Working mothers: this is how to work smarter (not harder)

Annie Ridout

For working mums, confined to working in the hours between school drop-off and pick-up, there can be a temptation to spend every minute at the laptop, tapping away – and then dash out the door at the very last minute. But there is a better way…

Words: Annie Ridout

I was cycling home from town with my daughter. She was on a scooter, on the pavement, while I rode beside her, on the road. I was pedalling hard, to mount the uphill slope towards our home and then stopping, to let my daughter catch up.

Usually, I’d pedal as fast as I can to make it up the hill in one go. But taking breaks made it so much easier. It felt like my body – breath, heart-rate, legs – was recovering before I continued on up the hill. It made me think: I should do this every time I cycle home.

Catch my breath; let my body rest. Slow the hell down.

My approach to business is much like my approach to cycling: go go go go go and don’t stop until you reach the end (of the project/work day). I then get back on my bike, strapping on my helmet as I launch out of my drive and onto the road, to collect my kids from school.

I reckon a lot working mothers do this. In fact, a poll from my Instagram Stories revealed that 92% of working mothers work right up until the last minute, rather than finishing early and leaving some time to reset, or shift from ‘work mode’ to ‘mum mode’.

Though I have one very clever friend, Lizzie, who takes a different approach, dividing her working day up into neat chunks.

So after dropping her kid at school, Lizzie gets home and works for 1.5 hours – the longest amount of time she feels she can remain productive, in one stretch – and takes a 15-minute break. She goes for a walk around the block, returns home, makes a cup of tea and settles back down for the next 1.5-hour stretch.

This continues through the day.

What it means is that she has a productive burst of work time and then as she takes a break – walking, in the fresh air – a bunch of new ideas land. Being sat stagnant at a laptop is not the optimum spot for creative thinking but moving your body, outdoors, is.

Lizzie returns from her walk and actions some of those ideas.

The illusion we are under, as working mothers, is that hammering away will mean we get through the entire workload in one sitting and before the (short) work day is up. But actually, we lose a certain amount of concentration and probably start to find ourselves becoming distracted, or overwhelmed.

So after that first 1.5/2-hour period of productivity, we’re no longer doing our best work. The standards are slipping. At that point, it’s worth stopping and going for a walk, as Lizzie does. Or having an early lunch, before getting back to the desk for another burst of activity before it’s time to collect the kids.

And stopping at least 20 minutes before leaving the home for the school run may help with that shift from working to motherhood. It leaves time for a cup of tea or a snack, perhaps some reflection on the working day and to mentally prepare for an afternoon and evening with the kids.

I’m going to make a deal with myself to schedule in more breaks throughout my day and to stop at least 20 minutes before the school run. Want to join me? Email me: and I’ll check in with you.

Photo credit: Helen Kichen Brand Photography

Author: Annie Ridout