This time last year, I took on a new role, as CMO of Desk.com. My friends thought I was crazy. I had two kids under 5 and a third on the way. And for the previous few years, I’d worked 70-plus-hour weeks. There were days back then when I ate meals from my office snack bin and didn’t see my kids at all. How could I possibly take on more?
Instead, I took the opportunity to reset my life. Instead of staying on the treadmill of "more work = more recognition," I took a hard look and saw that for everything I was adding to my plate, other things were being subtracted -- energy, creativity, relationships -- the things that make a good mom and a good marketer.
So, I took a step back and stopped working like a mad woman. And, guess what? The world didn’t fall apart. In fact, it got better. There were a few bumps in the road, but I got more done. I did better work. And I had -- and have -- a happier life.
Here are five ways you can start doing less and get more done, too.
1. Plan ahead.
This may sound obvious, but I was spending so much time executing that I wasn’t strategic about my day-to-day. Ironically, I had a long-term plan, but when it came to individual days, I was scattered, and not maximizing my time. Today, I now block out an hour every Friday to review the upcoming week. What meetings do I absolutely have to be at? What meetings can I send a delegate to?
At home, my husband and I do something similar. We sit down every Sunday for an hour and chart the week across our and our kids' activities. Who has early meetings? Who needs to take the kids to swimming lessons? When is “bring your pet to school day”? We have a calendar front and center in our kitchen, now. The couple of hours I devote to planning upfront have given me back 10-plus hours during the week.
2. Block out time to get stuff done.
I now block out an hour each morning so I can get through all of my email and reset for the day. I block an extra hour each week to knock off personal items like bills, appointments and kindergarten applications. These things aren’t constantly nagging at the back of my mind because I know I’ll get to them during my “errand hour.” Don’t feel guilty doing something similar: Your job will get that hour back somewhere along the way.
3. Outsource where you can.
Are you spending five-plus hours a week just cleaning your house? I was. But was it giving me quality time with my family or helping my career? No. There are so many amazing services today that can free your time so you can focus on what’s important. Order groceries from Amazon Fresh, send your laundry out with a service like Washio or Rinse, hire a cleaning service two-to-three times a month, order prepped meals from somewhere like Blue Apron or Plated. Of course all of these services cost money, but think about what an hour of your time is worth, especially an hour with your family.
3. Take care of yourself.
Make sure to put on your own oxygen mask before you help others. Get to sleep early and get to the gym. Taking an hour out of your day to do this isn’t selfish -- maintaining your mental and physical health is the most important thing you can do for your work and your family.
It’s also important to take a break from all devices each day. Read a book. Play a board game with your kids. Take your dog for a walk. If you give your mind a break, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running when you come back. And especially don’t use your phone as an alarm clock. It’s too easy to pick it up and start checking email.
4. Delegate to your team.
If you are a director or a VP and are taking on most of the “in the weeds” work, something is wrong. Moving from an individual contributor role to a management role can be tough, especially if you haven’t changed companies, but you need to invest in your team and empower its members. When you become a leader, that is your main job. It’s scary and things won’t be perfect at first, but over time you will be able to focus on more strategic activities. And make sure to hire the best possible people. Don’t be afraid to hire your replacement -- this will only elevate you as a leader.
Delegating extends to your family, too. My husband and I try to divide tasks. If one cooks dinner, the other one puts the kids to bed. We’ve also set up a star system to encourage our 5-year-old to make her bed and put her toys away. Not only does it make my life easier, but teaching her to take care of herself and her things will -- we hope -- help her be more independent and self-sufficient as she grows up.
5. Focus on what matters.
Be ruthless with your time and prioritize projects that innovate, instead of iterate. Push off that first call. Decline the so-so conference that someone is bugging you to sponsor. There are always activities that need to happen but are not going to expand your market or propel your career. So, make sure that at least 60 percent of your time is focused on net-new campaigns or activities. And, if you are a procrastinator, set timelines for yourself. It’s easy to spend four lost in perfecting a PowerPoint deck. Instead, set a timer for 30 minutes and challenge yourself to focus. "Done" is sometimes better than perfect.
The latter rule applies to your home life, as well. Reading with your kids at bedtime is more important than making sure all the laundry is precisely folded. Make sure to leverage your volunteer time, as well. Instead of helping with the rummage sale that might bring in $5,000, help out with the auction that could bring in ten times that much. Or, offer to help chaperone school field trips — you’ll help the teachers but also spend time with your children.
I know all of this is easier said than done and that it’s impossible to reset your career overnight. But start with a few small changes here and there, and start to take your life back. Sometimes, less is more and busier is not always better. A year later, I'm here to report from the other side that I wish I had been less scared to get off the treadmill and start sooner.