Using values to juggle work, kids and ultramarathons

March 29, 2022

I am often asked how I manage my career, health, exercise, and family life, so I have tried to break this down and provide some practical advice. Before we jump in, I'm not claiming to be perfect, but I am happy, and as a family, we are figuring out this thing we call life day by day.

A little about myself

My name is Tara and:

· I am a wife;

· I have two sisters and one brother;

· I have three children, of which two have long-term conditions: Type 1 diabetes and Nephrotic Syndrome;

· I run a consultancy providing Primary Care Network Management where I employ a small team and work alongside contractors;

· This year, I completed a 100-mile bike ride, a 36-mile run, a 60-mile bike ride and a 31-mile run to raise money for charity, and I am no stranger to completing ultramarathons;

· I have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Toubkal (leaving my kids at home with their dad);

· I sit on the NHS Confederation PCN Board and The NHSE Primary Care Health and Wellbeing Task and Finish Group at present;

· I host the Business of Healthcare Podcast, releasing two episodes a week featuring healthcare leaders, conversations around essential changes in healthcare and for those in health-related roles;

· I am part of the NHS Time for Care faculty supporting General Practices to lead their change projects underpinned by quality improvement principles.

You know there is no secret to juggling being a parent and work for those in a similar position to me. We are the same. We just make it work. We prioritise what we think is vital in the moment and may make mistakes. Sometimes we miss important dates, are late to the school gates, forget the dress-up day, and forget to write in their reading record. Those reading this who would like to have children and are concerned that having kids may slow your ambition; know that having children has only increased my ambition as now not only do I want more for myself, but I want more for my family too. I want to build the foundations to give my kids the tools and knowledge to be street smart, independent, and follow their dreams just like I am doing. They watch everything I do, and I mean EVERYTHING, and they are taking notes.

If I want to climb a mountain… I will do it.

If I want to complete an ultra-marathon… Again… I will train with the goal of crossing the finish line.

If I want to double the size of my business… I hire support to help make this happen.

However, my ambition is not blind. I love having a quiet home life. I live in loungewear, and on weekends, after a bit of exercise, I'm either glued to the sofa relaxing, ferrying the kids around, or having friends and family over. I am intensely driven to pursue my goals and more relaxed when it is time to stop. For those of you reading this where children may not be part of your life, managing work, home, health, mind, body, friends, family, pets, and the highs and lows of life is a juggling act for us all, and hopefully, I can provide you all with practical advice.

1.Understanding your values

The key to helping me manage juggling different priorities was to let go of time management and practise self-management, by understanding that I am in control of how I spend my time. Too often, and unconsciously, we let others control what we do. I am the CEO of my life, and likewise, you are the CEO of your life, and I believe our values will guide us to work out what truly matters to us.

My values are:

· Independence, freedom, and flexibility

· Adventure and being active

· Ambition

· Fun

· Good health

It goes without saying that I value my family, marriage, trust, honesty, respect… Etc. However, the list above really shapes how I spend my time, who I choose to work with, and where I place my energy. My love of adventure is taking me all over the world. To do this, I need money and flexibility in my home and work life. To manage my business, I feel I need to be in good health and have the tools to manage the daily stresses that come up. At the time of writing, we manage services that support 331,000 patients and cover 50 GP surgeries. As you can imagine, this generates a lot of emails and a lot of meetings. I believe, to be successful in my work, I have to prioritise my health. I need a strong mindset. I need to be able to process information quickly and then direct others. I cannot do this well if I am tired, hungry or unhappy.

Do you see how all my values tie together?

2.Getting a head start on your day

To help me start the day on a good note. I like to get up early before the kids wake up and spend a couple of hours getting my mind right. Exercise is key. It gets my endorphins going and helps to wake me up. I will either go for a walk, run, bike ride or go to the gym. I also meditate using the Ten Percent Happier App and journal my intentions for the day using the Holly Health App. I know! I am one of those annoying people with a morning routine, but it really works for me. I then have my breakfast, and I am ready to drop my eldest at the bus stop at 7am, and then I take my youngest to her primary school at 8:30am, and I am in the office by 9am. My husband takes our middle daughter to the train station. Another critical factor to a good day is to plan my day before I sit down at my computer, and planning the night before the day ahead is key.

3.Trying to eat healthier

To try and keep my eating on track, I use the meal delivery service All Plants, so I always have a healthy meal at lunch which replaced me eating crisps and chocolate. The meals are delicious, and the convenience gives me one less thing to worry about. I just pop them in the microwave. We use Hello Fresh for our evening meals. If I am honest, I am not a massive fan of cooking, and by the time I get home, I have decision fatigue and just want to be told what to do so, the meal service by Hello Fresh is perfect. The kids pick the meal for the evening, and my husband and I take turns cooking it.

4.Exercise and self-care

I mentioned I have completed some ultramarathons, and in 2022, I am signed up to do two marathons in two days across the Saharan Desert, a 5-day trip. Now I ask/tell my family of my plans, but they are super supportive and would not expect anything less from me because we talk about our values and what makes us happy together and independent of each other. I believe that when you are in a relationship, you should not have to sacrifice the things that attracted your partner to you in the first place. I was independent and liked to travel before and still do now. This is my retreat and my self-care. My work life is full-on, and I have three girls growing up fast, so I need some space to reflect, slow down, appreciate, re-calibrate and exercise combined with travel is perfect for me. It is also a beautiful way to see the world.

5.Pursuing balance

There is a tremendous amount of pressure to be responsive to everyone else's needs. However, I believe we must learn to say 'no' more often to honour and deliver on our current commitments, and knowing that working in alignment with our values takes the edge off feeling guilty. I do not feel guilty for pursuing my own goals that sometimes take me away from my family. Whether you call it work-life balance or work-life integration, I always have to say no to something or someone, and that person should not always be me. We have to strike what works for us.

6.Creating a plan

With lots to do, I try to meticulously plan my time. But I am human, and I do not get this right every time. Also, one email or phone call can turn my plans upside down, so I just need to go with the flow, and I can do this better now because of my meditation practice. I love checklists and find that this structure affords me the freedom and flexibility (another two of my values) to serve my clients and be there for my team and family. Creating systems takes the thought process out of routine tasks, so you have the energy and space to concentrate on the complex part of your role. I also find planning in 90-day sprints, building more movement and exercise into my day and placing similar activities together gives me more time and space to do things that provide a sense of purpose and deliver work to a higher standard. Find what works for you. It may feel like trial and error at points but keep going and start small.

Final thoughts

Are you clear on your values? Write them down, discuss them with your family and ask yourself, are you genuinely living these and then set the intention to weave these in your day to day decisions.

By Tara Humphrey: Founder and MD at THC Primary Care, NHS Confederation PCN Board Member.

Instagram: @thcprimarycare

Twitter: @THCPrimarycare