In an interview last year I was asked the question “If you could only work on your business for 1 hour a day what would you focus on to make it a success?”

That’s a great question and started me thinking about how important it is particularly for us mums to get the most out of the time when we’re working in and on our business, so here are some ideas and strategies to help.

A space to call your own – well for an hour or two! – being a mum in business and working from home means clear boundaries between business and family is important. I’m fortunate enough to have a separate space in my house and the physical boundary of a door can be important to avoid the distractions of for example house tasks (think ‘out of sight, out of mind’) allowing 100% focus on the business when I’m in that space. Dedicated space however isn’t possible for everyone in which case drawing up a schedule for use of the kitchen/dining room table and posting it up on the fridge for family members to see should help. You and they will know that the physical space is yours for the allotted time giving you also the mental space to focus on the work you need to get done.

Be realistic with time and tasks – trying to cram in a full revision of your business plan or update of your web site in an hour or so isn’t realistic for most of us so break the big tasks down in to smaller, achievable ones working towards the overall goal.  Many working from home mums with school age children will be working the ‘split-shift’ work system – you get the children to school, start work on the business, collect children from school (play, dinner, bed), then back to work on the business once they’ve gone to sleep (that’s the theory anyway!), sneaking in business calls, emails or anything else when you can.

This is a demanding schedule and it’s important to prioritise tasks according to when you’re most productive. For example if you’re a bit of a night owl and some of your best ideas ping in your mind later on, save the more creative tasks until after your children have gone to bed. Longer tasks such as business reviews will need blocks rather than snatches of time to work on so schedule those in when you know (all things being equal!) your time is less likely to be uninterrupted.

Make routine work – I know it sounds obvious but tasks such as checking emails and using social media lend themselves perfectly to a routine. Recent research says many people are starting to develop the FOMO (fear of missing out) complex in relation to social media in particular but the reality is if you’re running a business you can’t be on Twitter and Facebook all the time!  If you’re using Twitter for example schedule in the reading of timelines, postings and RTs twice a day. With email, decide on the frequency you want to check them and stick to it. If you are using ‘push’ notifications (posts/emails are pinged to your smartphone) set the phone to ‘silent’ so your work flow isn’t interrupted. If you’re that worried about ‘missing out’ on the latest news from your social media network it might be time to re-think how you’re using it.

Remember emotional boundaries – as well as the physical boundary of the kitchen table or separate room to work in, it’s worth remembering to set your ‘emotional’ boundaries too. By this I mean being clear in your head when you are ‘business woman’ and when you are ‘mum’. I try to schedule in at least 15-20 minutes before I do the school run to clear my head of business things and get back in to ‘parent mode’. Throughout the course of a day we switch from work to parent mode often without thinking about it, but taking a little time to think of ways to help you make that switch may help you be more ‘present’ both with your children and your business.

A change of plan doesn’t mean you’ve failed – whether you’ve had a call from the school to say your child is poorly or you’ve realised a piece of work you’ve taken on is taking longer than expected (it happens to all of us), try not to see a change to your work plan as failure. If you haven’t a partner to share the unexpected childcare situation the bottom line is your family comes first (see ‘Remember why you’re doing this’ below). If a client job is taking up way more time than you bargained for resulting in the re-scheduling of other tasks, try not to see this as a failure either. Take a moment to think about why it has happened, evaluate your strategies for how you calculate and cost out your time (that applies equally to service and product industries by the way) learn from it for next time, and move on.  I have had to learn over the last 5 years that it’s fine to be a ‘good enough’ Mum, and there’s no reason why this can’t be applied to your business as well.

Remember why you’re doing this – it’s easy to get caught up in the whirl of day-to-day business when the children are at school – fitting in client appointments, calls, making products, delivering services and much more. Being time limited makes us focus on the tasks in hand often at the exclusion of anything else (including eating!) and I know there are occasions when I’m sitting in the car waiting to pick up my son from school wishing I had ‘just another hour’ to work on the business. Having a family and running a business are not and never should be mutually exclusive in fact for many mums the freedom of being able to work around the children as opposed to the children around the work is a key factor in deciding to start a business in the first place giving flexibility to be around for children that employed work often doesn’t. For others being self-employed is just a way of life, it’s what we’ve always done long before the children came along. Whatever your reasons, remember that you’re the boss so when she says ”take a few hours out to see the class concert” listen and act!

Get yourself a coach or mentor – this is one of the best pieces of advice I can give anyone starting or running a business regardless of whether they are a Mum or not. Coaches can be helpful for working with you on confidence issues, business skills and attitudes, whereas mentors can help to bounce ideas around, progress specific business goals and of course to learn from their experiences.  Whether you choose a coach or a mentor, the main thing is to find someone you feel happy to work with and who will support you in achieving your goals and getting the best out of the time available. Time spent on mentoring or coaching is some of the best time you can spend and will benefit business and family. My mentor keeps me focused, challenges my thinking, and allows me space to share difficulties and frustrations as well as teaching me strategies to make better use of my time and maximising business opportunities when they arise.
So now, if you’re interested in my answer to the original question at the start of this guest blog you can read the full interview here but in a nutshell I said I would split my 60 minutes into three parts allocated to social media interaction, personal interaction (e.g. telephone calls) and focusing ‘on’ rather than ‘in’ the business looking at areas such as business plans, targets, exploring strategic partnership opportunities. Oh and a little bit of speed mentoring too. That’s an awful lot to pack into 60 minutes but is definitely achievable.

Now it’s my turn to ask you the question…“If you could only work on your business for 1 hour a day what would you focus on to make it a success?”

Lorraine Allman is Managing Director of Speed Mentor Central® a company providing services and expertise to entrepreneurs and small businesses. She personally offers business mentoring and practical support to anyone thinking about starting or already running a business, and is an author at the number one ranked Small Business Blog  and one of the leaders of the micro-enterprise initiative Enterprise Rocks.

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