i am excited to welcome designer michelle smith to the biz ladies series. although not new to design*sponge by any means, michelle has graciously offered some very helpful tips on how to balance parenthood with biz lady-hood. thanks michelle for some great pointers on time management and helping us become jackies-of-all-trades!-stephanie
*we hope that all of you talented working moms and dads will share your tips and advice for balancing life/work in the comment section as well. it’s definitely a subject that many people will relate to and identify with…
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A Little Background
In the summer of 2007, I was four years into running my own successful business and about five months pregnant when I was contacted by Real Simple Magazine to be featured in their upcoming Holiday Gift Guide. Loath to turn down the opportunity, I accepted the challenge, knowing full well that my first child’s due date was December 3rd, smack in the middle of the issue’s release date. Awash in preparations, the extra work was a welcome distraction from the larger issue at hand, which was of course the imminent birth of my baby and the impact that would have on managing my business.
I immediately knew when the magazine had arrived in subscribers’ mailboxes because that’s when the orders came in, at first in a steady stream and then, a full-on flood, everyday, for over a month until I had to put a virtual “gone fishing” sign up two weeks after the birth of my daughter. My husband and I (and a small army) were making necklaces at the hospital to meet the demand; I was returning customer service calls in my pajamas with my newborn baby sleeping beside me; I was even processing orders during 4am feedings. The experience was a whirlwind, to put it mildly.
In the two years since then, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the experience and more importantly on what it means to be a mom in business with small children. And while I am not claiming to have all the answers (who does have them after all?), it has been a profound transition for me, so I thought I’d share a little of what I’ve gleaned, with a few pearls of wisdom from other entrepreneur/moms out there.
Balance & Time Management
Entrepreneurs tend to be fiercely independent (I know I am), and creating a career path that custom fits your passions and agenda is one of the great benefits of being a business owner. When people told me that having a child would forever change me, I believed them, but I didn’t really grasp what that would mean for my personal and business life since it seemed little more than a vague cliché. Now I know that they were referring to the unavoidable shift in priorities and time.
As an entrepreneur this was especially difficult to fathom, that instead of the freedom to make decisions how and when I wanted, I now had to work around my baby’s schedule. That usually meant, in addition to working quickly and in spurts here and there, letting something go. I regained my sanity through a reality check, a newly zen outlook, and a heavy dose of time management.
With most of the women I have talked with, finding a way to manage your time and focus on your business is the biggest struggle. Whether you have a stay-at-home nanny, your business is run in an office away from the home, or like me, you are a stay-at-home mom and run your business from home, finding the time to accomplish all that needs to be done in a day, let alone respond to the mountain that is your in-box, is daunting.
• Focus on One Task at A Time – I’ve found that one of the keys to managing my production load is to not divide my attention when I do have the opportunity to sit down and work uninterrupted. Research shows us that we are too distracted in life: checking our email 24/7, texting while in the grocery line, blogging while catching the latest episode of 30 Rock, and it is not helping our to-do list, instead it is making it longer. I am guilty of all of the above, but I have found that I accomplish the most when I tune out everything else except the one task (or baby) at hand. Nicole Balch of Making It Lovely thinks so too, “I only find myself getting frustrated when I’m trying to do too much (entertain the baby, answer emails, work on new designs, etc.) When I find myself feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I stop and just concentrate on one thing at a time, which of course is usually the baby. Everything else has to wait a little longer.”
• Keeping Your In-Box Empty – This one might be the toughest, because it takes time to accomplish and is a recurring daily issue. When I don’t maintain a clean inbox it’s like looking into the depths of Pandora’s box, and yet, when I take the time to clear it and keep it empty, projects suddenly seem less daunting. I can then take on more because I’ve freed up my time and to-do list. The prospect of all those unanswered emails looming in the background drags me down and makes me feel anxious, but when it is empty my load is dramatically lightened and it feels good!
• Be Realistic with Your Goals & Expectations – Since I am a stay-at-home mom, my working time is really limited to when my daughter naps, in the evenings after she is asleep, and the one day I week I have someone watching her. I’ve learned to refocus on the things that are attainable at this stage in my life and business, and that means letting go of some things. As with all things, it is most important to be true to yourself and your values. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, or how fast the world seems to be spinning away from you, if it is too much, it is just that. Former Anthropologie designer turned entrepreneur Tamar Daniel put it nicely, “I think you must be true to who you are. It’s important to examine that, and be honest with yourself and the people around you.”
• Delegate & Outsource – “Rather than try to make it happen all on your own, combining forces allows you to achieve the balance [that all working moms] crave” says Emily Anderson, author of the forthcoming book Eco Chic Home, and I agree. Finding reliable partners to outsource with allows you to continue to work on projects that you might otherwise have to give up due to time constraints.
• Daily Practice / The Tortoise Wins the Race – I keep a daily progress log of the things I want to accomplish both big and small and post it in a place that I look at often. I have a personal one and a business one; on it you will find things like: practice the guitar, create new product sketches, floss, empty in-box and so-on. It is a visual reminder to keep me on target towards my goals both small and large. I can literally “X” things off as I do them. I also list my weekly, monthly and quarterly goals here. If I miss a day, I don’t sweat it, because I can see all that I have accomplished at the end of the month and at the end of the year those small milestones add up to a much larger achievement. It’s the tortoise that won the race and this method works well for getting me to the finish line. Sometimes it’s harder to get started on a task when it seems hefty and unattainable, but broken up into daily tasks, it becomes an easy and manageable way to move forward, slowly, but surely.
Finding Likeminded Peers
I am lucky to be surrounded by an amazing network of talented, smart and supportive women, some moms, some not, and it makes all the difference in the world. To receive constructive criticism that is aimed at encouraging growth and not rooted in jealousy is a blessing beyond measure. Though not all of my friends are entrepreneurs or parents, when they are both, like me, our relationship takes on a new depth. Our conversations weave back and forth unapologetically between topics like our latest business idea and what our toddler would eat at the dinner table last night. It is worth it to seek out these friendships, even if, like me, you tend to be shy around strangers. I try to nurture and encourage these relationships between others too by hosting a monthly get-together with food and laughter; it is a great way to spend an evening and whether business is discussed or not, I find it is vital to my well-being.
Above all the best advice I have for any businessperson is to learn to be flexible and to think on your feet, and the same holds true for parenting. Just when you think you have one thing figured out, something will usually change, causing you to renegotiate your best-laid plans. You’ll be a smarter businesswoman and better equipped at handling life’s challenges gracefully when you are organized, balanced and adaptable – a challenge to be sure, but achievable, and well worth it.
P.S. I hope to continue this dialogue on my own blog where I’ll be posting a regular series featuring other entrepreneur moms and their advice on managing it all.