Richard Branson might be able to wake up at 5am to exercise before his working day, Google’s Tim Cook can wake up at 3.45am to work through his inbox, Twitter’s co-founder Jack Dorsey can wake at 5.30am to meditate and go for a six-mile jog… But for many working parents out there, this type of morning routine is about as realistic as a flying pig.
While science supports the notion “when you win the morning, you win the day,” for many ‘parentpreneurs’ out there, this simply isn’t an option. Disturbed sleep during the night means you’ll take all the ZZZs you can get. ‘Winning the morning’ involves getting your children to nursery/school on time, in clean clothes, and with all the right things packed in their bag. Work realistically starts from 9am. So, how do you still ‘win the morning’ with only 3 hours left of it?
Here are some ways you can encourage a healthy balancing act, without jeopardising your physical and mental wellbeing.
1. ‘Win’ the night before
If ‘winning’ the morning just isn’t an option, think about the things you can do the night before to reduce stress and increase productivity the next day. For example, you could:
- Prep for breakfast e.g. get crockery, cutlery and cereal boxes out. Or go one step further and make breakfast the night before e.g. overnight oats!
- Set out your kids’ uniforms so they can get ready themselves in the morning (subject to age!)
- Review your weekly schedule (see point 2 below) and ensure you’re clear on tomorrow’s tasks
- Tidy up your desk
- Make your lunch
- Shower at night! There are many benefits for showering in the morning (helping you wake up, taming bedhead, giving you a few minutes of peace to think about the day ahead), but there are also benefits to nighttime showering – it can encourage you to decompress after a long day and put you into a sleep mindset
- Pack your work bag with everything you need the next day (also applies to school bags!)
- Check the weather. Will you need to allow extra time to defrost your car, or plan a warmer or cooler outfit?
By ‘winning’ the night before, you’re drastically reducing the amount of rushing around you and your family are doing before work / school. Constantly being rushed is a state of stress, and chronic stress fires up our sympathetic nervous system – flooding our body with adrenaline and cortisol. Too much of these chemicals too frequently can have a number of harmful effects such as anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, memory and concentration impairment… quite a list!
As a parentpreneur, the juggle struggle is always going to be there. Preparation is key to reducing those bottlenecks of stress in your working week. A bit of organisation the night before can make all the difference.
2.Write down your weekly schedule on Sunday evening
Creating a weekly schedule improves your time management skills by helping you proactively organise your time. That way, you can get important tasks completed on schedule. Studies show that tasks written down before completion are 80% more likely to be completed than those that aren’t.
There are a number of effective ways you can create a weekly schedule, such as:
- Calendar apps offer flexibility when it comes to accessing your tasks on-the-go or if you need to share your schedule with anyone. (A great comparison of calendar apps can be found here.)
- Desk pads provide a visual way to jot down your priorities and timings for the week, which can stay right next to your keyboard as you work, helping motivate you and remind you of your timings per task
- Good old fashioned notebooks are great for those who are on-the-go but prefer paper-based schedules to digital ones. There are many daily planner notebooks out there, which also help you list your personal goals and track your habits
- Project management software such as Asana and com include weekly schedules, which is particularly helpful if you have a team and need to all be on the same page. Monday.com has a free weekly schedule template, while Asana also offers a weekly work plan, both designed to help users break down and organise their tasks for the upcoming week, helping to improve workflows and transparency across teams.
As well as increasing productivity, a weekly schedule can also:
- Break up big goals into smaller, achievable tasks
- Reinforce daily accomplishments
- Boost confidence
- Reduce mental load
- Increase visibility around your availability
3. Don’t feel guilty about a flexible work schedule
For many parentpreneurs, the traditional 9-5 working day simply isn’t feasible. If you’re starting / running your own business but are also responsible for the school runs and childcare during the school holidays, it’s important to acknowledge that your calendar can be flexible, and that you are in control of it. Your weekly schedule doesn’t have to lock tasks into a traditional 9-5 framework. For example, you can:
- Schedule meetings and tasks that require full focus for when your kids are at school
- Take care of small tasks when your kids are doing their homework (sit together and work alongside each other!)
- Tidy up your desk, respond to emails and review your schedule in the evening after their bedtime (subject to their age!)
A flexible future
It’s important to note that by controlling your calendar to adapt to your day-to-day responsibilities, doesn’t mean you’re working any less – just smarter. And it’s not just entrepreneurs or business owners that have this option. Flexible working requests by employees are on the rise (kids or no kids), having proven productive while working remotely during the pandemic. With many reconsidering their work/life balance, it’s no surprise that employees are asking for greater work flexibility moving forward.
In many cases, it works both ways – hybrid working helps businesses attract and retain staff as well as increase staff productivity, as the flexibility allows them to balance work and personal responsibilities. Employees can also benefit by saving costs and the time spent travelling to work as well as enjoying a better work life balance.
‘Flexible working doesn’t mean working less or slacking off, it means finding hours that suit your life and how you best work,’ comments Matt Farquharson, a writer and podcaster, dad of two and an advocate of flexible working via Flex Appeal with wife Anna Whitehouse (journalist and Founder of Mother Pukka). Their TEDx talk, How to be a Happy Chicken, explains how the world of work is broken, relying on outdated practices that are unfit for today. They explain why more flexible working can save our minds, improve lives, help more women into senior roles and make the idyllic work-life balance a reality (not just parents, but everyone). They successfully break the outdated 9-5 mould and encourage more workers and organisations to ask for and trial flexible working.
Remote work has many advantages and, more than ever, employees have begun to value jobs that allow them flexibility. Many are even saying goodbye to jobs that force them to return to their pre-pandemic office life.
Today, 16% of companies worldwide are 100% remote, but a large percentage of companies still do not allow remote working.
The justifications most often given by bosses are the loss of the company’s culture and the drop in productivity of those who work from home. (But does this drop in productivity even exist?)
While there’s some way to go, flexible working opportunities continue to rise – so make sure to remove any guilt surrounding your flexible work schedule. For many, it’s the new normal.
4. Tackle the hardest business tasks first thing
You’ll probably have come across this tip before! Completing the hardest task first has many benefits:
- You’ll see yourself as the person who ‘gets stuff done’ rather than the procrastinator
- Harder things take more effort. You’re more motivated in the morning – use this momentum to get the hardest task done first while you’re aware and focused
- Decision fatigue can mean you make your worst decisions at the end of the day
- Physically crossing that tricky task off your schedule can feel amazing, and creates the momentum you need to complete smaller tasks during the rest of the day. Use the afternoon for those niggly tasks (need to book that appointment? Order that food shop online? Research a birthday gift? – For parentpreneurs that have a school run at 3pm, you usually have only a couple of hours after lunch to complete these afternoon tasks so best to make them quick-to-complete ones.
TOP TIP: It’s helpful to think about this in terms of Tim Ferriss’s 80/20 principle in his book The Four-Hour Work Week, which is that 20% of your effort creates 80% of your results. Imagine the impact you’ll be having on your business by tackling the hardest task first thing in the morning.