School runs, parents' evenings, Saturday gymnastics, sick children; I've always juggled doing the best for my daughter with building my business. Many of the women business owners I know are in similar positions. For most of us this works well because we've deliberately given up the 9-5 to work our own hours. However, this lifestyle brings a need to work in chunks of time, from a few hours to a few minutes, and still be able to snap into instant focus.
The good news is that you can still be productive in really short bursts of time, working around your family, day job or other commitments. And it's not difficult to do. Here are some tips to help you protect your work time and space, learn to finish projects and make every small block of time count.
Turn off the distractions
It's easy to get distracted when you've got your phone ringing, emails appearing in your inbox and Facebook messages popping up. It means you're far less likely to be productive, especially if you start responding to them. If you know there's something you really need to concentrate on for 30 minutes or an hour, then turn off your phone and shut down your email for the duration of that particular work task. You'll pick up any important messages afterwards, and if anyone really needs to get hold of you, they'll call back.
Break your tasks down
Each morning when I have my morning cuppa I write a to-do list. I think about all the jobs I need to do and then break them down into smaller, more manageable ones. Then I break those down again so I have several bite-sized tasks. Each task will take around 10 minutes, so I know that I can fit them in during the day around the school run, meetings, cooking tea, or whatever else I'm doing.
This is a little trick I use and can be remarkably effective. The key to this is that you don't actually need to listen to any music. If you've told the family that you're going to be working for an hour, but your partner has already interrupted you to ask where the butter is and the kids have decided that they need to find the pink fairy costume now, wearing earphones acts as a little barrier. They see you're wearing them and it gives the impression that you're listening to something important and therefore less open to interruptions.
Work in 30-minute blocks
I like to work in 30-minute blocks because it helps me stay focused and stop procrastinating. It's amazing how much you can get done in just half an hour. To make sure I know when my time is up, I use a timer on my computer. When I know that I'm literally up against the clock, I tend to be far more productive. There are loads of things you can get done in a 30-minute block – send a newsletter, write a blog post or update your accounts. The list is endless.
You may pride yourself on being able to do several things at once – sorting out the car insurance while whipping up a cheese omelette and reading The Gruffalo to the children. While this is an admirable skill in life, it's a bad habit when you're running a small business. I tell my clients that wherever they place their attention is where the magic happens. In other words, you can achieve much more when you focus on just one thing, even for just half an hour. When you really knuckle down and concentrate on a single task you are much more likely to get it finished than if you spread yourself across several tasks.
I'll leave you with this thought. You chose to be a run your own business rather than working for someone else, so don't create a job for yourself that you don't like. You don't want to go back to the rat race, so take this opportunity to create a business that works for you, working the hours you want with people you like and who value you. Good luck!
Claire Mitchell is the founder of The Girls Mean Business coaching group.