Archive for December, 2008

Even ‘downtime’ is ‘action time’ for working mums!

December 27, 2008

Christmas is a special time of year and for mums, it’s a hectic time too!  The main present buying and card writing responsibilities usually fall to us and we also have to prepare the house for guests, plan activities for the kids who are off school and home all day, keep on top of the food shopping and decorate the place.  The planners amongst us will also anticipate potential situations and prepare a contingency plan for them.  This usually includes buying a couple of extra ‘general’ presents for unexpected visitors and ensuring the medicine cabinet is stocked with headache pills, hangover remedies and something to aid digestion!  We are like swans on the surface, seemingly gliding through the water – bringing it all together effortlessly, but under the surface we are paddling like mad!

For many people, Christmas is a chance to relax but for working mums, this ‘downtime’ is still ‘action time’!

What is special about mums is that what looks to people on ‘the outside’ like basic housekeeping is actually the most important job in the world – we are making memories for our children and providing the framework that they are to grow up in.  Think back to your childhood.  Did you have happy memories of Christmas?  Why were they happy (or why weren’t they?)  Was the house dressed up with tinsel and baubles?  Did you have a tree to decorate?  Someone had to organise these things.  Did Christmas feel like ‘an occasion’?  Our experiences form part of our environment and I believe that people are a product of their environment.  Mums across the world are shaping the people that their young children are going to be so even whilst we’re ‘relaxing’, we’re still ‘working’ on the most important job in the world.

If you are one of these busy mums, how can you sail through the festive period and enjoy the fruits of your labour, whilst still getting everything done and finding time to wind down?  Well the most successful ladies have done some pre planning on this, so work this out for next year.  The first task is more of a life strategy and you will find life run more smoothly in general if you have identified this for you.  Take some time to consider what your values are.  By this I mean what are the qualities that are the essence of YOU – what is important to YOU.  The reason that this is important is knowing this information is helpful in empowering you to say “NO” to activities or responsibilities that others try to hang on you, so knowing your values ensures that every activity you do is strengthening who you are and what is important to you.  We’ve all had an invitation that we say ‘Yes’ to when deep down we really don’t want to go.  What a waste of time!  If you know ‘up front’ what is important to you, you will feel less obliged to ‘keep the peace’ by agreeing to everyone else’s priorities if they don’t sit well with your own.

For example, one of my values is fun.  For some people this may not be considered as important a value as something like ‘kindness’ or ‘truth’, but it is a firm part of my make up.  What I do has to be fun or sit within one of my other values to be worth doing.  If you know that one of your core values is integrity and you are asked to so something that you don’t agree with or are invited to a charity event that support something that isn’t a priority for you, if you have a clear idea of your values, you can politely decline without feeling bad, because you are being true to yourself. Time is precious, so why spend it doing something that doesn’t benefit you by providing enjoyment or taking you nearer toward your goals?

My idea of fun is having a spa day, some pampering, having a meal out, socialising with friends at an activity like bingo or the cinema.  I do not find it much fun to go to a packed bar where you cannot get a seat and you have strange men you don’t know, trying to chat you up!  I know that this particular activity is fun to some people, but as I find it boring, I can say ‘No’ when I’m asked, and just tell them its not my thing.  Since I was honest with myself about what I actually enjoy, rather than trying to please other people, I have always looked forward to every outing with anticipation and excitement, rather than dread!  When I was younger, I cared about seeming ‘cool’, and knowing the hot places to go, or knowing who the latest bands were – I wasn’t as interested in that as I was about fashion, but my friends seemed to know all the music scene info so I thought I should too.  However now I just admit that I’m not ‘cool’, I don’t know about bands and to be honest, I don’t care!  I like to be comfortable on a night out – not standing all night on achy feet.  Part of this is growing up but also it is knowing my values, so know in advance what you like and what you don’t.  It’s okay to say ‘No’, we don’t always have to do everything that is asked of us.

Another thing you can do is to carve out some time just for you over Christmas.  Negotiate with a partner or parent to take the kids out for the day whilst you have a bubble bath or get your home back in order!  I like to have time to myself to write my blog, read a magazine and have a lie in so I arranged in advance to do this today whilst my husband takes the kids to the supermarket to restock our kitchen!  What do you need to have or do to feel like yourself again?

Managing your time during ‘unstructured downtime’ like Christmas or a summer holiday is just as important as managing your time when you have your business or a job which makes demands of you.  It’s the same skill just with a different principle.  The outcome of managing time in either situation is to gain something; in downtime, it may be to gain relaxation whereas in work time it may be to move forward with workload. So keep your eye on the prize and spend some time curled up with your journal or planner and work out what is important to you.  As the kingpin that your family revolves around, it is essential to look after yourself first too!

If you want to know about prioritising effectively, just ask the Time Management Mum!

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Technology- be its master not its servant

December 19, 2008

Every Friday my son is with me all day, but as I run a thriving small business,I still need to stay on top of things. Mums who work from home will know what it’s like.  The majority of my communication on a Friday is done by email, and I squeeze calls into the 1 hour window I have when he has his late morning nap.  Thank goodness I have my Virtual Receptionist service because it would sound awful if a client called me during a ‘non nap’ time to discuss business only to hear at best, the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse music and at worst, a screaming tantrum!

However today I had a pleasant surprise.  I’d had a website enquiry last night from a man who was interested in my Virtual Receptionist service and he wanted to take a free trial, so I emailed him with the information about the various tariffs and how it all works.  I was able to fire off the template email I have prepared for new enquiries so it took me a few minutes last night  to get this sent and I always follow up with a call to see if they have any questions,  during office hours.  Anyway, once my son’s naptime was fully established, I picked up my phone to return all my calls, and I decided to call this guy first.  The prospective client confirmed that he had received my email but then I suddenly heard a child screaming!  Fortunately it was on HIS side of the phone!  The prospective client said “Can I call you back, it’s not a good time right now” and I told him that I COMPLETELY understand!  It was a nice insight into another working parent’s life to know that I’m not the only one juggling multiple demands with differing priority levels, and it was even more pleasing that it was a man in sole charge of his kids during the day!

This guy is taking up my Virtual Receptionist service and I know that he’ll benefit from it greatly – especially if he cares for his kids regularly during the working week.  Doing things by phone is often quicker but doing things by email is invaluable for a working parent.  It doesn’t matter if an email takes 1 hour to write because you had to stop to breastfeed a baby or sort out a sibling squabble.  What did we ever do without emails?  Well, we didn’t run global businesses from home, did we?!

The resources are out there to help us work smarter.  You need your phone answered 24-7 – done!  You have a database of 1000 people to communicate to – each newsletter to go out personally addressed? – done with the click of a button!  You need a way to make sure that your email is filtered so you don’t get any spam or emails sent from people you don’t know that take up your time?  Done!  What used to take a small team to run an office can now be done with 1 person employing technology as back-up.  I can communicate faster and speed stuns!  Often the fastest response gets the business.  Humans can talk 3 times faster than they can type, so  to speed up my document typing, I bought some voice recognition software which types as I talk!  Whole people used to be employed to type up other people’s documents, now we can handle it with technology.

The only warning I’d give is to control your use of the technology – you are its master, not its servant.  I would never be without my BlackBerry as it is so useful for business whilst I’m out and about but I am amazed when I see other people at a business networking event or at lunch who sit at the table whilst other people are there, checking their messages and texting!  How rude!  The point of having the technology is so you can stay on top of things, but not at the expense of what you are supposed to be doing.  If you are having lunch with a friend – then be there for them 100%.  If you are at a networking meeting or conference, then that is your priority right now – not what random email has come to your desk.  Divert your phone to your Virtual Receptionist and let them take the calls.  Emails and texts can wait.  Just because you have the ability to check them right now – doesn’t mean you should.  By all means, pop to the loo if you have to.  Check them in the car on your way in and way out of the meeting.  If it is an all day conference then check messages in the breaks, but don’t be rude and not give the people you are with your full attention because you have your head in your phone.  It’s just manners!

If you want to know anything about effective time management, just ask a busy working mum!

Dancing through a dynamite day!

December 18, 2008

Do you have one of ‘those days’ ?  You know the type, they are the kind of day that is jam packed with events / appointments / things to do and if one part of the day fails to run smoothly, it can make the whole day explode! My ‘dynamite day’ happens every Thursday.

At least I know it’s coming! But on a Thursday my day starts at 5.20am when I wake to get ready for a business breakfast meeting so I have to be out of the house for 6am.  My breakfast meeting runs from 0630 to 0830 but I often don’t get away until 0900 and then I have a days’ work to fit into five and a half hours.

I do the school run every morning except Thursday, because I’m out of the house so early, so I have had to put a framework in place to allow Thursday morning to run like a military operation, without me.  But because I am a ‘hands on’ mum, I choose to finish my desk work / meetings by 2.30pm on a Thursday, so I can collect my daughter from school.  I still have a full 8 hours work to do (and often more!) but on a Thursday, my capacity is shorter, so my activities are more jam packed – but the day doesn’t stop there!

After I collect my girl from school, I try to beat the ‘mums rush hour traffic’ back up the main road to get to my mothers house where my toddler son has spent the day.  My mum has had the kids since about 0730 so she is exhausted and ready to hand them over, so it’s kids,nappy bags, school bags, gym kits, coats, scarves and hats loaded into the car and back home for a 30 minute pit stop.  During this ‘break’ (if you can call it that!) I have to get the children a snack (notice how they are hungry when they get back to you!), get my son’s nappy changed (Grandma always fastens it quite tight bless her, but I don’t like to say; she’s doing me such a favour by having him for me all day!) and I need to get my daughter out of school clothes and into ‘civvies’.

The next event is swimming lessons!  My kids will watch TV for the 30 mins it takes me to feed them, change outfits etc and during this time I like to get the tea on if I can too, so there is something waiting for us after swimming, but it’s not always possible.  However when I plan the weekly supermarket shop, I try to plan ahead for Thursday so I can either get the slow cooker on first thing in the morning, or else get a casserole into the oven to be ready about 1 hour later.

We set off for swimming at 4.15pm and I have my daughter in her swimsuit, sat by the pool ready for a 4.30pm start.  My son and I watch from the poolside where the parents are allowed to sit, and I have to confess that I’ve even multi-tasked a swimming lesson before now – when I have had an urgent client call to make or a piece of work that’s needed my approval.  I always have my BlackBerry on me so I can keep on top of what I choose to, so calls have been made from the poolside (clients never know that I’m not at my desk, I usually have what I need to hand) but the 30 minutes that the swimming lesson is on, is never spent ‘relaxing’ – it’s mostly spent chasing an active toddler around the spectator section if I’m not making a call.  However after the lesson, my daughter gets a shower and my son and I drive the pushchair back into the changing rooms to meet her so we can get her dressed again.  If it’s a week where she has successfully completed the next swimming level and will get a badge for it, I’ll have to have the cash on me to order the badge at the counter before we leave.  Once we’re all in the car, we head back home for the food I (hopefully) prepared earlier!

My husband usually arrives home once we’re all eating so he’ll heat up his plate, and once he’s home I can get him to take over feeding the toddler who likes to throw his food out of the highchair or else smear it all over his face!  At least once Simon gets home I can sit down and eat myself!  However the day doesn’t stop there!

After tea it is bath-time and bed routines and once this is over I will either collapse onto the sofa  or, every two weeks I have a meeting of Toastmasters to attend.  This is a group I have joined to develop my public speaking skills, as I regularly deliver talks on my enterprise journey, so if it is a ‘Toastmasters’ day, I will have a 30 minute drive to the meeting then participate for 2.5 hours then drive home!  After that I collapse into bed!

So as you can see, Thursday is a really busy day in my weekly routine, and this is pretty much the format week in, week out.  So I need to be prepared for Thursday because it’s already a stacked day, and this is without any room for contingency.

How I ensure that I ‘dance’ through the day (and how you can too) is to prepare myself the night before.  I mentally ‘walk through’ my day starting with the breakfast meeting, so I get out the clothes I’ll wear and also my make up and hair styling products.  Then I will take these downstairs to my living room (as it would be too noisy for the rest of the family if I got dressed upstairs on a Thursday morning!)  After this, I put my breakfast meeting folder into the car, along with any extra items I might need for the meeting.  Before now I have taken props to the meeting such as a desk-phone, to illustrate my Virtual Receptionist service to the other people in the room.  I then check my diary and see what meetings I have.  Once I know who I’m seeing, I can take their client file with me – this all gets put into the car beforehand, so there is no chance of forgetting it if I sleep in or whatever!

Thursday is an ‘eat on the run’ day, so I always have a bottle of Slimfast milkshake in my cupboard as a meal substitute.  I don’t buy this to lose weight, but because it’s handy to have on hand in case I cannot get a sandwich.  At least I’d have something to stop hunger pangs if I’m nowhere near food, so the Slimfast goes into the car too!

Once I’m sorted, I get the kids things ready.  Uniforms are laid out, clothes chosen and bags prepared for the next day, so my husband can do a smooth transition from our house to Grandmas.  Then I pre-pack the swimming bag complete with a drink for my son, and hang this in the hallway on a coat-hook, ready for the next afternoon.  Then I’ll consider the evening meal, and defrost any meat that needs to be ready for Thursday.

Lastly, I’ll do my ‘re-stocking’, and by this I mean staple handbag items that I carry round with me every day, because otherwise I’d be caught short.  I re-stock my business card wallet so I never miss an opportunity by not having my cards to hand.  Then I’ll check I have a pack of tissues, a tampon (guys – you have no idea!), enough cash in my purse to get anything I might need such as petrol or a loaf of bread (although I try to fill the car early on in the week so I don’t have that to do on a Thursday) and I also ensure that my diary is in my bag with a working pen.

If this sounds like a lot of preparation, it is!  But you get used to it and the benefit is that I usually sail through Thursdays without getting stressed.  If you are not prepared for your day, little things outside of your control like roadworks on the way to the meeting or the school run, can put you over the edge.  Arriving at meetings flustered and apologetic is never a good look and unlikely to win you the business, whereas unflappable, calm and prepared usually impresses!

I know what I’m like; being hungry, cold or tired usually puts me in a bad mood, and I’m sure you are not at your best when suffering any of these either!  So by being uber-prepared, I’m never cold or hungry – I have what I need to hand.  I’m sometimes tired, but as I get my energy from being around people (a born socialiser!) I can usually handle it until I collapse in bed!  Luckily Thursday is my only dynamite day.  Other days of the week can be busy too, but I can schedule myself so that I’m not over-extended.  It just so happens that Thursday for me, contains a lot of regular events that have been set by someone else.  I had to get my daughter into the swimming lesson on the day that it runs, so I couldn’t control what day it landed on.

I hope that this story has helped you think of how you can tackle your own dynamite day, and remember -if you want to know anything about juggling a busy life, just ask the Time Management Mum!

Don’t let rushing leave you out in the cold!

December 17, 2008

Have you ever been rushing in and out of the house, maybe putting things for your day into the car, and in your haste, you’ve slammed the front door shut and locked yourself out?!

I have.  I know loads of other people that have too, and it was even harder to juggle things once I had 2 kids to get into the car and get to school on time.  So I came up with a great idea and now some of the other mums at school have copied it so I know it’s not just me who finds that it works!

I wear a lanyard round my neck to which I’ve attached my car keys.  I also have a separate one for my house keys.  If I’m in and out of the house rushing back and forth, I wear the keys round my neck and when I’m ready to go, I just remove the lanyard and put the keys into the ignition!

When I get to the car or where I’m going, I just put the whole keys and lanyard into my handbag so I’m not wearing it all day!  It’s only a bit of extra fabric to carry in my handbag after all, and it keeps your hands free.  It really becomes useful when you are carrying heavy shopping, maybe at the supermarket, and you would normally  need to juggle keys, heavy items and purses etc.  You just hang the keys round your neck and it’s there ready when you get to the car!

The funny thing is that at first I felt a bit silly, wearing a lanyard with my keys on, but now it’s second nature and people don’t really notice it might look odd.  Lots of companies ask their staff to wear an ID card which they wear around their necks, so people just assume it’s one of those!

Honestly, try it, next time you have a lot to remember and are maybe getting kids or other people rounded up and into the car.  If you have kids, you’ll know that they dawdle or refuse to get in the door you hold open for them.  It’s hard enough getting them out on time so this makes life much easier!  If you don’t have kids, it is still a great tip.  At least you’ll never lose your keys again, if they are round your neck!

If you want to know anything about juggling a lot of tasks, just ask the Time Management Mum!