Have you ever noticed a working mom is the ultimate at efficiency and prioritization? Have you ever wondered how she does it all or how she knows exactly what to work on and what to let drop? Want to get on this same efficiency level? Whether you're a mom (or not), figuring out how to maximize your time effectively is key to efficiency. Want to work less while being a rock star and delivering on your goals? Need to figure out a way to do 10 hours of work in 8? Well, keep reading ‘cause I’ve got a few tips for you.
This list is by no means a reflection of all of the ways you can find balance and boost productivity as a working mom with a full household, yet I’ve found these tips and scheduling tools to keep my many responsibilities running in the same direction (and mostly on the same track). The goal here for me isn’t perfection but balance and a less-frazzled mind at the end of the day. As I build my life as an entrepreneur, full-time mom and wife with a career in marketing I’ve learned how to reach what I call, “working mom efficiency.”
- Layer Your Schedule for Work and Home
I rely on Google calendars and the calendar app on my phone to create a layered schedule view. These are great tools for creating what I call the “above the line / below the line method of prioritizing.” The idea is above the line items get on the calendar in the week view you are planning and the below the line items will get on the calendar the following week or perhaps not at all, if something else more important comes up that takes priority. Prioritizing your calendar events also helps others (boss, co-workers, nanny, etc.) stay in tune with your priorities.
I keep a separate calendar for tasks related to Union of Elements, my work in marketing and my responsibilities as a mom with kids that have bustling schedules. I can use the toggle view to move back and forth between my calendars and keep my responsibilities compartmentalized (both physically and mentally). I can’t stress how imperative it’s been for me to build out separate calendars in maintaining efficiency and helping me understand when I need to say “no” or “not this week.”
A brief breakdown of my work calendar tips:
- Always set your working hours. This is key as it ensures that your direct report, cohort or CEO doesn’t schedule anything on your calendar that may conflict with a home or side gig responsibility.
- Set the skeleton of your calendar in two weeks increments. Review this daily and make adjustments as needed.
- Block out your lunch. Whether you actually use that time to eat or catch up on a personal item is up to you but you’ll thank yourself for carving out that much needed time.
- Use a color coding system. I prefer to use three colors (red indicates a must-do; orange indicates other important work events like 1-on-1s that I don’t want to miss; green indicates time that I carve out for myself for specific work-related tasks).
- Stay Calm by Journaling + Reducing Interruptions
I consistently have new projects entering my life and find myself turning to journaling when new opportunities arise. As soon as a new project lands in my lap I allow myself 15-30 minutes of completely uninterrupted journaling. I usually use Quip, WorkDocs or GoogleDocs and jot down all of my thoughts, ideas, worries, concerns and foreseeable roadblocks. If you’re a paper and pen person that’s absolutely fine as long as you can keep your method organized, easy-to-find and navigable at a later date. I then tuck that journal entry away until it’s time to work on that particular project (which I know because I’ve put a start date on my calendar using the above the line / below the line method mentioned earlier).What I’ve also found is that journaling relaxes my mind, helps me compartmentalize and put a project aside until it’s time to begin. I’ve often found that this is a great way to unwind at the end of my day. If you’re interested in my CBD routine for maxing out on efficiency and unwinding at the end of the day check out this previous Union of Elements blog.
In addition to journaling I stay calm by reducing unnecessary interruptions from my devices. Absolutely whatever you do turn off outlook or email notifications until you’ve prompted them. If there is truly someone that you want to allow to interrupt you it’s simple to set up that notification on your devices. Turning off notifications ensures you don’t receive silly pop-ups for every single email that comes through. How distracting!
I actually build in time for checking emails into my calendar. How novel! If your work uses messaging software, utilize the similar pop-up suppression. Only check your messages when it is convenient for you … not just at anyone else’s will. Another option is to setup office hours, a designated time each day or week where folks know when they can come to you for questions.
- Budgeting: Easy and Necessary
I often get asked how I budget for projects especially if funds are a bit tight. Well, I let my employer help me. Yep, you heard it right. Most employers allow you to set up automatic deposits that link directly to more than one account. My trick is to set up multiple accounts (both savings and checking) then I have my work automatically deposit predetermined amounts from each paycheck into these accounts. I prefer to calculate a predetermined percentage of every paycheck that will deposit straight into these accounts.
I prefer to think about expenses on an annual basis. Whether it’s a family vacation or a much needed project at Union of Elements that will require a freelancer. Where possible setup all your automatic payments including rent/mortgage, cell phone, HOA fees, etc. into one account with the appropriate percentage allocated from each paycheck. This method allows me to pay my bills on time, stay in the black, save time and money. Set it and forget it, ladies!
- TIP: Make all of the accounts that are meant for savings purposes harder to access. Don’t set up a debit card or connect any of these accounts to your discretionary accounts. The harder you make it on yourself to access these funds, the more likely it is that you’ll become a saver.
This method is the exact method employed for our business budget too. I can’t take all the credit here. This is a method that is outlined by Mike Michalowicz in “Profit First”. This system of budgeting allows business owners to take control of their finances and know EXACTLY how much money they have for things like marketing, promotional material, employees and most importantly for paying yourself first. Thanks Mike! It’s a motivational read. Highly suggested. Now that you know HOW MUCH you have you can assess how you want to invest that money. Invest because you're looking for the biggest return on the money. Align the spend to a goal.
- Schedule Time For Yourself
Girl, use those VACAY days! I’m serious! If I’ve learned anything over the years it’s that I’m more efficient and productive if I’ve made time for myself in some capacity. Whether this is a couple of hours in the evening I carve out to spend with my husband or solo time, it’s imperative for maximizing my working-mom efficiency.
The reality is that this can be difficult especially if you’re launching a small business, welcoming a new baby into the world or juggling a serious deadline at work. During those times I often turn to simple pleasures like scheduling activities with other families that have kids. I try to find activities that double as kid and adult socialization. On Saturday we have soccer with our best friend family. The kids are learning to dribble soccer balls and us adults, well, we get 45-60 minutes of adult conversation. Family BBQs are another option.
The women in my life are also working moms and it's crucial to have a tribe who you can relate to. With kids the same age and careers we face the same challenges and we have each other to lean on and bounce ideas off of. We hold each other accountable and inspire each other. It's nice to know you're not alone. On the days you think you are failing at everything someone is there to tell you “nope, this is normal and you really are amazing.”
In addition to time off for vacations I will regularly use days off to take care of my personal care like getting my hair or nails done, getting a massage, etc. This child-free / husband-free time to take care of and pamper myself is also important and this way I don't have to guilt anyone into watching my kids for six hours while my hair processes. I’m not eyeing my watch trying to will the process along so that I can pick up my kids on time or hurry back to the house. It’s much more relaxing this way. I used to know a woman who would get her hair done in the middle of work and I thought that was so posh and now I realize it was just about efficiency. Ha!
I hope you enjoyed hearing my tips. Now I’d love to hear some of yours. Pop them into the comments to share your efficiency hacks for all the readers.