8 Ways To Work Smarter and Be Happier

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.
 

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Charlie Gilkey

Charlie Gilkey helps creative people thrive in life and business at Productive Flourishing. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook to get bit-sized slices of mojo, inspiration, and biz advice.
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40 Comments

  1. Gale Sicard

    Just became a member of Mogul Moms. I am a grandmother (no kids at home) that has a doll clothes business. I am creator, seamtress, and business manager. Loved Charlie’s hints. They are even good for me who has no little ones to distract.
    My problem is that I really don’t like doing the business part. I JUST WANT TO CREATE. But find a hard time doing both.
    And I find it really hard to do things for myself. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Hi Gale! Welcome aboard – so happy to have you! I’d recommend that you hire someone to do the business part. There are actually a few ladies in the group who are virtual assistants. I’d check there first. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Francesca StaAna

    ?”#2. Figure out when you’re at your peak.” –I recently discovered that I’m way more alert in the morning, so I learned to schedule challenging and high-value task before lunch, and I handle easy errands and tasks in the afternoon.

    Reply
  3. ThaisLuckyDuck

    Giving myself permission to embrace my inner “night owl” was the best thing I ever did for myself and my biz! Happy to see you ask us to find out what resonates with our mind, body and energy levels… …great post! themogulmom

    Reply
  4. Melissa

    This is really a terrific article! I have been trying to get things accomplished and know just how hard it is with family, friends, and all the other balls that are in the air. Two good solid hours of focused work each day is about what I aim for – but such terrific tips. And gosh darned it 2 dedicated hours is really HUGE! Nothing scoff at!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Melissa!
      Glad you liked it – Charlie’s awesome. 😀

      And you’re absolutely right – 2 dedicated hours IS huge. I always say that if I had 10 uninterrupted minutes, I could build an empire. Imagine what I could do with 2 hours? LOL.

      Thanks for stopping by.
      Heather

      Reply
  5. Jen Gallagher

    Ok–I know this is WAY late in the game, plus I’ve already posted, but I just re-read this article, and after doing what it suggested, I set aside 3 full days this week for strategic planning. Husband doing dinner, no errands or playdates, phone off.

    I’ve gotten so much done, and while re-reading this, it hit me that my groove was lost because I began reacting to my life, instead of being proactive. Now I want to tattoo a little reminder on my arm 🙂

    Funny how words take a while to sink in, and then can hit hard!
    -Jen

    Reply
  6. Rachael

    Charlie! You seriously just wrote this a few days ago? I’VE BEEN STRESSING OUT about this exact list of things for weeks! Okay, not just weeks – but it’s gotten really bad in the past few weeks.

    You’re like a psychologist for my creative self. Thanks for this post, it was just right and at just the right time. And Heather – I’ll be sticking around here now, because you have a fantastic blog! 🙂

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Rachael!

      Nice to see you here. 😀 I’m so glad Charlie’s post helped you at just the right time! His tips perfect for work at home moms/mom entrepreneurs. And thanks so much for the blog compliment – I look forward to getting to know you here on The Mogul Mom!

      Best,
      Heather

      Reply
  7. Elena Verlee

    Heather/Charlie

    My first thought was, omg, I don’t have time to read this! Which immediately made me pause, take a breath and read it because it was exactly what I needed. 😉

    Since the beginning of the year, I’ve implemented a time management technique of identifying a “focus, flexible or freedom day” approach to my time where I identify what my high-leverage activities are that build my business and I set aside a focused time when I do those. For me it is Mondays when I am most productive because I am in Asia and for everyone else in North America it is Sunday so things are pretty quiet. It’s naturally created an environment where it’s easier for me to get things done without interruption. “Flexible” days and times are when I don’t need to use my creative juice so much, when I am no longer at my peak but still need to get things done. And freedom days, the days where I get to have fun with no guilt!

    I love all your suggestions and will definitely look at incorporating those into my day. And you really hit it on the nail with #8 Take Care of Yourself. As we run around ragged, we always think of ourselves last. “If your well is dry, you can’t give water to anyone else” also reminds me of when flight attendants tell you to “put your oxygen masks on yourself first” before helping anyone else -even your child. Because, what good will you be to anyone if you’re laying on the ground passed out?

    Thanks for reminding me to take a breath…and a breather once in a while.

    Elena

    Reply
  8. Kelly King Anderson

    #7 is key for me at the moment, setting boundaries and work times!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      That’s always a challenge for me too, Kelly. I feel that I never really have a “set” work time like you do working 9-5 for the man. LOL.

      Heather

      Reply
    • Charlie Gilkey

      #7 can be a hard one, but SO many things boil down to communication – and authentic, effective communication starts with knowing what you need. Check out the book “Non-Violent Communication” if you’d like more help in this area; it’s hands-down the best book I’ve ever read on interpersonal communication.

      Reply
  9. Lara Galloway

    Charlie/Heather–

    What a great post! I have been doing some “ideal schedule” planning with my clients, who are all mompreneurs, and I always have them take into account the fact that they are more/less productive at certain times of day/week/month/year/phase of life. But your planners are fabulous! You are so smart to re-frame the idea of an entrepreneur’s work week–it isn’t just 8-5.

    I have downloaded several of your planners and will send my clients to your site to do the same.

    I’m a fan!

    Lara Galloway
    The Mom Biz Coach
    http://www.mombizcoach.com

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Glad you liked the post, Lara – Charlie is fabulous and I’m so glad we connected on Twitter. He really has changed my life and the way I work.

      Heather

      Reply
    • Charlie Gilkey

      Thank you, Lara.

      Whether it’s smart or just getting hit over the head so many times by the reality of it, our orientation to time is different. As is our orientations to money, effort, and reward. The sooner we realize we’re playing a different game, the sooner we can rock it!

      Reply
  10. Nikki Kinzer

    This was great! And perfect timing. I appreciate the idea of thinking about what you need to do in the undivided attention time you have. It’s a great way to set your priorities. I call my work schedule, “patchwork”. Because often times it is just getting a little bit done here and there in between taking care of your family. I’m printing this article and keeping it! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      OMG Nikki – patchwork is the perfect word for how we work as mom entrepreneurs. I usually say piecemeal or disjointed but patchwork sounds nicer. Lol. Glad you liked Charlie’s post!!

      Heather

      Reply
    • Charlie Gilkey

      I love the patchwork term, too – as long as we recognize that patchwork can be great work. ;p

      Thanks for the feedback, Nikki!

      Reply
  11. Carley Knobloch

    Heather—

    Another great post— you’re a master at curating the most helpful information for moms! So many great nuggets of information. I love the idea of “heatmapping”… so important to take a step back and decide WHAT task to do WHEN when you have such limited time. Most of my clients don’t even realize how little dedicated time they have to work on their business. They’re still in that 9-5 mindset, and beating themselves up about why they can’t accomplish what they used to! So when they really acknowledge that they’ve got 2.5 of solid work time, it’s the first step in making that time really productive. And ALL of this is so hard to do without a partner/coach/team… I think that’s the hardest (and loneliest) part for mompreneurs— myself included. The more we can support each other and bounce ideas of one another and work together, the easier these things are to figure out. So thanks, Heather!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      It’s true, Carley – once you have that “Ah ha!” moment and realize that you only have a few hours of time each day, it makes it so much easier to PLAN your schedule out like Charlie suggests.

      Thanks for your sweet comment…”master at curating”. 😀
      Heather

      Reply
    • Charlie Gilkey

      I loved your comment, Carley.

      What many of us forget is that success is social – we can’t do it on our own by any means. Mompreneurs have the added disadvantage that they often get cut off from the very things that would help them, and that combined with a more challenging schedule doesn’t bode very well.

      As much as almost wish I could say that my success has been all because of me, it’s simply not true. It’s been a great group of friends and supporters that got me going and keep me going.

      Reply
  12. Jen Gallagher

    This is wonderful. I had a great schedule that let me get a lot done and still feel human, then something changed–I don’t even know what! Now I’m struggling to find the rhythm again, and these are great tips to get me centered and on track.

    I do need to self talk to define where I’m going with my business–without a team to work with, it’s a totally different thing to constantly generate momentum. The task layering is something I want to reread a few times to be clear on–any little bit of tweaking will help 🙂

    Thank you.
    Jenifer

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      I agree, Jen – I used to have a great schedule/rhythm and then I somehow got out of it without realizing it. I love Charlie’s post because it offers very realistic steps to take to, well, work smarter and be happier. 😀

      Heather

      Reply
    • Charlie Gilkey

      I’m so sorry to hear that you lost your groove, but that happens easy enough. Sometimes a particular groove works well under one condition, but when conditions change, it’s best to accept it, be gentle with yourself, and start asking some curious questions about what’ll help you with where you are today.

      Thank you for commenting!

      Reply
  13. Randi

    Love this post. As a busy mom of two, I know I only have so many hours to work on my business so I make the most of my “productive time”. I’m a morning person and have a tremendous amount of focus right out of the gate and schedule my top 3 daily business “musts” for the morning. I check e-mail and phone in the afternoon and allow time to “respond/take action” before I pick up the kiddos from school. I want to be “present” when the kids get home so this works best for me. I encourage everyone who reads this post to really look at what works best for them….& make sure to take time for yourself every day so you feel refreshed and ready to take on whatever the day brings!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Randi,
      It sounds like you have a great handle on your schedule and what/when works best for you. Thanks for sharing!

      Heather

      Reply
    • Charlie Gilkey

      You’ve got it, Randi!

      There’s a lot of power to focusing on 1-3 “musts” per day – somehow that didn’t make it in this post, but then it would have been really really long. (It’s already really long.) ;p

      Reply
      • Randi

        I have to give credit where due. I learned the concept from Jack Canfield’s success principles. I prioritize my musts and schedule focus days ( activities that bring me $$’s the quickest), support days (activities to prepare me for focus days) and rest days (NO biz duties….focus on family -no phone/e-mail!). I was amazed how my productivity increased!! 😉

        Reply
  14. Heather Allard

    I want to be the first to comment because, a few weeks ago on Twitter, Charlie asked the question “What could you do to introduce the spaciousness of your weekends to your weekdays?” http://twitter.com/CharlieGilkey/status/8768807168 and I replied, “My weekends aren’t spacious – they’re spent doing & planning so that my weekdays flow better. With 3 kids, it’s necessary. :D” http://twitter.com/HeathAll/status/8770305981

    Charlie replied, “So, perhaps, the question to ask is what you could during your weekdays to make your weekends more spacious? ;p” http://twitter.com/CharlieGilkey/status/8770446746 and that’s when I realized that he’d opened up a can of whoop ass on my old way of thinking and doing things.

    Charlie continued to gently prod me in the “working smarter” direction by tweeting me or DMing me to see how I was doing and honestly, I wanted to make him proud AND I wanted to make my weekends more spacious, so I started doing things on the weekdays that I used to cram into my weekends – laundry, errands, cleaning, grocery shopping – and it was much easier than I thought and it really worked! My weekends HAVE been more spacious which is absolutely decadent for a mom entrepreneur. 😀

    Now, every day when I vacuum the living room or fold the laundry or run an errand, I think of Charlie and his productivity magic.

    Thanks, Charlie – for challenging me to think differently about how I worked AND for writing this fantastic guest post that’ll help many more mom entrepreneurs.

    Heather

    Reply
    • Charlie Gilkey

      I’m really supposed to ask for your permission before I install a Charlie-bot in your brain, Heather – sorry about that. ;p

      I’m so glad we met and that you took me up on the challenge. I appreciate your kind words and allowing me to guest post, too.

      Thank you!

      Reply
  15. Holly - The Work at Home Woman

    Hi Charlie,

    What great tips! I love number #5 batching – I have found that this works great for me, every Monday I set up my menu planning for the week, and every Tuesday I run all of my errands, including going to the grocery store. By designating one day out of my week to run errands, I free my mind from the constant question of what do I need to do? In Tim Ferriss’ book, The 4 Hour Work Week he suggests batching chores like laundry; batching laundry doesn’t work for me, because I have a 3 year old that likes to change every 2 hours, but it does work well for other activities.

    Thanks for the great tips,
    Holly

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      I love #5, too Holly – I love the concept of task layering & brain juice. I’m glad you liked Charlie’s post! 😀

      Heather

      Reply
    • Charlie Gilkey

      Batching does work really well except for when you make a particular batch so big that it sets up a barrier to getting started. That’s happened to me so many times and, after I’ve gotten over the overwhelm, I did the opposite, I usually do the opposite of batching, which is breaking it down to smaller chunks.

      I’m glad you liked the post!

      Reply

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