This week marks the beginning of a new school term and a new phase in my business. I finally get some child-free time during the week, as my youngest starts nursery and my eldest starts school.
The Summer holidays have been tough, work-wise, as this is the first Summer I’ve had both children at home the entire time. Last year my business was in the very early stages, but this time around there’s been lots to do.
Something I get asked a lot is, “how do you manage to fit it all in?” The simple answer is, with difficulty!
It can be really difficult to get much work done when you also have kids to look after, a home to manage, and all the hundreds of other things that need to get done on a daily basis. For a lot of us though, just taking six weeks off isn’t an option
I’m by no means a time management expert, nor am I saying that my way is the best, but I can share what I have been doing these past few weeks to manage my time and get things done, with the very limited time I’ve had.
All the ideas below relate to fitting in work tasks, but the same ideas could be applied to anything.
If you have limited time, you need to figure out what has to be done, versus what would be nice to do. Work out what the most important tasks are (which are generally the things that make you money, or the things you’ll get in trouble for not doing!) and focus on those. Everything else can wait until you have more time. For example, I have to have stock, pay my suppliers, organise advertising and keep my accounts up-to-date. I don’t have to build my Instagram following, or get more blog readers. (They would be nice to do, and are on the list, but can’t be a priority when I don’t have the time.)
I love lists! When my eldest finished pre school and I knew I had seven weeks at home without childcare, I sat down and thought about the priorities for the Summer. I used those to breakdown the steps I needed to take and created task lists.
Work out what time you have
If you have no childcare you need to work out what time you do have or where you can make time. For example, this Summer I’ve been getting up early and getting an hour or two of work done before the kids get up. This means I can tick one or two things off my list early on, even if I get nothing else done that day.
This also works well for me, as my contacts in China are online then and we can speak in ‘real time’. Of course, this won’t appeal to everyone, but maybe there’s time when younger children are napping (this isn’t working for me anymore, as my eldest doesn’t nap!) or after they’ve gone to bed.
Eating into ‘your’ time isn’t great, I know, but hopefully this is only a temporary measure, unless you choose for it not to be.
Plan your time well
Once I knew what time I had and what needed to be done, I then tried to map out what I would do each week and sometimes even each day. Obviously things change, but I found it useful to plan out what I would do each week towards those bigger goals. Also, I found that if I knew I had an hour and had three things to do, I was so much more likely to actually get them done. Having limited time and a list of tasks makes you really focused. On the flip side, if you have all day to do those same things it’s so much easier to get distracted.
Don’t let emails control you
This has been huge for keeping me sane. Emails burn a hole in my inbox and I get really stressed when there’s a pending task I know I need to find time in my day to deal with. To help with this, I’ve stopped my business emails from automatically downloading on my phone (I have to manually go in and refresh them if I want to see them). This has been great for me, as if I see a ‘work’ email I have a tendency to feel like I need to answer it immediately. This way, I won’t even see it unless I know I have the time to deal with it.
Yes, you want to be responsive, but you need to keep your sanity intact too!
Take advantage of any ‘unexpected time’
When I get some space (maybe sitting in a doctor’s waiting room on my own, waiting in a queue, or when both kids are playing happily for a few minutes) I try and take advantage of it. I have a few small tasks that I know I can do during these times.
I check my emails, customer messages and business metrics and schedule or draft social media posts. Which leads me onto the next two suggestions:
Use apps where you can
I have an app for both my Amazon and Shopify accounts that I can access on my phone to check in on sales, messages, inventory and all kinds of metrics whenever I get a spare minute. You can also use all the social media apps to do things on the go.
Do what you can ahead of time
If I see an article somewhere I think my audience will like, I tend to just add it into the schedule of Facebook posts and push my other scheduled posts back (particularly if it’s timely). If it’s not time-critical, I just schedule it for whenever I need new content – usually a week or two ahead. This means I always have at least a week’s worth of content and never have that feeling of ‘aargh! I need to post on Facebook today!’
I’ve mentioned before that my Facebook automatically updates my Twitter feed, so that’s taken care of.
I plan out my Instagram posts, using the Notebook app on my phone to draft it, so when I’m ready to post I can just add the picture and copy and paste the text and hashtags
Take time off
This might sound counter-intuitive to getting things done, but sometimes a day off, an evening spent in front of the tv instead of working, or (in my case!) not getting up at 5.30am, might be just the thing you need to recharge your batteries and feel refreshed and energised the next day.
When I start to feel tired, or stressed out about how much needs to be done it can be so hard to keep motivated. I find that some days I have to drag myself out of bed and I shuffle around missing so much of the working time I’d planned for myself. Taking time off also gives you a chance to step back and re-prioritise if necessary. It’s easy to let things get on top of you and it’s funny how many things aren’t actually ‘urgent’ when you step back and think about it.
Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself!
The biggest thing I’ve learnt is that I get more done if I’m realistic about what I can actually do. If I overplan I’m just setting myself up for failure, as I almost always think I can do more than I actually can. (This is definitely something I need to work on.) That’s not a nice feeling and can really de-motivate you, which in turn makes you feel less productive.
As I said above, I’m by no means an expert, but all of this has worked for me and I hope it does for you too. Is there anything you’d add?