biz ladies: biz parents-balance & time management

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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…

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!


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.

(The photos above are of my Rock & Shop Market business partner Regan and her daughter taken by her husband, photographer Geoff Wood.)

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.

Stephanie May*

I SO needed this today! My sister and I have a huge event this weekend, and I’ve also got 3 little ones running around:)

Bobbi

I don’t have children at home anymore, but working from home I still find time management to be a struggle sometimes. These are really great ideas for anyone who works at home. Thanks!

Sam

Excellent post! I think that focusing on one task at a time is both the most important and most difficult thing I am trying to do this year.

Jordan

I own a home decor store and had my baby 2 weeks after I opened. We are 6 months in and my back is totally out but I’m so lucky to have my little girl at work with me everyday and luckily all my customers love her too. But it is SO HARD. Thanks for the article- it keeps me sane knowing other women out there are completely overwhelmed at times as well. It takes the stress off and allows me to enjoy business-owner/ new mommy-hood one day at a time.

Kim at EF eDesigns

I don’t have a family or a full blown home business (yet), but I’m looking forward to reading more about how you balance it!

Meghan

Wow, I couldn’t have been more excited to read the topic today….and to know there are so many others trying to juggle being at home for your kids and sustaining a business all the while. While I feel my head is going to spin right off my head sometimes, I wouldn’t change it for a second. Thanks for the helpful insight!

Heather Moreau

Thanks so much for this! I’m 10 months pregnant (due yesterday!) with my first child and very nervous to see how parenthood will affect my busy photography business…. there already isn’t enough time in the day! I hope to make it all fit gracefully and your article was encouraging:)

Melanie

I have two kids and run my business part-time and find all of this hard to do. Thanks for the great tips and encouragement!

Alwina Simon

I have a daughter and I am working at home too… and it was quite a struggle to get along with this new parenthood situation and work and time and needs and wishes and all the things that one took for granted before a child entered one’s world.
Now as for me I can say that there is one thing that is more important than a to-do-list. It surely is the NOT-TO-DO-LIST. Make sure this list is full of time stealing silliness ;) and keep focused on the significant things to do.

Ellen

Thanks for the post. It’s always nice to hear how other creative working mom’s make it work. It’s never easy, but the rewards are pretty great. Both personally and professionally.

Sarah

WOW did I need this today! I have a 1 year old, an online business, work full time, and starting another business all at the same time! I struggle with time management everyday but I do find I can get more accomplished if I have a to-do list everyday. Good luck to you all!

Alice

This is good to keep in mind. I often have to juggle my part-time job, my side business and the kids. For my sanity we’ve begun to take time for ourselves during the week. A brisk hour long walk (exercise and break in one!) after we drop off our preschooler. I dread it sometimes but in the end it’s worth it to clear my head.

Angie

Thank you for posting this! I have two small children and run a photography studio so it’s always good to hear from people with the same set of challenges. I often feel like I don’t fully identify with working moms OR stay at home moms. I get the best and the worst of both worlds!

hazel & hunter

Thanks you SO much for this post!! I’m due in July with my first and worried about how i’m going to keep up with my creative business…i already feel like i don’t have enough time as it is! This was really helpful and inspiring!

Natasha

This post is right on time. I am a new mother and aspiring entrepreneur and struggling to balance it all. Thanks for the advice and words of encouragement.

Sally

This post really did come at the right time! My daughter is almost 9 months old, just started walking (!) and I run one business from home & am working on a second one… It’s definitely crazy trying to do it all and sometimes it feels impossible, but I agree – most important is to keep that inbox empty!! And then, one thing at a time… otherwise it’s just overwhelming! Glad to know there are other moms out there trying to make things happen and raise a family at the same time. :)

koolaroo

I have been thinking about this as well. In fact I’m organizing my office as we speak. The hardest part is when an amazing opportunity comes up and you just want to dive in and own it. But, with being a mom, running a house, looking after a husband, you have to be realistic with yourself and the business otherwise someone loses.

Erika

Thanks so much for this post!
These are exactly my struggles at this moment! It’s obvious I am not alone, but having others share their experiences and advice is invaluable!!!
Thank you.

Anna Joyce

After a tantrum over dried pineapple rings at the UPS store while trying to photocopy some pieces for a pattern I am writing, I came home, popped on the computer and see this post- THANK YOU. I have two girls ages 4 and 16 months and just decided to really make a go of my art and design in 2009. It is an incredible and very difficult journey. I try to stay focused, keep my eye on the prize and be honest about what I can get done that this stage in my life. I also keep motivated knowing that I am setting an example for my girls of a mother who is following her dreams and delighting them by making things that they love. Hang in there Mamas!

Alana Fletcher

I can relate oh too well! I have been trying to comment on this all day!! Thanks for the great advice. I have 2 kids (1 in school, 1 at home), interior design clients, blog and shop so am always eager to see how others manage out their time…I am so grateful for this blog community and the support that is given…thanks! Keep up the fantastic posts.

Claire

I think these are great guidelines for anyone working at home or with their own business. I definitely can relate to trying to do multiple tasks at once and feeling like I get nowhere. I notice such a difference when I focus! Thanks for the helpful post!

Kim stone

thanks for such a huge and informative post i will look forward for it but can you kiss that baby from me she is so cute.

heather Bulmer

fantastic and constructive advice. I especially appreciate the ‘keeping the inbox empty’ tip and will endeavour to practice it daily from now on.
thank you.
P.S. beautiful pictures.
Heather

krystyna81

what a great post – thank you! And for reminding me to floss…

I think that you made a couple points that are SO important – we need a network, and we have to find people to work with us – partners we trust, whether it is for the few hours of child care every day or packaging orders or answering e-mails. We are not super Women – and we don’t have to be.

Shelley

Thank you for this post! Time management is an issue that I now struggle with daily. I work, outside the home, have two online stores & while I don’t have a baby, I do have a family that I need to be with. You have given us some great tips & things to think about.

Marlene

I’m the mom of two, I have a full time job and then do some freelancing, a blog, and couple of online stores that I have to work on between dinner, laundry and homework. All the tips listed here are great! To me one of the most important is to do one thing at a time, do it good, and finish it totally.

Lia

Hi.
While I appreciate everything that’s been said here and making it clear that I’m in the same situation as most here (2 kids, 3 different jobs), I feel there shlould be a debate about the shape our lives have taken. Most of us find ourselves in this situation because we would like to make a living out of what we love to do: design, write, take photos, whatever. But, especially in the beginnings, the toll it takes on our daily sanity is sometimes just too much. I think another good advice would be take it slower, don’t bite off more than you can chew and let’s see if we can, all of us, make things go at a different pace by trying to change the general conceptions about what is possible, what is desirable and the possibility of just stopping and saying no. I feel women are very hard pressed to say everything’s all right when they’re barely coping with everything life throws at them plus all the tasks we (willingly) impose upon ourselves. And this is especially true when you have small kids. Dont feel guilty if you can’t manage it all! Take care of yourself.

Penelope Bridge

I love your tips – especially the reminder to connect with peers. Thank you!

We have 8 kids and two separate parenting arrangements in three different cities, a property rental, two fledgling businesses and government jobs . We’ve been working on a few tips of our own.

Top 3 – #1: spend dedicated time with the kids – no thinking about business…get outside #2: involve them in the process wherever possible. my daughters love making their own jewelry with supplies that they’ve chosen. #3: never leave a room empty handed. get into the habit of putting things away immediately.

Good luck to all of the lovely Mamas!

Erin

Yes, there’s always the guilt. You just have to let it go. And manage the expectations of those around you. As a stay at home mom with two little boys, and a freelance graphic design business that has recently begun to boom, I’ve learned that it serves no one well to put on a brave face (save this only for clients!) when you have bitten off more than you can chew. It’s better to be honest with your friends or loved ones, let them know that you still love them, but are just very busy. Do this especially with your girlfriends, so they don’t feel neglected, for they are the ones who will understand and support you the most in the long run. It’s so tough to find balance in our lives when we are constantly being pulled in eight different directions, but don’t let your personal relationships suffer. Just explain that you will be busy for a while, and then let the guilt go! Oh, and then go try to find some balance!

Anne-Marie

Thank you for this post. All the suggestions are great even for those without kids – especially the ‘one project at a time’ and ‘empty in-box’. I am guilty of not doing this, even without kids! =))

Sadhbh

Very timely post for me! I’m due my twins in 6 weeks and have a small home business I hope to expand while I am on maternity leave from my day job. Sometimes I think it might just be wishful thinking, but reading that article has made me feel a bit more hopeful!

Marivic

It is so wonderful to read about all the amazing women (and men) on the biz ladies series. Always inspiring and great advice from comments of all the lovely mamas. Thank you Michelle for sharing your experiences and wisdom.

Michelle Gorenstein

I am so glad I took the time to read this today. I have a 4 year old and run my graphic design business from my home, and it’s so nice to be reminded that there are other mom’s out there like me!

And to Lia’s point about assessing the shape our lives have taken…I’m with you. I’ve really been looking hard at where my life has come to lately, and adjusting my expectations to be more realistic about what time I have and what I can do in that time.

Brooke

This is a great article and I really enjoyed reading it. So thank you!

For me, when it comes to finding a working balance I do find that to-do lists help immensely, as does a standing list of tasks for every day of the week. Eg. Mondays always have the following listed: stocktake inventory, list production needs, write week’s blog posts, research media list, media mail-out x 3, sweep, mop floors, clean kitchen, laundry, ironing. Then I add to that what else needs to be done that day. I also keep a rolling to-do list of things that aren’t as pressing but would benefit me if I did them, and try and spend 15 minutes on one of those things most days. (Things like cleaning out a drawer in the kitchen, cutting more tissue paper for parcels, printing shipping labels, etc).

OTT? Maybe! But it does help get my head on straight, so whatever works I guess.

Valerie Rice

Gratitude for this article! It’s taken me three days to find the time to leave a comment, but from seeing the responses, you’ve definitely hit it on the nose!
By the end of the day; doing homework with two kids, making dinner and hopefully shipping out products, I often feel a bit frenetic and frazzled. So the tips and guidance given here are really useful and realistic.

I’m realizing that in order to achieve family harmony, my biz may not move as quickly as someone else’s, and I need to be OK with that. We’re so compassionate with others and yet oftentimes forget to give ourselves a break too.

Brooke (Know Your Story)

I needed this! I have already recently started a blog & service to organize other’s photos but I know that won’t make money for a while (if ever!) so I am falling back on my routes as a graphic designer. I have 2 kids, one is 2 years old and the other is almost 6 months old. I worked while oldest napped as a consultant designs for one company, but now to do freelance and have 2 kids?! I am not wanting to work every night or on the weekends, so I am hoping that the nanny route for a few hours a week may help. But for all the other hours in the week, I need to get some control of my time management.

Nicole : Three By Sea

Great article- some useful tips I’m already trying to do (focus on one thing at a time) and others I want to incorporate (that To Do chart).
Sorry I’m just now commenting, but I’m just finally catching up on blog reading for the week! ;)

Tokketok

Love this article! Being a mommy and an entrepreneur, you have to love what you do! I think it’s hard not to turn on the computer while I really should be spending time enjoying my son! I try to get out of the house with him to avoid the temptation and be there for him. Grace, I love all the biz-ladies articles! If you ever turn them into a book, I will be the first one buying!

Nicolette

I’m also a mom to 5 and 3 year old boys with an online business and starting another while managing a home and farm. I totally agree with Lia and Erin. The biggest issue for me is trying to let go of guilt. That feeling of guilt when you leave your kids with someone else for a few hours, of not getting back to people quick enough, of not being the “perfect” mom, wife and businesswoman. Just let it go. And also think of evaluating your expectations of others. Can you really expect someone to reply to your email the same day? That person might be trying to juggle a few things herself!!
Oh yes, and I’ll be there in line with Tokketok when that book comes out!!

Maggie

Just like everyone else, I wanted to say thanks for this article! There are obviously lots of us in similar boats and it’s always great to know you’re not the only one. There are great insights here, too! My real key to productivity with a 5 1/2 month old has been making comprehensive, verrrry broken down to-do lists so there’s always something little I can take care of if I see a 5 minute window. Thanks again!

Amy

Great article. I can totally relate to all of these posts. I was on a conference call in my hospital room an hour and forty minutes after the birth of my third child this last December. Sometimes I think I’m crazy…but I love that my kids are with me during the day. I’m making money while making peanut butter sandwiches, writing emails while coloring, and smiling at my children while on the phone to New York. Blessed.

adrianne

Thank you! This is a fantastic article and so true. Great reminder. I’m so happy to be able to be a mom and be an entrepreneur, even if it isn’t the easiest balance. But honestly, I don’t remember what it was like without kids but I do know I wasn’t getting any more done. =)

Emily Jeffords

Your article has encouraged me more than you will know! I recently started a year long project in which I am painting a painting ever day for a year (!) and selling them for the amount of the day (day #77 = $77). BUT, I am also a full time mother to my precious daughter. She is my pride and joy, and I would give up anything for her, but I still strongly believe that it is important for me to have that creative and entrepreneurial outlet. You article has encouraged me that 1) what I’m doing is do-able, and 2) there are many other women doing it! Thank you!!!

Sarah

Thank you for this post. I’m not a Mom yet, but actively trying. Its nice to know my business venture doesn’t have to end once I embark on motherhood.

Luanne

If I can tell all of you hard working moms of small children one thing: it will al be there tomorrow and your kids are growing up. I have always worked full time in our family owned and run business. I worked the day before my daughter was born–3 weeks early! She’s 23 now, my son is going off to college in 3 weeks. There are only so many hours in the day. Delegate. That has always been my shortcoming. I wish I had learned that 25 years ago. My life would have been so much easier. I never had–or wanted–a nanny or housekeeper. If you’re working or running a business and have small children, you need some help. Even if it’s from you husband. Be organized. Makes lists. Don’t let things pile up. From a young age, involve your kids. Let them know how imortant what you’re doing is to your family. Empower your young children by giving them small “jobs” to do to help you. I love to cook and both of my children are now wonderful cooks. It was messy at times but so much fun! My mother did this with me as well. It IS possible to do it all. Just not everyday…

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