Like many mums my paid work sits within with the school day. Four or five precious hours sandwiched between school drop off and pick up. I call these hours the “vanishing hours” and man, do I have to be careful with that time.
When I worked full-time in the corporate world my day began at 8 am and ended at 6 pm. It would start with a leisurely coffee, there would be some faffing around with email, chats with colleagues, a few dozen meetings followed by hours of productive work. Then came kids and a part-time role. I started using my time very differently. The coffee was not so leisurely, there was less faffing with email, I avoided all but the most pressing of meetings, chats were perfunctory and I was out the door by 2:30pm, having achieved a similar amount of work to a full-time gig.
Freelancing allows me a little more flexibility, but I still have to use the time I have as wisely as I can. So how do I make the most of every moment of my 9-2 work day?
This is what works for me.
1. Plan your day the night before. I have one of those ridiculously long to-do lists. You probably do too. I find it helpful to plan my day the evening before. This isn’t an arbitrary wish-list of things to do. This is an actual plan. I identify three things that I must get done the following day. I allocate an estimated time against those things. I plan the order in which they should occur. For me, three solid things is a good amount of to achieve within the 9am – 2pm window. If I can get more done, that’s great. But I find planning to get more done than is realistically achievable is just not productive.
2. Understand your priorities. Before creating my plan each evening, I measure the things on my to do list and prioritise them. I think about what each task means in terms of monetary value, creative value and long-term value. I think about whether it gets me closer to the goals I have set for myself. And, inevitably, I need to think about when things are due. All of these things will determine how important a task is.
3. Allocate a certain amount of time to email and social media and that’s it. Social media and email checking are my personal time wasters. I know I am going to do it, so I just put a set amount of time aside for both of these things. Outside of that time, I turn off notifications and hide my phone in a drawer. I’ve got to be ruthless.
4. Focus your day.
Not to get too “woo-woo” on you, but I find setting my intention for the day and spending a couple of minutes focusing on it puts me in the right headspace for a productive day. It only takes five minutes and I notice a big difference when I do it. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that meditation can increase your productivity and I’ve definitely seen it increase mine.
5. Know your most productive hours. I find that in the early hours words flow easily but by afternoon it’s like trudging through mud. Mid-morning works for me in terms ploughing through administrative tasks. Early afternoon I concentrate better on things that need attention to detail. I note these times down and try to understand where I can concentrate my energy most effectively. I think this is a really under-utilised strategy and if you are interested you can read more here.
6. Make your lunch and snacks at the same times as the kids’. Lunch? Who has lunch when you work 9 – 2? Well, we all need to eat – remember all those studies showing what happens to school kids’ focus when they don’t eat their lunch? Trust me, their parents are not immune. I find that if I make myself some snacks and lunch at the same time as I prepare the kids’ school lunches, at least I get to eat and I’m less tempted by an after-school quick fix.
7. Set realistic boundaries for yourself and your clients/colleagues. Want to know what happens when you kill yourself to exceed the expectations of other people? It becomes the new expectation. Be realistic with what you can achieve and be honest with clients and colleagues. Make them aware of the hours in which you work. Don’t over-promise. Work at a rate that makes sense for you and your health.
8. Do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking works a treat when you are cooking meals, testing spelling and playing trains all at the same time, but it doesn’t work so well when you are attempting work that requires significant concentration. Do one thing at a time. Close all the other applications, browsers and distractions. If you need some kind of background noise, use music.
9. Work out your social support — outside of social media. I think part of the reason social media is so tempting when you work for yourself is because it feels like company. It’s the thing I miss most about the office — that social interaction. I think it’s a good idea to have social support outside of social media with someone who is in a similar position to yourself. Someone to bounce ideas off and someone you can be accountable to.
10. Touch it once. I come across this idea in a podcast by Straight & Curly. You can listen to it here. The basic premise is that you don’t touch something unless you intend to do something with it. Don’t open email unless you intend to reply. Don’t open that document unless you intend to edit it. Such a simple but incredibly powerful and productive idea.
It’s way too easy to get to the end of a 9 – 2 day and wonder where on earth the time went. But with planning and a realistic mindset I think you can end the day proud of what you achieved.
Do you work 9 – 2? How do you manage that time?
More ideas for working mums:
- My Work Stress is Not My Kids’ Problem
- To the Co-Worker Who Criticised Working Mums
- Working From Home With Kids: 5 Ways We Make It Work