3 Steps to Owning Your Time

“Working moms, what causes you the most stress?”

This was the question asked in one of my Facebook groups tailored to female entrepreneurs. It was one of the most active threads I’ve seen (over 100 comments) and the overwhelming majority of commenters focused on two things:

1. Too little time

2. The mental load

We’ve all experienced having too little time at one point or another and you’ve probably experienced the mental load, but the term may be unfamiliar to you.

Twenty-five years ago, Hochschild termed the Second Shift – the idea that working women came home and put in another full day cooking, cleaning, and caring for family, while their partners were largely uninvolved.

Much of this has changed in more recent years. For example, in many households, one parent cooks and the other cleans up or school pick up and drop off is shared. But the work that many mothers can’t seem to unload is the “mental load,” “the third shift,” or the “invisible work” of the household.

The mental load is difficult to quantify, but some data do exist. The Modern Family Index (MFI), commissioned by Bright Horizons, states:

- Breadwinning women in married households are three times more likely than breadwinning fathers to be the keeper of their children’s schedules and ensuring that they get to all activities and appointments (76% vs. 22%)

- They’re nearly twice as likely to make sure all family responsibilities are handled (71% vs. 38%)

- They are twice as likely to have missed work to take care of children when they are sick or school is closed (63% vs. 29%)

The conversation emphasized, for me, something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

For many female entrepreneurs, small business owners, freelancers and side hustlers, how we spend our time at home is inseparable from how we spend our time at work.

For many of us, there is a little separation between work and home; we spend all day juggling the two. And, while it’s nice to have the flexibility, the constant re-shifting of focus can wreak havoc on our ability to do our best work.

So, what’s the answer to ensuring that too little time and the mental load don’t get in the way of your business and personal goals?

1. Use a time management system that works across home and work. Many of us use one system at work and a different system at home, but that leads to challenges, such as overcommitting, too many priorities, and incomplete communication with our home-based and work-based teams.

2. Understand and embrace your preferences. Everywhere you turn, you see different advice about how to work...from the expectations that employees are available 24/7 to the need to set boundaries between work and home. From work strategies for introverts to the demand for collaboration.

There’s a lot of conflicting information about how to work most effectively, but the secret is that there is no one right way to work. What’s important is that you know your preferences so you can design your time intentionally, communicate your preferences, and advocate for your needs.

3. Design your time. Break down large projects and ideas into actionable tasks, estimate how long those tasks take, prioritize, batch small items, and put everything on your calendar. Yes, you will get the call from your daughter’s school that she’s sick and needs to be picked up ASAP. You’ll try to start your car in the morning and realize your battery is dead. A last minute meeting will come up that you just can’t miss.

You can’t plan for everything, but when you design your time intentionally, it’s much easier to be strategic when life throws you the unexpected and much quicker to get back on track.

You can create a life on your own terms. A life where time isn’t the barrier that keeps you from your dream business. It starts with re-thinking how we plan and allocate our time.

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