My website design business is supposed to be a part-time gig. But, like many of you know, being an entrepreneur and small business owner makes that “part-time” thing really hard to stick to. Especially when my computer and iPhone are within arm’s reach most of the day and I don’t have an office outside my home where I can leave my work. The past two posts I wrote are about productivity and the tools I use to manage my time efficiently. This post is the last in this productivity series and I’ll be talking about juggling work and life and how productivity factors into the mix.
Having young children means my days are fairly unpredictable. Even on days when they’re at summer camp, I’m still not guaranteed a set schedule. And when the kids are home with me, I have no expectations of getting any meaningful work done for my business. That’s OK; part of the reason I started this part-time business was so I could be home with my kids during these early years. Still, it’s not easy to balance and juggle the ebb and flow of business while trying to be present with the kids, straighten the house and get dinner on the table. The constant pull of answering “just one more email” or sneaking in a quick website update when the kids are around usually ends up being a bad idea. And, since I still haven’t figured out how to create more hours in the day, I’m left with figuring out ways to be more productive in the short time I have to dedicate to my business.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned from my mistakes, read blogs about parenting and productivity, and listened to other moms and dads I know talk about how they manage their work-life balance. And, since I’ve used that oxymoron several times now, I should make it clear that I use the term “work-life balance” VERY loosely. I’ve let go of the unrealistic expectation and dream of reaching that ever-elusive, magical place where there is a harmonious balance of work and life. I am a realist and I know that “work-life balance” doesn’t really exist. Still, I want to be productive, both from a family and business stand-point. Here’s what works for me:
Set Boundaries: Let your clients know when it’s OK to call or email. Set expectations of when you’ll be available to answer their questions and emails. If you notice, I don’t list my phone number anywhere on this website. You could find it if you did a little Googling. But, I’m at the point in my life where I don’t have regular hours. There’s only about a 10% chance that someone calling me would reach me at a time where I’m not engaged with my children. And, if you have children, you’ll know that as soon as you pick up that phone, they *need* you. Right at that moment. Even if they were happily playing for the last 15 minutes, the second that phone is at your ear, your little one is tugging at your pants. So, it’s easier for me to communicate via email and then set up specific times to have phone chats when I know I’ll have uninterrupted, focused time to talk.
Batch Process: Even on days when I’m home with the kiddos, I know there are small periods of time throughout the day when I can get a few minutes to work on business-related tasks. For example, I’ll get maybe an hour of time in the middle of the day when the youngest is napping and the older one is doing quiet-time. This short period isn’t long enough for me to do any serious website design. But it’s a good time for me to do some batch processing. I’ll respond to emails, return phone calls, do small website updates, and occasionally have a short phone meeting. I’m usually able to clean up my inbox and knock out any quick updates during this time. It always feels good to check things off my list, even if it’s little stuff.
Top 3 List: Before I go to bed, I make sure my “Top 3” list is updated for the next day. These are the top 3 business-related objectives I want to complete. I keep this list in Trello board. This small action, which takes less than five minutes, has a lot of benefits:
- It gives me closure for the evening. By taking the time to review what I did and did not complete, I have the peace of mind knowing that I’ve wrapped up my day and my mind does not need to keep rolling it around.
- It preps me for the following day. I don’t need to lay in bed wondering what I’ll need to do; I’ve already set myself up with a “Top 3 List”
- It keeps me from forgetting where I left off. When I create my Top 3 list, I add in any notes I’ll need when I resume working.
Set Aside Specific “Work” Times: My work times are fairly carved out for me. I work when the kids are at preschool/summer camp and I have one weeknight where I leave the house and work. But I didn’t always have set work times. I’d work when I had a chance, or when my husband played with the kids outside. But, this wasn’t doing anyone any favors. I didn’t have a time where I was guaranteed some large blocks of time to do quality work. My husband didn’t know when I’d be disappearing with my computer to a different room in the house. By setting up times on our family calendar, both my husband and I know when I’m supposed to be “working”. I also like knowing I have longer periods of concentrated work time. I find I need three-to-four-hour time periods when I can really dig into work that requires a lot of creativity and focused energy.
Figure Out Your Strongest Work Hours: I’m a night owl, but my creativity is usually drained by about 8 or 9 in the evening. I’m at my best in the morning hours. This works well for when my kids are at school/camp, so I tend to keep those hours for meetings and new website design. My evening hours are for less demanding tasks, like WordPress and plugin updates and minor graphic design. By taking note of your energy throughout the day, you can more easily determine when you should be working on your different tasks.
Keep Distractions to a Minimum during “Work” Times: I think we all know this one, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. During set work times, I try to do just that. I don’t even run upstairs to throw in a load of laundry or put dishes away. My work time is at a premium. Plus, I’ve found that I get into a snowballing trap with doing “small” chores. My intentions are usually good. But, that scenario often plays itself out like this: “I’ll just throw in a load of laundry before I start working. Oh, wait. Here’s a few of the kids’ clothes that weren’t put away. Oh, and look, I forgot to make the bed… and while I’m here, I’ll just pick up a few things…” By the time I return to my laptop, I’ve lost 20 minutes of precious work time! This is also true for things like Facebook, Pinterest, and other places on the Interwebs. They are traps. They suck time away from your tasks. So, the best thing to do is leave your browser closed. Unless you need it for work. Same goes for email. If you need it to accomplish your work, open up Outlook or Gmail. But if your task doesn’t require it, keep those windows closed. Or at least turn off the new mail notification. That sound alone can be a distraction. If I’m really in a distracted mood, a change of setting or venue usually helps me re-focus.
Take Breaks: I forget about this one a lot. But it does help to take breaks. Studies have shown that taking regular breaks from your work helps improve productivity and creativity. If you’re “in the zone”, have at it. But if you feel like you’ve hit a wall, get up, stretch, get a snack, and move about.
Set Realistic Expectations and Be Kind to Yourself: This final tip is an important one. Make sure you give yourself some “you” time. Family and work are demanding. As mothers, we give so very much of ourselves to our children, family, friends, and work. It’s important to take care of yourself. That means set realistic expectations and to take it easy on yourself, even when you miss a deadline. My work is important, but it’s not that important. If I’m not well-rested and nourished, everyone suffers. I’m no fun when I’m hungry and tired, so I try to set limits on how late and how much I work.
And just to be clear: I try to follow these tips. I’m pretty good at sticking to them, but of course I slip. I get stressed out when I have a big deadline and work past midnight. I get distracted by email from time to time and lose focus on my current task. But, when I follow these guidelines, I am more productive. I get more done and I feel like I’m reaching my goal of raising a happy family and feeling fulfilled by my work.