Jennifer sat silently on the other end of the phone. She came to me for help managing her time and structuring her day so she could work on her business while homeschooling her children. I asked her what she did during her office time that week and she couldn’t answer. She honestly couldn’t tell me what she had accomplished – although she knew she had been busy all week. She was sure she had worked hard every day but she didn’t make a dent in the priorities she really needed to tackle.
When I pushed her (as I can do with the authority of a drill sergeant and the compassion of a hospice nurse), she started to list her excuses: an unexpected trip to the vet, a last minute play date, a sale at Kohl’s, etc. These were the things that were preventing her from working on her business. I get it. Trust me; my work time takes a back seat when something important comes up with the family. But that is an exception rather than the norm.
I told her what I tell all my clients: When you’re a mom, your job is never done; when you’re an entrepreneur, your job is never done. There will always be more work to do – at home and in the office. And only you can know when to set one job aside and work on the other.
If Jennifer’s situation sounds familiar to you, I want to encourage you because I know for certain that is possible to create the time you need to grow a business. I do it myself and I’ve seen it done over and over again – but you have to stop squeezing in time for business. You have to stop stealing 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there. You have to make your business a priority (not THE priority…but A priority) by taking charge of your time.
Five Ways to Take Control of Your Time
1. Set boundaries and honor them. One of the blessings of the entrepreneurial life is the flexible schedule – but it can also be a curse for those of us who don’t know how to set boundaries. To be productive in a limited amount of time, you have to set dedicated work hours and then honor them like you would a visit to the OB/GYN at 38 weeks in your pregnancy. You have to be ruthless in protecting your time in the office. And you have to completely let go of work related tasks when it’s family time. This is especially difficult to do when you have business and personal messages buzzing on your iPhone every five minutes. It takes practice and discipline. But once you’ve created those boundaries, you’ll be more efficient in the office and more fully present at home.
2. Communicate clearly. It’s not good enough to simply set the boundaries, you have to manage expectations of others by telling them what you are doing and why. I recently had an uncomfortable conversation with a friend who was upset because I didn’t have time to chat with her anymore. It broke my heart that I had offended her but I realized it was my own fault. I had never told her that I was not available to chat or have lunch during the school day Monday through Thursday. And those were the times she was trying to contact me. I didn’t realize that she was not aware of the boundaries I set to protect my time. Once I explained it, she understood. If you work from home, you also have to clearly communicate these boundaries with your children, husband, friends and neighbors. No matter where your office is, you also need to communicate these boundaries with clients, vendors and colleagues – which means you need to stop giving out your cell phone to all of your clients and telling them to call or text you anytime they wantJ
3. Get real. Be realistic about what you can accomplish during limited blocks of time. If you are trying to build a website on your own and you only have two hours a day to devote to the task, it’s going to take you several weeks. If you expect it to be completed in a week, you’re setting yourself up for failure. What I know from experience is that most business “projects” take longer than you think they should. And while I recognize the need for speed in business, I also know that you can’t spend 60 hours a week on something in the office. And I also know that there is always a new “project.” So it’s important to set realistic expectations for yourself and to move forward at your own pace.
4. Be flexible. I know this may seem to contradict my advice to set structured work hours, but some of us have a problem being too rigid. We can become creators of habit, which is just as dangerous as being prisoners of chaos. As mothers, we can all agree that each new season brings a change in the schedule. Even if your children are grown, you probably notice a shift in your routine as the earth rotates around the sun. It’s important to honor these shifts and be open to change. One of my mentors says that every few months she has to “define a new normal” for her family and her schedule. When we don’t allow ourselves the grace to make changes, we miss out on opportunities for growth and joy.
5. Don’t do it alone. Find a partner to serve as a mirror for you…to call you out on your excuses…to keep you honest with yourself…to gently but firmly hold you accountable for accomplishing the goals you set each week. This is one of the benefits of joining a group like the Sisterhood of Christian Mompreneurs. When you connect with other like-minded moms who are running a business while raising a family, you can help each other stay on track. It’s the key to success at Weight Watchers and it’s the one productivity tool I rely on in my business more than anything else.
What did I forget? Do you have other tips for taking control of your time? Share them with us here!