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Moms, Lean Back In

How to go back to work after a maternity leave or hiatus to be home with the kids

Returning to work after a maternity leave or longer parenting hiatus is a fraught prospect. No matter how many years of experience you bring back to the table, the playing field changed when you weren’t looking. Continually working colleagues are more on top of industry trends and concepts. Old clients may have settled elsewhere. The “lean in” work-first philosophy loudly championed by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg poses a real challenge to working moms who try to strike a fair balance between career and family. . . .

Build a Biz by Being Mom
Jill Levin and Annemarie McCartney founded Skunkies eco-friendly sneaker sachets to alleviate a very specific mom irritation: the pervasive odor that lingered
in their kids’ stinky soccer cleats. With seven kids (from 9 to 20) between them, the Voorhees, NJ moms parlayed their “worst problem” into the sweet smell of success. Here’s how a nurse and a PR pro used their status as soccer moms to lean back in.
• Collaborate. Not only did the Skunkies gals rely on one another’s strengths to develop the sachets and get the word out, they “went to people we knew could help us,” says Levin. They formed a production line with their families in McCartney’s kitchen, handed prototypes out to friends for testing and set up selling
tables at their kids’ sports tournaments.
• Tell your mom story.What parent couldn’t relate to the desire to rid your garage, car trunk and mud room of sneaker stench? Let people know the mom reason you’re going into business. For Skunkies, the grass-roots, soccer mom angle “definitely opened doors,” says Levin.
• Think like a professional. Once orders started mounting (Skunkies are now carried in chain stores like Wal-Mart and Bed Bath & Beyond), the partners knew they couldn’t produce large-scale orders in their kitchen, so they found a Camden-based manufacturer to handle those practical aspects. Asserts Levin, “Production
and distribution set a good idea apart from a money-making idea.”
Give back to your community. “It was very important to us to keep production local,” says McCartney.
Be open to evolution. Skunkies fans use the sachets not only to deodorize sports equipment but also in dresser drawers, laundry baskets, camp bags, suitcases. “Other stores and people took the product in different directions that showed
us a versatile evolution we didn’t think of originally,” says Levin.
(Click here for more with the Skunkies moms.)

Take a deep breath. Yes, the office is different than it was when you left. Here are eight steps to help you reacclimate in ways that won’t overwhelm you.

  1. Keep in touch with your job. Even before you return to the workplace, stay in touch with industry buzz. Read trade magazines, follow experts on social media and participate in online forums and discussions. Whenever you can finagle the time, attend a weekend conference or reach out to former coworkers with a quick phone call or e-mail to help keep your name in the mix.
  2. Get organized. On your first day back in the office, arrange a formal meeting with your immediate supervisor and make a simple bullet-point list of your tasks. Taking action on work items in decreasing order of priority will help get urgent matters out of the way, reducing stress and giving you a better idea of how to structure your workweek so that you are neither overworked nor left idle.
  3. Jump right into the action. There’s nothing like getting your hands dirty immediately to get into the swing of things. The more you delay direct action, the more your mental block will grow, and so will the pile of demands on your desk. Don’t procrastinate, stick to your deadlines and follow up on questions right away.
  4. Take baby steps. Break down large and complex tasks into smaller chunks of manageable items. A task that looks insurmountable at first becomes achievable when done in logical stages.
  5. Talk to coworkers. Share what you are doing with your colleagues so that any potential for error is detected and flagged sooner rather than later. Coworkers may have suggestions and tools to do a task more quickly or efficiently, saving you time and trouble.
  6. Ask for help. In the same vein, reach out to coworkers if you have questions about a task or project. Just bear in mind that others have their own jobs to do, so keep queries to a minimum.
  7. Reward yourself in small ways. As you complete each item on your to-dolist, tick or strike it off. This helps you feel a sense of accomplishment and acts as an incentive to get more done. Work with concentration for a couple of hours and then take a break. Get some fresh air or make yourself a cup of tea. Remind yourself that your professional skills have not diminished during your hiatus.
  8. Chill at the water cooler. Put your coffee break to good use by having an informal catch-up with colleagues. The human brain retains more when data is delivered in a relaxed dynamic atmosphere rather than, say, a five-page memo.

Be productive and creative — and make every minute count.

Devyani Borade is a freelance writer who posts at Verbolatry.com.

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