The key to running your own biz as a parent: Energy & Time ManagementJul 29, 2020
Tiffany Jones is the Founder & CEO of Kenza Collective, but in a previous life, she was a Producer at an ultra-busy web and graphic design and development agency. She managed multiple creatives, worked closely with the creative director/owner on writing 6-figure proposals, setting up and refining processes, and was an all around point person that kept each ball in the air and spinning.
At the apex of her workload, she had 15 projects at once, and managed all while working a 4-day, 32 hour work week. Intense as it was, she loved the challenge, and was able to learn some hardcore, practical skills for project management. Tiffany became a master prioritizer, and learned the flexibility needed to pivot on a dime.
Turns out that this is the exact mentality it takes to be able to juggle freelancing while parenting, especially with limited childcare.
Keep reading below to hear 3 tips Tiffany has for being as productive as you can while being a freelancing parent, and stay tuned for her upcoming three part course where she'll break down how to apply these project and client management skills to a freelancing business. If you’re interested in hearing about when this is available, be sure to sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of this post!
Tiffany’s Top 3 Productivity Hacks for Freelancing Parents
If I have an unexpected 15 minute window, I know that I can sit down and know exactly what to work on next. These pockets of time, when utilized properly throughout the week, are what allow me to get it all done. To be able to do this, you have a solid strategy. This strategy has 3 main parts:
- Be ready.
- Ignore everything.
- Get through what you can, then let it go.
It’s crucial that when you sit down to work, you are able to get right to it. You don’t waste time figuring out what you need to do. You don’t need to question what’s the priority. In order to do this, you need to make it a habit to have a plan ahead of time.
This is a must when you’re a busy parent with a million things on your mind.
I like to do as much as I can to get ahead of “preventable stress”. This is stress that can be lessened or prevented altogether if you sit down and just think through things and make a plan for yourself ahead of time.
Of course, keep in mind that your plan will need to shift and change as the week plays out (or sometimes as the morning plays out), but if you have a plan to work from, you will feel a lot more in control of your time and energy. Here's my planning strategy:
Make a plan for the week so that you can see what’s coming.
Share the plan with your partner or child care provider if applicable. Call out days that might be a little tight, and work together to figure it out. This helps ensure that you're all on the same page. Don't forget to give your partner the same opportunity to share their schedule and needs.
On Sunday evenings, make it a habit to sit down and take a look at your week and make a loose plan.
I use an Asana board to do this, but a spreadsheet works fine too. I have 6 task lists - One is called “This week’s milestones”, and the other five are for each day of the week. I start by identifying the milestones I have to accomplish that week. It can be small like “Invoice XYZ client” or “Release the XYZ blog post” or “Finish all deliverables for XYZ project”. Keep in mind that these are your must-haves. This does not need to be a huge list - sometimes there’s just one main milestone that you know you have to get done that week, and that’s fine. These serve as my anchor points and reminders as I navigate the week.
Next, and most importantly, you need to get an accurate representation of the time you actually have for the week.
To do this, you'll first need to understand everything you have going on for the week, including meetings, appointments, and obligations - work or otherwise. Then, add these to each day’s task list. I just write in all caps: 10AM CALL WITH XYZ. This then helps me to see the actual time that I have to get work done.
For example, if I have three hours of calls on Monday, and I only have 3 hours of solid childcare, then I ain’t gonna get anything else done that day! So I need to plan my week accordingly.
It’s really easy to have your meetings or appointments on your calendar, and have a task list in a separate place, and then realize those pieces aren’t “talking to each other." This is a problem. That’s where stress comes in because you’re not being realistic with your time, and you might be setting yourself up to fail.
Once you have your milestones laid out, your meetings and appointments filled in, then you can go through each day and fill in the tasks you need to do, working to prioritize the tasks you need to do to hit your milestones.
Be sure to add things in like, “check emails, or write an email to XYZ, schedule a social post, etc.”
These are all tasks that take time, and again the point here is to lay it all out in one place so that you can be realistic with the time you have. It also feels good to check those things off when you finish them.
Usually the way that this starts to play out is that I identify my must-haves for the week, I note my meetings and appointments, then the first 1-2 days of my week are pretty detailed in terms of what exactly I'm going to get done and in what order. This is just to allow for the inevitable change in plans that will happen as the week plays out. I get more detailed with each day as the week goes on.
Ok, so now you have a good idea of what your week looks like. You’ve identified your must-do’s as your milestones, you’ve laid out each day with meetings and tasks, and they’re prioritized based on importance. You’ve seen that Tuesday is going to be particularly busy, so you talk to your partner that you may need some extra support that day to get it all done. Now you go to bed ready to tackle the week with a plan (yasss, sleep!). Now, when you sit down Monday to get to it, you don’t have to think about anything! You just look at Monday’s list, and start on the first task and go down the list.
Groom this list as the week goes on
What I like to do to wrap each day up is look at my list for the day, move anything down to the next day or later in the week that I didn’t get done, set myself up for the next day, and then I’m done. Rinse and repeat throughout the week. I usually do this for just 10 minutes at the end of the day after I put my daughter down to bed. And even though I might be tired and brain dead by then, it shouldn’t take much effort to just look at the next day and make sure I’m ready to go, because I’ve already done most of the work planning out my week. Trust me, your future self will thank you for pushing through and doing this last little bit for the day!
If you have a window of time to get uninterrupted work done, ignore everything around you. Those dirty dishes, the toys scattered around, the unmade bed… e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.
This was really hard for me in the beginning! I used to tell myself that messes stress me out, and that I need to clean up before I can start work. To a certain degree, they still do. However, what stresses me out more is not getting my work done while I have some time to do it. So, when you have dedicated work time, IGNORE EVERYTHING and get your work done.
This also goes for other things on your computer - email notifications, social media, texts, etc. Don’t be afraid to turn everything on silent, quit out of apps that distract you, and just put your head down to get things done. We ain’t got time for distractions when we have milestones to hit for the week, and a very limited amount of time to accomplish them. Work on developing the discipline of letting the mess go, and ignoring it all. Focus on your list, and get to work.
Get Through What You Can, Then Let It Go
This is perhaps the most important of the three tips.
You’ve prepared by making a plan for the week and for your day, you’ve prioritized tasks so you know that you’re working on the most important items first, and you’ve ignored everything…. and then...CURVE BALL! Your child isn’t napping and needs you to soothe them. Or your partner schedules a super important last minute business call that they have to do, which means you’re on parenting duty unexpectedly.
This stuff is going to happen, and it’s all good. Expect it to happen.
Look at your plan, and make a new plan.
If your partner needs to take that super important call and your plan for the day just got blown up, simply take a look at your list, see what tasks are musts and what can be let go, then make a plan to tackle the “musts” and let the rest of it go.
This is the beauty and freedom that can come from freelancing. You get to decide how it all works and flows. You get to be flexible and know that your family comes first, always. And remember: your partner needs that favor today, you’ll need that favor next week. It’s a give and take. Do what you can. Then let it go.
That person can wait another day for an email response. You can answer it after the kids go to bed. You can send an email saying, “I’ve received this and can respond in more detail tomorrow.” There are lots of ways to push tasks off if you need to that still keep you remaining professional and reliable. It’s just all about professional communication.
Sidebar: you don't need to tell your clients all the dirty details. Less is more. Simply say that you'll be getting back to them tomorrow. They don't need to know that you're in the middle of potty training your kid and currently cleaning up a poo, which is why you didn't get to that thing, mk?
Sometimes when my week is going to you-know-where, and I’m feeling stressed about getting it all done, I like to remind myself that I’ve felt this way before, and yet here I am. I have always gotten through it. It all works out in the end. I am doing my best. And there’s nothing more I can do, other than do my best.
Have grace for yourself, spend time reflecting on a week when it’s over to see where you could do better or concede that maybe it was just a crazy week, and then go hug and kiss your kids and relax. It’s all good. It will all work out. You will get better at this. You will get it all done. You can do this.
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Now go get to work! ;-)