The biggest challenge I had to tackle when returning to my business was finding time to work. There was a time I could juggle full time classes, a part time job, and an internship all at once, but even that didn’t compare to the demands of parenthood. Who would have thought that children could take up so much time?
I really wanted to get back to work, so I tried a bunch of different approaches and plans. Nothing seemed to work. I tried working during Ellie’s naps, but as soon as I felt like I had her schedule figured out, she’d start teething or go through a growth spurt and throw everything off. I tried to work while she played in her crib, but my attention was always split and I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I tried to work in my home office when my husband got back from work, but I felt distracted because I could still hear my baby through the office door.
Do you feel like there are so many demands on your time that you can’t focus on getting things done? Maybe you really want to work on improving your business, but there’s already so much on your plate that you can’t figure out how to fit anything else in. Business owners are the busiest people on the planet, so even if you don’t have a tiny human taking up most of your time, I’m sure you can benefit from what I learned about finding time during this season of my life. These are the five steps I took to finally figure out a schedule that worked.
1. Track your energy levels.
Do you know what time of day you have the most creative energy? Taking some time to figure that out will help you focus your attention on your most productive time slots so you can do your best work even if you can only set aside an hour or two. Lisa Stein of Freelance Mom has a really fun way you can track your energy. Her simple little exercise made me realize I was using my best time slots on silly things, like cleaning the kitchen. What a waste of energy!You can email her for our own copy of the worksheet here. Print it out and color it in as you go about your day. At the end of the day, you’ll have a clearer idea of when you should focus on different types of tasks. Use this as a guide to help you set your schedule up.
2. Simplify your to-do list.
I used to make crazy to-do lists for each day and each day ended in horrible frustration. Even though I was doing a lot, seeing all my unchecked boxes made me feel like a failure. I was exhausted by the end of each night and never even got the chance to work on the really important stuff. Simplifying things made all the difference. Now, I work with the same simple to-do list every day: study, exercise, shower, and tidy. It’s usually easy to check everything off before my husband gets home and it doesn’t deplete all my energy. In fact, most days it energizes me for work. If I can’t get to one item on any given day, it’s ok. I know the world won’t fall apart. Focus on the 4 or 5 most important things you have to do each day and simplify your to-do list to include just that.
3. Set up a consistent start time.
Choose a time within your highest energy window that you can stick to every day. If you make it a part of your daily routine, you’ll be able to find a good flow and turn it into a habit quickly. Do whatever you need to do to make sure you’ll be completely free of all other responsibilities at the same time each day. For me, this means handing Ellie over to Richie as soon as he gets home from work. You may have to hire a sitter for an hour or two, make dinner ahead of time, or leave someone else in charge of your shop while you focus on getting things done.
4. Choose your work space wisely.
I have a home office set up, but I only really use it for Skype calls and printing. I’ve learned that if I try to work from home, there’s always some sort of distraction that keeps me from being my most productive – even if it’s just hearing Ellie and Richie laughing in the next room. There’s something about driving to a different location and setting up shop that puts me in the right mindset for work. Try a few different work spaces until you find the one that works best for you.
5. Make sure your team is on the same page.
The most important part of making all this work is communication. My husband and I came up with these solutions together based on what would work for our family and we continue to tweak things and make changes when we need to. Having everyone on board with your plan will make things run more smoothly and help you make sure everyone is taken care of.
It is crucial to set aside some time to work on your business if you want to see growth and improvement. Even if you can only get a couple of hours in, you’ll be amazed how much you get done when you’re consistently working with your best energy. I get more work done during my two or three hyper-focused hours each day than I ever did in any 9-5 job.