Returning to work after maternity leave can be an emotional and challenging process that’s different for every new mom. Some things may be outside your control: everything from your company’s workplace culture to its willingness to offer flextime opportunities can impact the transition process. You’ll need to get back up to speed on everything from client projects to new hires. There are also more personal logistic concerns to keep in mind, like juggling childcare and breastfeeding.
As the mother of two young children, I’ve navigated the challenge of returning back to work from maternity leave twice in recent years. One of the best things I did for myself was return to work in the middle of the week: a full 40+ hours away from your new baby can be a big transition. Easing back into work with a mid-week return helped our new family get our bearings– and also made it easier for me to get up to speed at work.
While there’s no magic solution for achieving work-life balance, from trial and error I’ve found these four tips work well for me:
1. Focus on “single-tasking”.
You don’t have to be a new mom to know that multi-tasking isn’t the most effective strategy for tackling a to-do list! Multi-tasking decreases your productivity by as much as 40 percent. And as a new mom, even getting a single task accomplished can sometimes feel impossible. That’s why at work I focus on being present and bringing intentionality to every task at hand. I block time throughout the day for specific projects and, to the best of my ability, focus exclusively on that project during that period, maximizing my in-office productivity. I’ve also brought this approach to my personal life. I may not have checked off the entire work to-do list on a given day, but when I’m at home with my family, I focus on being present in that moment– rather than worrying about the email I still need to send.
2. Find a schedule that works for you, your family and your team.
Every family is different: don’t be afraid to experiment until you find the rhythm that works for you. For me, this means arriving at work early in the morning so I can organize my inbox and knock out any administrative tasks before the day starts. An early arrival also means I skip most of the morning rush hour and maximize my time in the office. I’m able to leave by mid-afternoon and be home to share an early dinner with my family and put the kids to bed. The key is to stick to a consistent schedule: my coworkers respect my earlier departure time because they know I’ll be in the office first thing each morning. If something pops up after I leave for the day, my team knows I’ll address it first thing in the morning before the workday officially starts.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
As a new mother, I was lucky to have supportive friends and relatives to lean on during those early months. After returning to work, I realized my coworkers could be an important part of that support team, too. Here at Lucas Group’s Denver office, a coworker and I serve as each other’s “allies”. If I have a sick child who needs to go home early from daycare, I can count on my coworker to cover me at work, and vice versa. I never want to deliver less than 100 percent for a client. By having an in-office ally, I’m able to be fully present for my clients and my family.
4. Make networking work for you.
As a new parent, the idea of attending an industry happy hour is probably at the bottom of your to-do list, and that’s okay. Networking is still critical, but you can structure the process differently. For me, this means opting for more early morning coffee meet-ups or working lunches rather than happy hours. When I was younger, I jumped at the chance to attend every networking happy hour that I could. Now that I’m at a different stage in my career, I’m more selective about which events I attend. When I do attend an event, I commit to being fully present and maximizing my time investment.
Returning to work after maternity leave is a different process for every mother. What approach has worked well for you? I’d love to hear more about your experience in the comments below.