Let’s start this with a scenario:
It’s 9am. You’ve finally gotten your older kids to school, and your younger ones are at daycare for the morning. You’ve got to pick up the kids from daycare at 12pm, feed them, and then juggle your work with taking care of them until you pick up your older kids at school at 3pm. Dinner’s at 6pm, and your husband can help once he gets home at 5:30pm. After everyone eats, it’s 7pm, so it’s time to start getting the younger ones in baths and to bed – and after that you know you’ll be pulling your older ones off video games, phones, computers, TVs, and whatever else they shouldn’t be doing after 10pm.
That’s a busy day, but here’s the question: how much dedicated time was available for your business? If you said about 2.5 hours, you get chocolate.
While other entrepreneurs might have more hours and teams of people, you’ve got…you. You’re growing and maintaining your business on half the dedicated time of most people, so to make it work, you have a few choices:
1) work longer
2) work harder
or 3) work smarter
If you’d prefer to work longer and harder, then I don’t have much in the way to help you with that. If you’d like to work smarter, here are some things to try…
1. Identify the activities that require your undivided attention
Some of the activities that you need to do require your undivided attention, whereas others can be done in tandem with other things. Remember that we’re starting with the idea that you have about 2.5 hours of dedicated time, so it’s critical that you do the things that require your undivided attention during that time – if you don’t do them then, you probably won’t do them at all.
You might resist this tip because you think that women are better at multitasking than men, but this simply isn’t true. Women historically have done activities that were more conducive to being done in tandem – more on this in a bit – so the idea that women can multitask better than men doesn’t address the fact that when you’re doing creative, focused work, you can’t do it well while trying to do a bunch of other things. The key word in that last sentence is well.
You’ll probably find that the activities that require your undivided attention are the ones that really put food on the table. They’re the marketing plans, product design, quality customer care, and networking that you keep meaning to do each week but that “somehow” keep sliding to the backburner.
2. Figure out when you’re at your peak
You’ve probably noticed that you’re really productive and creative during some parts of the day and a complete dud during the other parts of the day. You’ve also probably been really frustrated when your three-year old wanted to jump on your knee right as you were in the middle of an awesome brainstorm.
There’s a process that I call heatmapping your productivity that helps you see when you’re the most productive and when you’re not. It sounds harder than it is – it’s just a process of noticing and recording when you’re at your peak and when you’re not. After a few days observation, you’ll see trends, and it’s what you do with those trends that makes all the difference.
3. Match up the the right activities with the right time
Here’s where all this reporting and reviewing really comes in handy. You’ll probably see that there’s a correlation between the activities that require your undivided attention and how much productive mojo you need to get them done.
You now know two incredibly important facts:
1) you know the things that require your undivided attention, and
2) you know when you should do them. Knowing is half the battle
Now it’s time to redesign your workflow and schedule so that you do the right things at the right time. I’ve designed some free paper productivity planners that can help with this right here.
4. Firewall or react – It’s your choice
You know when you’re the most productive, you know what you need to do, and you know when you need to do them. Now it’s time for the fourth piece – you have to hold those times as sacred as you can.
If you’re the most productive from 9am to 12pm, you need to do everything you can to limit the distractions and external things that are going to throw you off. That might mean hiring a babysitter during those times so the babes aren’t crawling all over you while you’re talking to clients or writing a pillar blog post. That might mean setting up a dedicated, real workspace where you can close the door and get into the zone. It definitely means eating, breathing, and giving yourself the space and permission to go into the zone.
If you don’t do this, you’ll continually be reacting to things at the last minute. There’s enough Resistance and Creative Doubt to go around in ideal scenarios – but throw in all the monkeywrenches that happen during a mompreneurs day and you get a lot of lost traction and dropped balls. Rather than proactively building the life you want to live, you’re reacting to all the things that needed to happen yesterday. You can’t look backwards and forward at the same time.
5. Combine effective, action-orient batching and task layering
Rethink how you batch chores, tasks, and errands. By batching, I mean doing a bunch of similar tasks or errands in one period rather than doing them individually.
The traditional advice about batching comes from the perspective of people who have discrete areas of focus like “work” and “home” – so, in that context, it makes sense to do all of your admin tasks in a big two-hour block on Monday morning. However, that doesn’t match your day – if you get a big bunch of dedicated time, it’s probably better to do creative or high-leverage tasks that can only be done in those periods and use smaller dashes of admin tasks that can be done in between, say, you putting a pizza in the oven and you pulling it out. That’s an awkward time anyway – better to fill it up with something important and meaningful rather than doing a less meaningful filler task for 20 minutes.
Here’s another example: some of us have a tendency to want to do laundry or housecleaning all at once. Those inevitably end up being weekend activities that take a full day or two to do, so we’ll do those and roll right back into the week tired, drained, and really needing to take a break. A simple switch-up like doing laundry while you’re watching TV during the weekdays would enable you to take that time to rest and rejuvenate rather than simply have another workday with different work tasks.
I’ve just given two examples of task layering combined with batching. Task layering looks like multitasking, but the major difference is in how we think about task layering – instead of trying to do activities that require the same type of brain juice, task layering gets you to think about stacking activities on each other that don’t require the same juice. You can listen to an audiobook while you exercise because they use different capacities and levels of focus; you can’t carry on a conversation with a three year old while writing your marketing plan because those require the same capacities and levels of focus.
When you combine effective batching and task layering, you can simplify things considerably. The trick to getting it right is to find those things that you can layer and sync them up, but the endstate is that you end up with more space to do the things that require your undivided attention without having to let go of everything else.
6. Rock the schedule that works for you
I’ll state a simple truth: you don’t work from 8 to 5 like the “rest” of the world. Now I’ll ask a simple question: why do you think in terms of 8 to 5?
You might think in terms of 8 to 5 because your day is influenced by that “standard schedule,” but just because it influences your day doesn’t mean that you should try to get your day to fit that schedule. You might find that you need to do business activities from 8-10pm when the kids are asleep and you still have a little left in you, or you might need to get up at 5am to get an hour or two of focused time in before everybody wakes up.
Chances are, you’re probably already doing some of this, but I’m betting that you’re not doing it with the peace of mind that it’s okay for you to do it. Working with that peace of mind is like eating ice cream after you’ve worked out – you can simply enjoy it without worrying about what you’re doing.
You know all too well that we don’t make our schedules in a vacuum, which means you’ll need to…
7. Communicate with everyone – that includes you!
A lot of people don’t get entrepreneurship. They’re used to showing up, punching the clock, doing the work that they’re told to do, and then going home to rest and play after they’ve punched out.
You don’t really have a clock. You don’t have people telling you what to do. And sometimes the line between work and non-work gets really blurred.
The problem, of course, is that everybody else will expect you to operate on their schedules. When they’re done with their day, they’ll want you to be done with yours. I’m not just talking about spouses and partners here; your kids, friends, and extended family won’t get it, either.
You might have to explain to your loved ones that you need some quiet time to do some of your business activities, or you might have to explain the importance of your schedule to your partner or in-laws so that you can coordinate a child care plan that actually works.
Aside: some of the worst resistance can come from your mom and mother-in-law; they grew up in a world with much less pressure and fewer requirements, so they may not see that their parenting patterns simply no longer work in the world we live in. And it’s very, very unlikely that they understand entrepreneurship, so they may not get that you being home doesn’t mean that you can/should be taking care of the kids while you’re at home.
These conversations may be challenging, so before you can begin them with other people, you have to be able to communicate with yourself. I know that sounds weird, but you have to be able to talk yourself through how you feel, what you need, and what you’re requesting before you can have a fruitful conversation with other people. These conversations will be dynamic – what worked two months ago might not work today because of you or your business can change pretty radically.
Don’t expect people to read your mind and know what you need; that doesn’t work in the best of cases. In less ideal cases, it breeds frustration, resentment, and anger, and those can absolutely cripple your momentum.
8. Take Care of Yourself
Please slow down right now and read this because it might be the most important piece of this post.
So many of my clients – the majority of whom are women – have come to me wanting help on what turned out to be a symptom of a cause. They’re tired and burned out. They’re unhappy. They just can’t get into a groove.
As soon as I find out they have kids, I ask one simple question: when’s the last time you’ve done something just for you? I’ve gotten all sorts of emotionally-charged responses, but the fact that they’re emotionally-charged means that I struck a nerve. (Notice your own reaction to the question – which may be resistance, defensiveness, or exasperation.)
Inevitably, once they start doing things for themselves, things start fixing themselves. And it normally takes a lot of coaching on my part for them to integrate taking care of themselves into their routine because it’s such a foreign idea and habit.
If your well is dry, you can’t give water to anyone else. Everything that you do to take care of others is laborious precisely because you’re scraping the bottom of the emotional barrel.
With everything that’s going on, just remember that your happiness counts and you are not a robot. Be as compassionate to yourself as you are to those around you; “to give is to receive” applies as much to ourselves as it does to other people.
Being a mother isn’t easy. Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy, either. Trying to be both – as well as being a loving wife/partner, daughter, friend, and neighbor – is a lot to manage.
If you’re rocking it, great! Keep doing epic shit and I tip my hat to you.
If you feel like you’re the one being rocked, that’s okay, too. It doesn’t mean that you’re defective, incapable, or not good enough; it just means that you’re human. You’re not alone.
I started this by saying that you can either work longer, work harder, or work smarter. I hope that you’ll take the time to try some of these tips out so that you can work smarter. After all, you’ve got the same 24 hours in a day that everyone else has, but you’ve got a lot more to do during those hours. You have to make every hour count.