Ok, ok…maybe not. We can’t actually add an extra hour to the day, as much as moms might love that! But by strategizing your workflow, and staying in the zone through batching, you can improve your productivity significantly and find extra time within nature’s pre-determined restrictions.
There’s no doubt that as a mom, you’re likely trying to fit in way more things that could possibly fit into one day. But sometimes, this backfires on us. Ever walk into a room and completely forget why you’re in there? Yeah, me too. The truth is that we are simply over-tasking our brains.
So how do we deal? For me, I tend toward hyper-organized (I admit - totally Type A). For better or for worse, I need to organize all of the details of both my business and personal life. If my world is out of order, I feel it mentally and physically — it slows me down and I feel irritable, cranky, even less motivated. Yeah, I’m a mom and have learned to live with some disorganization — it’s impossible to keep three daughters structured at all times. However, the girls know that the fastest way to make me happy is to clean their rooms.
But let's be real - being organized and scheduling everything, especially as a mom, is not an easy task.
A question I get a lot is, “How do you do it all?” Like many of you, I play several roles: I am a divorced mom to three daughters (17, 11, and 7), head of my household, and a business owner. There are many days I wish for Hermione Granger’s Time-Turner (HP fans, unite!), but alas, I, instead, often find myself simply packing everything into one short 24-hour day.
So, how DO I do it all? To be totally honest, some days are better than others, but I try to live by some time management principles to make every day as efficient as possible.
No really, everything.
Grocery shopping? Scheduled. Call to a girlfriend? Scheduled. Taking the youngest to a playdate? Scheduled. Shower? Some days, scheduled! Not only do I schedule my personal life, I schedule my work time. It’s easy to get sucked into email, Facebook, marketing activities, client follow ups … and all of a sudden, your day has disappeared. If you structure your day beforehand, you ensure that you hit all of your critical checkpoints and create time for specific projects and deadlines.
When I say schedule, I mean SCHEDULE. Not a to-do list that you may or may not get to. Find a calendar application that works for you and fill it in for the day/week/month. Does a paper planner work for you? Great. Prefer an app with pop up reminders? Fabulous.
Look ahead to see what items you must hit on a certain day/time and add them in (e.g., payroll, conference calls, etc.). Next, fill in the big-picture projects you would like to hit each week. Finally, schedule tomorrow and this week in detail. Just like with a financial budget, where you assign every dollar, you want to assign each minute. (OK, each hour — even I don’t schedule to the minute.) Be realistic with your schedule — build in enough time so that you have a good chance to get a project done, i.e. long enough your schedule isn’t filled with half-finished work.
Need to write a blog post? Schedule it. Need to brainstorm some new marketing ideas? Schedule it. Need to get back to a client about a problem? Schedule it.
Pepperlane’s CEO Sharon Kan also recommends that we schedule time to work ON our business, not IN our business. Each week I schedule an hour for business planning. I even schedule times to check my email or make phone calls. If I think of something that I need to do, I immediately open up my calendar and plug it in; otherwise I will forget. #truth
STICKING TO THE SCHEDULE
So you’ve scheduled everything. How do you STICK to it? A few tips will save you at least an hour a day. While you won’t magically get 25 hours in your day, here’s a plan that will help you feel like you do:
Minimize Distractions — Silence your phone periodically and shut down the non-work tabs on your computer. Those chirps, notifications, pings, etc. are keeping you from focusing on your task. Schedule time to check your texts/voicemails throughout the day and turn the darn thing off.
However, do you panic about silencing your phone like I do? I’m pretty sure the only time my daughter’s school calls is when I’m ignoring my phone. Buddy up with another emergency contact and make sure that person is listed on your kids’ contact information. Then tell your emergency contact to keep calling your phone until you answer. If I hear my phone ringer vibrate 10 times in a row I know something is up.
It’s hard to do, and I’m not perfect about doing it (my phone just chirped at me as I wrote that sentence), but you will be amazed at how your productivity increases without the little bugger begging for your attention.
Don’t Do It, Write It — We’ve all fallen prey to the stray thought or epiphany that occurs to us while we are in the middle of something else. You’ve been there: you start to set up a new client profile, so you open your spreadsheet and are reminded about an upcoming event you meant to promote. You open Facebook to post it and boost sales, then you happen to notice a particularly juicy conversation on the Pepperlane Community Group page that reminds you about a training you wanted to explore. Then you’re reading the guest lecturer’s blog, which reminds you of the referral program you wanted to create, which leads to who knows where … .and all of a sudden an hour has passed and you still haven’t set up that client. Don’t get derailed — write the “to do” item in your schedule or on a sticky note and return to your original task.
Stop “Multitasking” — Moms generally pride ourselves on being able to cook dinner, soothe a baby, hold a phone conference, help with homework and change a tire all at the same time. Moms who own businesses are particularly vulnerable to the overload, especially if we complete work at home — there are a lot of details that constantly require our attention.
Multitasking is not actually handling multiple tasks at once — our brains aren’t able to split focus at one time. Instead, we are quickly switching our attention from one task to another. So if you are listening to a conference call while writing an email, did you actually hear what the speaker said while you were composing that message? (I’m guessing no, if you’re being honest with yourself.) Then, your brain takes a moment to refocus on the call. If you realize that you need to catch up and deduce what was missed (and if it was important), your body responds with a surge of cortisol due to increased anxiety, resulting in stress.
According to Forbes, the problem with trying to “multitask” is all that shifting back and forth between tasks isn’t all that efficient. Studies show that multitasking can reduce productivity by as much as 40%.
Here’s the bottom line: multitasking results in lower-quality work and brain exhaustion. When you can focus on one thing at a time, you are able to complete the task in less time and with more accuracy than if you are jumping back and forth between multiple tasks. (Another good reason to shut off FB and ignore your email for chunks of time.)
Studies show after 20 minutes of interrupted performance, people report significantly higher stress levels, frustration, workload, effort and pressure. I actually FEEL better when I have a successfully structured day where I can focus on one thing at a time, and science supports that. I can tell my productivity is higher, and I swear, my head feels clearer. It’s worth the effort.
Batch Your Tasks — Gloria Mark, an “interruption scientist” argues: “When people are switching contexts every 10 and half minutes they can’t possibly be thinking deeply. There’s no way people can achieve flow. When I write a research article, it takes me a couple of hours before I can even begin to think creatively. If I was switching every 10 and half minutes, there’s just no way I’d be able to think deeply about what I’m doing. This is really bad for innovation. When you’re on the treadmill like this, it’s just not possible to achieve flow.”
The solution to help you think more deeply? Batch your tasks. Within each chunk of time, group similar things together.
Create “buckets” of tasks that you encounter each week. Some typical buckets include:
Administrative (email, event creation, scheduling, bookkeeping)
Marketing (post content, ads, graphics)
Meetings (in-person, conference calls, 1:1 calls)
Writing (blogs, newsletters, ebooks, trainings)
Staffing (payroll, evaluations, planning)
When you get into a zone, you are able to maintain your workflow, your brain doesn’t have to switch around and you are able to work more efficiently. “One thing at a time” is a saying for a reason!
Avoid the Social Media Rabbit Hole — This one is tough. Internet research, email, and social media (work or personal) should have its own bucket on the schedule. Avoiding social media requires some discipline. Know you can’t resist?
Tricks to keep you on task:
Shut down the tabs (no need to torture yourself)
Set a timer for your social media (you’ll be amazed at how quickly that time passes!)
Turn off all social notifications on your phone (it’s rather freeing, actually)
Install a site blocker extension (it’s like not buying the Oreos)
THE SCHEDULE CAVEAT
Life happens. #Momlife definitely happens. Sometimes our schedules get derailed by necessity. That’s OK — make sure to choose an app where you can snooze or easily reschedule a task. Don’t ignore it, just reschedule it. I am not perfect about sticking to a schedule, but having the structure in place and sticking to it more often than not will be beneficial to your business. (Not to mention your mental well-being — bonus!)
Scheduling will actually create more autonomy for you. You will know exactly when you have time to work on a particular project; you can comfortably enjoy your scheduled time off because you know that you have your work planned out and you won’t miss anything. Contrary as it sounds, scheduling will set you free!
Love this and want other tips from working moms who really get it?
Diane Meehan is the Director of Business Development at Pepperlane. Previously, she worked at Paint Nite, where she was ranked in the top 1% of Paint Nite licensees across the country for 4 years and grew her social painting business to over $6 million in sales in less than 5 years.
As a divorced mom to 3 girls, she is particularly skilled in time management, organization, and eye-roll interpretation.