My work/life balance

Rhiannon asked me this question recently on my Emma Makes Facebook page…  “Is there any chance you could write a blog post about how you divide your time/find balance between work and sewing? And how you decide which which things to sew next?”

Sure can and here it is. To start, here’s my typical working day. I work Mon-Thurs in Wellington then have Friday at home (as you know)…

5am On days that I’m not going to yoga at lunchtime or having a rest day (and getting up at 6am) this is the time I get up. I eat breakfast and drink coffee while checking emails and looking at stuff on the internet. Then I go outside and exercise.

7.30am is the last train from Featherston to Wellington in the morning and the one that Tom and I take to work. The train ride is an hour so it’s a good time to listen to podcasts, read books or sleep (I do a combination of all three of these most weeks).

8.45am is the time I get to work. I work in an office in Wellington where I’m in charge of social media and online communications. I religiously use Teux Deux to keep track of tasks that need to be done at work and home as well as ideas for things like blog posts. I’m a huge fan of organisational tools and have everything at work either written in a calendar in front of my keyboard or in an Excel spreadsheet so I know what’s happening, what needs to happen and what needs to be chased up on. I also have my email set up so that anything I get copied into goes into a ‘cc’ file that I occasionally look at. Cc stuff is just for my information rather than priority tasks so I don’t want to be distracted by it.

12.00pm I don’t often take a lunch break. I usually either go to yoga (once or twice a week) or just do computer stuff that’s not work related like tap out a few blog post ideas, search for images, catch up on personal emails, update my Facebook page etc. 

5.00pm Is the time I leave work – I take the 5.30pm train home. I often sleep on the way home.

6.40pm is when Tom and I get home. Tom cooks the dinner, I make the fire and wash the dishes. Tom dries and puts the dishes away the following morning. Sometimes in busy weeks the dishes don’t always get done and nobody really cares.

After dinner I like to watch trash  TV or a movie while pinning/hand sewing/doing other craft tasks.

9.30pm Bed time. I really can’t stay up later than this so I don’t. I also love my bed and sleep easy so it’s never a chore to head off to the land of nod. I once found my Plunket book that said I slept through the night as a baby from two weeks old.


My top tips for creating a work/life balance

  • Decide what makes you happy and content and do that. Most days I rate myself a 9 or 10/10 on the happiness scale and it’s not because I have the tidiest house, the best-paying job, the greatest fame or have slept as much as I’d like to.
  • Decide what’s important to you and do that. A friend recently said to me that I never go out to the pub when she invites me. I told her my craft label doesn’t run itself. For me, what’s important on a Saturday night is making things for Emma Makes and watching Midsomer Murders.
  • Change your mindset from “I’m too busy” to “that’s not a priority for me” – although perhaps don’t say that to other people when you’re telling them why you can’t meet them for lunch.
  • Prioritise – at our house (for me) Tom is always more important than craft, craft is almost always more important than housework.
  • Have strategies. Whenever someone comes to stay at our house I like it to be tidy so I tidy up first – it creates the illusion that it’s always that way. The key to this success? Never ever allow surprise visits. I promote the idea that surprise visits are unwelcome at our house and so far it’s working.
  • Try not to compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy.
  • Know how to get out of a rut. For me getting out of a rut often involves a detailed list, a good clean of the house and a bunch of flowers.
  • Under promise, over deliver.
  • Get some exercise – although it takes time that you can use for other stuff it really pays off. It stops me over-thinking and being negative about myself for starters.
  • Plan time for resting.
  • Plan time for the important people in your life. Sometimes if I’ve spent too many weekends sewing in the studio I plan for Tom and I to go out for a day (like to the beach). Going for a short walk together is also good (and free).
  • Be proactive by establishing things that make your life easier in the long run. For example, I sometimes write blog posts when I’m in the mood then schedule them to go out at a later date. When someone orders from my Felt shop I email them to let them know that I’ve packaged up their order and put it in the post and when they can expect it. It’s good customer service but it also stops emails wondering where their purchase is later on when I might be busy.
  • Eliminate negativity – I jealously guard my mind space, which can be hard when you spend a lot of time online and naturally over-think. I unfollow people on Twitter, hide Facebook friends that only whine and stop reading blogs I no longer care about.
  • Delegate stuff. I have a great photographer take photos of my Emma Makes products and at home Tom and I share cooking/cleaning chores equally. There’s no way you should try and do everything yourself.
  • Don’t read bad books.


How I decide what to make next for Emma Makes?
Notebooks and pencils are my top sellers for Emma Makes so I always make sure I have lots in stock. About now I”m beginning to stockpile for Christmas and since this is also what my stockists want most then I make sure I have lots on hand.

In terms of sewing, I like to mainly sew in seasons. I’ve just finished off my spring bags (which are now at the photographers) and am cutting out summer ones. I’ve found this ‘theme’ sewing pretty handy for cranking out new gear but being realistic about it.

Other times, especially quiet sales periods (like winter) I’ll just sew whatever takes my fancy. I recently went on a stuffed kitten binge and sewed 46 of those because it was fun and I know I can sell them.

My number one rule is that any commissions or orders for stockists get done ahead of anything else I want to do for myself.

18 Responses to My work/life balance

  1. Emma. You are my hero. You and my mother. She has always told me to “Under promise, over deliver.” I tend to over promise, and then try and over deliver on my over promises. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. I am going to read this page a few times. We do share some strategies – cleaning the house, bunch of flowers, and exercise always get me out of a rut too. At the moment I’m trying to organise part-time PhD so I can not collapse from stress, re-prioritise, and raise that happiness level up. Thanks for the awesome blogs.

    • tomandemma says:

      Do what your mother says – it’s a great mantra. I’m a chronic over-achiever but if I’m stressed or injured then I can’t do anything. I try and remember that – and ask Tom to help me remember that when I can’t. It’s taken quite a bit of retraining to get out of the stress bunny environment!

  2. widge says:

    ooooooooooooh this is goooood! Thankyou :)

  3. Surprise visitors are on my top ten worst things in the world list. I hate the way they make me feel slovenly! :) Under promise, over deliver is one of my mantras as I get older. Reduces so much stress and expectations.

    Love this post!

  4. Amanda says:

    That was a brilliant read thank you. I need to follow your top tips word for word almost! I think I have been trying to for years, but reading it on paper like that just made such good sense , I seem to have been going around in circles! I called into the shop in Featherston last month one Saturday hoping to meet you but you weren’t there, maybe next time.

  5. Susan. says:

    Hi Emma, that’s good advice you give on work / life balance – it can be so difficult to achieve… I had my own business for more than 20 years and when things were really busy, I used to fret about work/life until one desperate day I went back through my diary to see when I last did something that could be called ‘life’ rather than ‘work’ – and I was rather chastened to find that most weeks in the previous 6 months I had done at least one pleasurable and sometimes even indulgent thing every week – the trouble was, I wasn’t disengaging my brain from work while I was doing that thing, which is a bit like eating for emotional reasons, you never feel full even though you just ate a packet of chocolate….. so then I took a vow to be more in the present, switch off the work brain when not at work, and now I feel much more balanced.
    I really love the family photos you are posting these last few weeks, bring back nice memories.

    • tomandemma says:

      Ah yes – getting work out of your head is really hard. Luckily I have a job now where I can more easily manage that. I used to have a FAR more glamorous higher-paid job but it was stressful and with me 100% of the time. I far prefer this approach.

  6. wonderful Emma! I need to take some of your advice, starting a new job while keeping the business going has been making me pull my hair out! Nice to know others are in the same boat and coping well, there is hope for me yet xx

  7. Ella says:

    “Don’t read bad books” – best advice ever.

  8. Emma Rose says:

    Work/life balance has been on my mind this week too. It was mentioned in the horoscope for Aquarians “Uranus hints that your work-life balance is off kilter. The good news is that talking about your concerns makes them manageable”. I work full time and then like making things for myself and for presents (crochet & knitting), but often I am too knackered in the evening to do much. I often get into work on a Monday morning, grumbling that I am too busy to go to work, there is so much I want to do at home. But bills have to be paid. As for reading, if I don’t like a book, back it goes to the library, there are plenty of new ones to try instead – so sound advice from you Emma, all round. Thank you.

  9. Jeannie says:

    All very special words Em.You are an inspiration to many.
    I have had many very busy years but I have now learnt to delegate.I go home “to smell the roses” and have some very peaceful time out.I listen to the music I love,read books I enjoy and most importantly live around my favourite word passion !!
    As much as possible I surround myself with positive people.Every day I laugh and look forward to the next fun thing I am going to do.
    Love Mum. X

  10. Great advice – I especially love the one “don’t read bad books” !

  11. [...] seated drive to make sure I don’t uspset or offend anyone. Recently I read a blog post by Emma here that was concerned with how she balances life, work,  and her creative life. This is something I [...]

  12. […] More on work/life balance and where good ideas come from. […]

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