It’s not a challenge confined to this audience (or this gender), far from it. In fact, it affects all of us. Anyone working. Anyone planning to start up a business. Anyone running a business.
But in my Coaching practice, where my work is predominantly supporting women – often mums – looking to change careers and start-up businesses, it’s a biggy.
Or a lack of.
We don’t have time to manage the house, the children, the job, let alone follow that long held dream of launching our own business. We’re continually putting our dreams on the back burner.
If we’ve successfully launched the business, we’re struggling to get it off the ground because finding the time to focus on marketing, business development and networking at the same time as actually delivering our products or services is proving a nightmare.
When the business is enjoying success, we’re working 24/7, dreaming about it, getting cross with the children, tired, stressed and wondering why leaving the high-flying career to improve our work-life balance has resulted in anything but.
This is such a common story.
You may be reading this, identifying with it and knowing full well that you need to change your working practices. But best intentions go out the window with the next client order and you’re back on the hamster wheel (oh yes, and the hamster cage needs clearing out as well).
Clearly, given what an issue this is for so many women, there’s not going to be an easy solution. There’s not five tips so easy to follow that your life can be transformed and before you can say ‘’what do you mean you need a fancy dress costume made by tomorrow?’’, you’re sitting with your feet up at 5pm with a glass of wine.
Making changes, real changes, takes commitment.
Upfront effort, that in the end, will yield results and lead not only to improving your well-being and mental state and family equilibrium, but improve the performance of your business as well.
My experience as a Senior HR professional in large, complex organisations gave me expertise in individual performance development as well as seeing the bigger picture. I saw how adjustments in working practices can lead to improved efficiency and productivity and drive up the outcomes delivered by organisations. I have also been a there at the time-poor stage when I wanted to launch and grow my business and had to overcome the challenges of being a mother and an ambitious business woman.
So, here’s my top five simple but important steps to maximise your time.
- Accept. You do have to accept that there are only 24 hours in a day. Some are for sleeping. Some are for family time. Some are for working. Ideally some will be for relaxing. So, the first stage is to work out how you want these 24 hours to look. Plan out your week on paper and assess how many hours are left for actual work. Be realistic. If you ideally want three hours per week Monday to Friday for the gym then plan this in. If a few times a term you need to find time for school open mornings or watching assemblies, put this in too. It will probably be frightening when you realise how few hours there are left. However, this is the first stage. Understanding what time you have to play with will enable you to ensure you maximise it.
- A bit of self-analysis is important here. When do you perform your best? First thing in the morning? Sometimes you read ‘set your alarm 30 mins earlier each day to get more time’. Well there’s not a lot of point in this if a) you’re a person who just doesn’t perform well early or b) if your child is a awake at 5.30 anyway demanding your attention. Equally, are you completely done for by 9pm and therefore liable to make mistakes or sleep badly if you work late into the evening? Another aspect of this understanding is what tasks do you perform efficiently because they are your comfort zone and area of skill, and which take up disproportionate amounts of your time because you either procrastinate or you simply find it difficult. For example, book keeping. Does looking at your accounts take you into the early hours because spreadsheets and figures are just so difficult for you? Or updating your website with marketing materials and blogs. Do you spend a few hours per month simply staring at a computer screen with no inspiration coming on how to write a bit of marketing spiel for your website?
- Availability. I’m afraid, this does take a bit of time. So, take a deep breath, grab a coffee and start writing down everything you do, and need to do. Try to allocate against each item roughly how many hours per month you spend on each of these items. Add it up and then compare it to your figure in number one – the time you actually have available. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that these two numbers do not remotely add up. If they do – bingo, you have the perfect workload! But if they don’t, it’s time for number 4 and 5.
- Prioritise. Go back over all the tasks and elements making up your day. Put against each one a number 1-3. 1 is essential/high priority. 2 is medium priority but does need to be done. 3 is can be delegated/outsourced/ditched all together. When you go through this exercise, don’t just rely on your first instincts as they may take you back to what you’ve always done. Think hard and truly examine the time versus benefits of all the activities you undertake.
- Delegate, outsource or remove. Be bold! Evaluate every networking group or meeting. Have you become used to spending a morning a fortnight with a very friendly bunch of people, generating no or little benefit, but you feel bad or even sad no longer attending? Reduce it down to attending this once a month or once every other month. You’re more likely to meet fresh people and have more to say to existing connections. Look at items on your list like book-keeping, marketing, HR or admin. Yes, outsourcing costs money. But if you outsource to a flexible provider where you’re not tied into an expensive contract, at least you’ll know that option is there when you need it. And the time you save can be used to develop or deliver business, or to down tools at the end of the day.
Don’t be persuaded to continue with a task just because it’s in your comfort zone, you like it, or you don’t trust someone else with it. You need to be commercially minded and confident in your own decisions and ability to manage suppliers or staff, if you are to have a successful business as well as a life.
If you go through this exercise, reading this will have been worth your time.
Jo Clifton is a senior HR Consultant and Business Coach & Mentor, specialising in helping women and mums (and men and dads!) change careers, start up and grow their businesses and structure their goals with direction, efficiency and confidence.