How the Most Successful Working Mothers Get the Most Out of Their Days

It takes work, but there are ways to effective juggle being a top businesswoman and a top mom.

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By Lisa Evans


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Running a business and caring for a family are two demanding jobs that often seem as though they're competing against one another. Working mothers are often caught in the crossfire between the needs of their business and the cries of needy children. What's a working mom to do? Time management guru Laura Vanderkam attacked this question in her recent book I Know How She Does It. Vanderkam examined more than 1,000 women who make more than $100,000 a year and revealed their secrets to getting it all done.

The Split Shift.

Many of the women Vanderkam interviewed reported working a "split shift." That entails ending work around the time kids get out of school, having family time in the evening, then doing some more work once the children went to bed. The split shift, Vanderkam says, is one of the most necessary interventions required to be successful at both career and being a mother.

"Building a big career often does require more than 40 hours a week (but) you also want to have a full family life, too," says Vanderkam.

In order to strike this delicate balance, working during the times kids aren't demanding parents' attention was key for many women. "It's making use of all the hours in the week in order to make enough space for work but also have plenty of time for your family too," says Vanderkam. Some women gave themselves a to-do list for that split-shift time, making a list of priorities for that night or early-morning shift to keep themselves focused on their top work priorities.

Related: 4 Tips for Workaholic Entrepreneurs to Avoid a Crumbling Marriage

Strike Some Stuff From Your To-Do List.

Many entrepreneurs who had flexible businesses and worked from home reported a temptation to do non-work things while they were supposed to be working. "Maybe you bring your kid to school because you work from home and should be able to do it, but then that 8:30 time slot is gone," says Vanderkam. "Just because you can do something doesn't mean it's the best use of your time."

Vanderkam advises looking at your schedule and ensuring you have the hours you need to work first before determining whether you can add in all the things you'd like to be able to do.

Keep Track of Time.

Vanderkam advises clients to keep track of their time for a week. "Looking at the whole picture gives us a better sense of where the time goes," says Vanderkam. Many of the women who completed a time log were surprised at how much time they were actually spending with their children, especially the early-morning hours.

"We tend to discount the early-morning hours," says Vanderkam. "If elementary school starts at 9 and (the kids) are up at 6:30, that's a lot of time, yet people don't think of that as family time," she says. Seeing where you're spending time together as a family, even if it's over a bowl of cereal and not doing some fun activity like riding bikes in the park, can help time-crunched entrepreneurial moms feel more relaxed about the hours they spend working.

Work on Weekends.

While working on weekends tends to get a negative reputation, Vanderkam says it can help entrepreneurial moms achieve more work-life balance. For moms who did kid-related stuff during what would be their regular workday, or if they limited their work hours to school hours only, there was often some work time missing from their lives. "It's hard to run a business in 35 hours a week," says Vanderkam.

Related: 5 Ways to Balance Leadership and Parenthood

To compensate, many of the women she interviewed would work five hours on the weekend while their kids were with dad, and that made it possible to still work enough hours and keep things moving forward.

Involve Kids in Work.

Including the kids in your work errands to the post office or packaging up product, for example, is a great way to get work done while still having some quality family time.

Nurture Yourself.

While finding time to exercise and take care of yourself may be at the bottom of an entrepreneurial mom's to-do list, Vanderkam says self-nurture is a key component to finding time to do it all. "It's how you get the energy to do everything that's on your plate," she says.

Self-care – physical activity and sleep, for example -- don't take time; they make time, says Vanderkam. "That time gets paid back in renewed focus for the rest of the day," she says.

Vanderkam advises carving out wind-down time into your schedule. If you regularly go to bed at 11, plan to stop work at 10 so you can relax for an hour – take a bath, watch TV, read a book, or do something for yourself to disengage and get ready for the next day.

Related: Use Your Drive to Create Your Habits

Lisa Evans

Lisa Evans is a health and lifestyle freelance journalist from Toronto.

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