Creating space for life: lessons on business, babies, and taking business breaks

blog Aug 01, 2023

Every year I set an intention — one word that sums up how I plan to experience the year ahead. That word becomes my north star and helps guide decisions about where I invest my time and energy.

In 2022, my word was ‘spaciousness’.

And with good reason! I was a pregnant Mum of two, getting ready to welcome child number four into our blended family, and I was also at the helm of a growing business with a fully booked schedule and a small team.

I couldn’t have been happier and more grateful. But I also felt like I couldn’t breathe from the pressure (and probably from a growing baby pressing against my ribs!).

I needed to create space — space to take maternity leave and be present in my baby bubble in those very precious early weeks, and space for my team to step up and continue delivering client projects and growing the business… or so I thought.

Here are my lessons and top tips for planning to take maternity leave or an extended break from your business.

Lesson #1: Don’t assume your team wants to take on more responsibility.

In planning for maternity leave, I had gone to market to find a Business Manager to keep things running smoothly while I was away, and to prepare to scale the business when I returned. But, my recruitment efforts came up for naught. I just couldn’t find the person I was looking for.

So, I re-strategised. Perhaps my existing team would welcome an opportunity to share the higher duties and take on the license to run the business?! I was wrong. Off the back of a global pandemic and a very busy 12 months for COMUNiTI, my team told me they didn’t have the capacity to take on anything more. Although I hadn’t planned for this, I completely respected it.

My tip. When you’re making space in your business to step back, or recruiting for any role, remember to ask yourself these two equally important questions:

  1. Do they get it?
    Does the person have the skills and capability to do what you’re asking of them?
  2. Do they want it, and does their personal situation provide the bandwidth for it?
    Does the person really want the role? Will they care about it, in the same way you do? Even if they have rockstar skills and experience, they might not have the mental or emotional capacity to take it on right now. We all have different things going on at certain points in our life, and sometimes a promotion isn’t a motivator.

Lesson #2: Let go and strip out the complexity.

When I realised my team didn’t have the capacity to keep running COMUNiTI at the pace I had been, I needed to step back and get really focused on what was most important. It meant I had to take a deep breath and let go of some things, and that’s hard for me — yep, I’m one of those A-type personalities!

My tip. When you are preparing to take leave, align the team’s priorities to your higher purpose.

  1. Do an audit.
    Step back and look at all the activities your team undertakes. Are all the tasks in
    service of achieving your purpose and goals? Or, have some things crept in and you
    keep doing them because you’ve just always done them?!
  2. Get clear on what’s important.
    After you’ve done an audit, get clear on what can be scrapped altogether, what can be paused, and what must continue while you’re away. It will help everyone understand what needs to be achieved and give you peace of mind that the beating heart of your business will continue while you step away.

Lesson #3: It takes a village to run a business.

After the team and I created a plan for COMUNiTI’s project delivery while I was on leave, it was clear there was still a gap. I needed to think differently about a model for business continuity and a seamless client experience.

My tip. Call on your community.

  1. Unicorns that grow on trees are really hard to find.
    The reality is you’re going to leave a void that needs to be filled. But, recruitment might not be the right path [or near impossible in a tight market!]. And, you might lose a lot of time and a small fortune in recruitment and advertising. An alternative to hiring someone is to call on an outsourced team of trusted partners to support your in-house team and clients while you’re away.
  2. Never be too proud to reach out to people in your corner.
    I leant on my coaches and business friends a lot as I grappled with the question: “How am I going to be able to take time off?!” They helped me think differently about ways to solve my expectant mother, business owner, and team leader challenges so that I could take some short, but blissful maternity leave, and return to the business in a reduced capacity and with a fresh approach. It’s a time that I will cherish forever.

Regardless of why you’re planning time away from your team or your business, or looking to reduce your contact within the business for a period of time, I hope these tips help you make space for life, outside of work.

Mel X

If you’d like to hear more about the ins and outs of my maternity leave preparations, you can listen to Episode 88 of my Podcast, Work Life By Design.


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