flexible.

Tips on managing time:

  • Time flow is when you are truly engaged in something and lose track of time altogether. You can do this when you have a sense of choice and control over what you are using your time for and when you can pursue things that are meaningful to you.
  • You can’t manage time but you can manage the activities you choose to do in it. Work out what’s important and carve out firm boundaries for uninterrupted time at work and home or for time to recharge. How much is enough? When is it good enough?
  • Chunk your time to minimise the multi-tasking.
  • Pulse so you alternate between periods of intense work and time for rest and renewal
  • If you procrastinate and avoid a task set a timer so you can stay focused on an unpleasant task for a short period.
  • Breaks inspire creativity.
  • Do a brain dump and just write down all your thoughts, worries and things you need to do. Far better to have this down on paper than in your head!