Over the past 7 years of running a small business, I’ve had my fair share of challenges. My website crashed with 1200 people on it one night (nobody could purchase anything); a large order of the ‘little white book’ once arrived looking slightly yellowed, I’ve wasted countless hours on marketing strategies that haven’t worked, and countless dollars on agencies who haven’t worked hard enough. However, nothing compares to the challenge of balancing it with motherhood.
There is the desperation to achieve everything within an ever-decreasing nap-time-slot; the inability to keep my office clear of duplo, connetix and other colourful plastic paraphernalia (or keep my own business paraphernalia from going walk-about through the house), the strain on my relationship as I lean on my husband to pick up the slack when I can’t, and the almost constant mum guilt.
I can’t say it got easier with the transition to two under 2 this year, but I’m working on skills to reduce the burnout, and feel like I’m achieving some semblance of ‘balance’ between motherhood and motherhustle.
1. Allocate “work” time in advance
2021 was a big year for my ‘job’, less so for my husband’s. Though he had been fortunate enough to keep his job in 2020, his career was still stalled through 2021, and he spent a lot more time at home. This was brilliant for our two children, our second being born in March, and also incredibly fortunate for me, as I was able to turn his inability to work into my own accelerated ability to work on my own small business. However, we have no family to help with childcare, and even our toddler’s 3 mornings a week at preschool were unavailable due to lockdowns. I found myself trying to steal time at any opportunity to just get *something* done. My frequent ‘disappearances’ (sometimes I would close the door to my office when the children seemed occupied, or ask him to take the children out for a walk with 5 minutes’ notice) caused a strain between us, and were ultimately more confusing for the children too. I wasn’t really achieving any kind of ‘balance’ with motherhood, but rather trying to do both at the same time.
After we realised that me dropping a ‘childcare bomb’ on him without warning was causing frustration, and that closing my door while the children played was not really giving me any productive time, we set about allocating me “work” hours (usually 2-3 hours in the morning), and the change in my productivity and my husband’s happiness, is worth sharing.
The benefits we have found are:
- My husband has time to prepare for my work hours, whether that’s making plans, or just feeling more prepared.
- As I also have the time organised beforehand, I can better prepare a to-do list, and prioritise those tasks much better.
- My children are out of the house – I get to work in silence, and without distraction.
- My children understand that “Mummy is working” – they don’t feel as though I’ve pulled a disappearing act on them.
- Being able to work in a 2-3 hour block both enables, and forces me to be more productive. I don’t let a minute go to waste, and I have no excuse for getting distracted.
- I am more present in the time I spend with my children when I know I will have some time to work later.
Whether you have plenty of time, or are extremely time-poor like me, I also suggest using “time batching” to small business owners.
Instead of being a slave to all the small business tasks you have to get done, at whatever moment they seem to demand your attention, make tasks work with your schedule by time-batching.
Time batching is the simple management hack of doing all your similar tasks in one go, rather than spreading them out over the day/week/month. While I might opt to do all my photos on one day; edit multiple blog posts at once; or schedule multiple meetings on the same day, to save time in getting dressed up and out of the house, you can start simply by:
- Answer your emails all in one go, maybe once or twice per day.
- Pack all your orders at the same time, rather than as they come in.
- Do time-consuming tasks, like gift-wrapping for instance, in bulk if possible. I gift wrap 10-20 books at a time, ready to add a note to when an order comes in.
- Check all of your business social media accounts at one time, once or twice per day.
- Do all your small business admin and errands altogether. Reordering thermal labels, checking shipping for customers, even responding to customer emails – so long as nothing’s urgent, leave it until you can batch some admin tasks together. This will enable you to be creative or more productive without interruption.
Time-batching reduces your start-up and slow-down time, it reduces your daily clutter, and improves your focus.
Another technique to work smarter is to incorporate the Pomodoro technique, which can also make you more productive, and fits well with the limited time most parents have.
The Pomodoro Technique
Pomodoro (named after a tomato shaped egg-timer) was time managed method developed by Francesco Cirri in the late 1980 as a way to power through distractions and break up time into manageable chunks. Aided by a timer, she works hard for 25 minutes with no phone, no emails, no co-workers knocking on her door – then at the end of 25 minutes you gives yourself a short 5 minute break. After four 25 minute slots have passed (100 minutes of work time) you then takes a 15-20 minute break. It’s a great way to get through your tasks without distraction, allowing you to stay incredibly focused.
2. Delegate something (even though you can do it)
You know that saying…
If you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
…the premise being that if you love what you do it will never feel like work. I respectfully call BS. I absolutely love what I do, I find satisfaction even in the crappy jobs, like fixing website issues, stacking the garage shelves with boxes of books, or wrapping 200 of them at 8pm when my children are asleep, but it’s still very much ‘work’. In 2020, for the first time, I actually stopped doing literally everything myself. I’m still not good at delegating, but I have a (local) virtual assistant who helps with scheduling content, sending invoices and following up on some admin emails; I’ve hired photographers to take photos occasionally; web developers to build a new website; experts to run Google Ads, and more. Each of those things, I can do, but all of those things, I just don’t have time to do. Though it can be really hard to relinquish control over even the minutiae of your business, finding someone to take something off your plate is working smarter because it enables you to focus on the creative, the productive, or the new – whatever’s going to take your business further.
I have some experience working with VAs (virtual assistants) both locally and internationally. With both, you can have great experiences, and terrible ones. I’ve been advised never to give your banking/financial information (even Xero logins) to somebody internationally, but I would be very careful with that information anyway. I did once hire a woman from the Philippines to assist me, warming to her as she had a baby the same age. Unfortunately, we also shared the same inability to be very productive most of the time, with a young baby to care for, and in hindsight, I needed to delegate to somebody who had more time than me, not less. Her rate was around $12 per hour, while my New Zealand VA charges $40-45 per hour.
3. Schedule self-care, reflection and time out
If you’re trying to balance motherhood and also running a small business, chances are you’re not taking much time to yourself. Without down-time or time out, your brain doesn’t have time to recover from the exhaustion of the day you’ve just had (and will have again tomorrow), and you’re less likely to come up with the business ideas or creation inspiration that small businesses need to get ahead. A reel idea, a tagline to use in your next Facebook ad, even a new product – they will only come to you if there’s ‘room’ in your brain for more, so you have to make room by giving your brain a rest, whatever that looks like for you.
As an active relaxer, I can’t possibly just stop working, put down my phone and relax. Meditation is simply out of the question. The only way I can seem to distance myself from technology (which always becomes work) is to journal. When my son was born in 2019, I began a baby book for him, but found that I actually really enjoyed writing letters to him rather than just writing about his movements and milestones. For almost three years to my son, and almost a year to my daughter, I’ve managed to set aside time to write in their journals. Though I’m writing to them, I actually find myself reflecting a lot on my own time and experiences, often finding moments of real awareness while I write to them.
Sometimes I can only write a few lines, and sometimes three pages. Some days I have no clue how to start writing, and others, the words pour out of me like water.
If you’re not good at relaxing, and always have to be doing something like me, I really recommend it. This year, I released a line of childhood journals (suitable to use as baby books) which are lined with space for a date, and come with journal prompt stickers. I have found that using these gives me the best of both worlds in my journalling – I can write to my heart’s content on the days that I am feeling inspired to do so, or can turn to one of 140 prompts to guide me in my ‘meditation’. The important thing is that it’s the way best way I have found to care for myself, which is integral to being able to run a small business and balance motherhood too.