I've worked for several years from my lovely little home office. It's amazing how far my designs have gone from here to the far corners of the United States, to Europe, and even to the land down under! I have many friends and colleagues that ask, "How do you fit it all in and still make clients feel like they're the only person you're working with?!"
The growth of my design business didn't come easy. After much trial and error, I made this life as a wife, mommy and home business owner an art. Slowly but surely I found ways to heat that milk up, meet the two o'clock print deadline and turn the oven off at the exact minute I planned to be walking out the door to join the school pick-up line. It's rare when a creative mind meets that organized mind. Those two don't often collide. But God was smart when He paired me with a husband who is the epitome of organization. His left brain and my right brain met somewhere in the middle and when I rubbed a little bit of my laid back, creative nature on him, I scored some amazing organization tricks on my end!
So for those of you mommies who lead a busy work life and decided to bring your careers and passions alongside raising your children, I thought some of my little tactics might help. While these methods worked wonders for my daily life at my home business, some of these work just as great for the other part of my work life as Art Director at Giggle Magazine, which includes that strategically scheduled morning Starbucks stop and those prompt high-heeled stomps into my office for the other half of my week.
1. Silence the mental chaos of to-do's. I divide my life into two places: My iPhone and My work notebook.
For work: I know there are millions of wonderful task management software out there + monthly planners, but when it comes down to my work list, I have to see it right there, front and center all day long. And I have to be able to cross those to do's off with a pen! If not, things will slip. So I make my week's to do list with it's deadlines highlighted. At the bottom of the page, I put next week's and next month's to-do's each with there deadlines right next to it, just to know what's coming.
When the scribbles and cross-offs get too busy to understand…I move to the next page and rewrite anything that hasn't been done and any new tasks that keep my week and month lists easy to refer to on one page.
Tip!: Small sized notebooks are great because you can only fit so much on a page…and it keeps you from overbooking yourself!
For mom life: Everything that requires and "alert" or a date and time, it goes in my phone. There is no way on God's green earth that I could possibly remember it all. So it's in the calendar or "Reminders" app. And my personal life is filled with beeps and chimes that keep me on track with that kindergarten lunch and YMCA tuition deadline! The occasional work task is in there with my life stuff and goes off it it's something that really required a loud alert on a specific date/time!
When you write something down, it calms your mind down and allows you to focus on what you need to work on NOW…not everything you have to do tomorrow, next week, or next month. Unload the noise onto your paper or phone as it comes and focus on the one or two things that need attention now. Believe me, this method is the source of my sanity, focus and organization!
2. Start small. End big.
If your day's project list includes a few little tasks and one or two big tasks, start with the little stuff. Cross those off your list as soon as you can. (Believe me, crossing off an item is so good for your psyche!) When all of those little tasks are crossed off, it makes you feel like you've accomplished a big part of your day and then you can just focus on those two big things and take your time on those because all of the little things are no longer waiting on you!
3. Guard your schedule like a hawk!
Sometimes you just have to say no for the sake of your business and your happy clients. If you over-schedule your day, it's not only a stress on you, but it's a stress on your work and the results of your work. Because you've planned five big projects for the day, project five is definitely going to get the shaft, and that fifth client deserved just as good a project as the first client did. So don't compromise your work by adding too much to your plate. Satisfied clients are the end goal and if you're overbooked, clients sense that and they can see it in your rushed work. So when that random client asks for a proof five days before you promised it, kindly address that their is a scheduled date for that, and it's not today.
When that new client asks for a quick project by Friday, kindly address that you are fully booked that week and can schedule them in in two weeks. If they truly value your work, they will wait. I promise.
The simplest rule: If it's not on your list today, and it doesn't fit, DON'T do it today. Schedule it for a week where it fits!
Another way to guard your schedule is to limit those unnecessary lunch dates that are oh so tempting! Yes, you're your own boss, but if you really think about it, your clients are your boss!! If you don't meet those deadlines, your reputation is at stake and suddenly that yummy noon salad with your bestie doesn't taste so yummy anymore when your patient client goes bye bye.
Know when it's time to work and know when it's time to play.
"Oh it's a lunch with someone who wants to talk business," you say. Really? Will it benefit your business? Will it help you meet your deadlines? Will it effect your business in a positive and tangible way. Does their agenda meet your business goals at all? Be honest with yourself, is this lunch necessary during your crucial work time or can you squeeze them in when project loads are low and you have some free time to spare to make those lunches that need face to face interaction? So many 'business lunches' are either not to our benefit at all, or can be wrapped up into an email that didn't take up an hour of your day!
4. Play maid for only one day. Work and kids are only the beginning. Then there's the monster load of laundry and moldy bath tub that is screaming your name (admit it, we've all gotten to that moldy stage!) When do those ever fit in?! Well, mine has it's day. Mine is Friday. I don't work fridays. It's just how I've scheduled my life. If yours is Saturday when dad takes the kids outside for several hours in the morning or Sunday, that works too! So on my Friday, there is no work. There are no emails. (Maybe the one emergency one!) But on this day, I do laundry, clean bathrooms, and tidy up anything else that has been ignored all week. This ensures that my family time is not occupied with busy house work. It has it's day and time and that's it. You'd be surprised how much can get done when it has it's designated day or block of time. Of course there's the emergency stained school uniform that needs attention on Wednesday night, but the large piles and filthy tubs get no mommy attention until Friday! And it works! Every Monday, rest assured, all clothes are clean and bathrooms ready for the new week and I didn't stay up till' midnight any day of the week to get any of it done.
5. Make the extracurriculars fit YOUR schedule. YOUR sanity. Sometimes we over-schedule our children. That's not only bad for them, but it's not the best for you! Soccer and gymnastics are all great, but when you plan these activities for the kiddos, make them work for your home life. Choose programs that allow you to get home at a decent time and still have a daily dinner/homework/bath/bedtime routine that your children can expect.
6. Treasure your down time. My couch time is top priority. If you know me personally, you know I always refer to my "couch time" and am quite the stickler about it. Don't get me wrong, I love the cuddles and laughs right after dinner, but once the kids are in bed, it's mommy time. It's me time. Your brain has got to rest at the end of every day. It's healthy and keeps you from getting burnt out. If you have a passion for your career, don't let it burn out because you're doing it 24-hours a day. Wind down. Let it go for a few hours, ignore the emails and do something that fills your tank besides work. It's good for you and good for those around you.
If it gives you a twitch to not answer a priority client's email at 9:30pm, just write a quick response to them saying you have received their email and are happy to get back to them first thing in the morning. Write it in your notebook list, clear your brain of it and RELAX.
There's so much more I can share…and maybe I'll do a part 2 to this post. But I hope this is helpful. We creatives tend to get lost in our visions and dreams…but it's always good to come back down to earth and remember that our clients (the ones that pay the bills) may speak a different language than ours. And most of the time, that language is: Good work. Good response. Good experience.