A Toolbox of Strategies to Balance Home Life, Home School, and Home Business
Time is our most priceless resource. It’s the one thing we can’t get any more of. No one will ever have more than twenty-four hours in a day . . . but some people use their time much more efficiently and effectively than others. Learning how to protect and prioritize your time will help you be a good steward, which will equip you to accomplish your most important goals.
In twenty-six years as an entrepreneur and fifteen as a homeschooling mom (the last eleven as a single mom), I’ve identified seven strategies for making the most of our time so that we can live balanced, peaceful lives.
FREEDOM is an acronym for these tools: Focus, Reflect, Educate, Eliminate, Dream, Organize, and Multitask.
Figure out what only you can do, and then prioritize those things. Mom, only you can nurse your baby, but someone else can change his diapers. Only you can write your book (unless you hire a ghostwriter), but someone else can process and ship orders.
Focus requires self-discipline, which can be a challenge for entrepreneurs. Without the built-in accountability of reporting to an employer, we have to avoid the temptation to abuse our freedom. Plan your priorities, and then implement them. Meet challenges with action, not avoidance.
Zig Ziglar says there are “two sure ways to fail: think and never do, or do and never think.” Reflection forces you to be honest with yourself, so it helps you identify what you should do and evaluate how well you’re accomplishing your goals. Schedule time at the end of each week, month, and year to look back and plan ahead.
Don’t be afraid to ask yourself tough questions. If this is hard for you, you may need a coach or accountability partner to help you. It’s easy to be blind to things in our own lives that someone else could readily identify. When coaching clients one on one, I sometimes realize I need to remind myself of the very advice I’m giving to them!
Nineteenth-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said, “The most successful people in life are generally those who have the best information.” Keep up with developments in your industry. Encounter new ideas and try new strategies. No matter what business you’re in, you need to study marketing. You can learn through reading books, blogs, and online articles; taking home study courses; working with a coach or mentor; and attending teleseminars, webinars, and conferences.
Educating yourself is part of operating your business. Don’t feel that you’re not working when you’re learning new things. Just don’t let education become an excuse for avoiding action. Implement what you learn.
Make time for what you need to focus on by eliminating activities that don’t support your goals and priorities. Evaluate your business activities and quit (or outsource) the least profitable ones. Edit your belongings as well as your activities.
If something can’t be eliminated, often someone else can do it instead of you. Delegate household tasks to children, and look for ways to involve them in your business. Participation in a homeschool co-op allows you to delegate part of your children’s education to others while you retain primary responsibility.
Delegate interruptions to the answering machine and voice mail. Many household and business tasks can be outsourced to independent contractors, including lawn care, housecleaning, piano lessons, order fulfillment for your home business, accounting, website design, and much more.
Other people will respect your time only as much as you do. Learn to say “no” to good things in order to say “yes” to the best. Remember that opportunity does not equal obligation.
Several years ago, a dear friend encouraged our mastermind team to answer three important questions. I include this “Big Dream” exercise in my time management course and assign it to my coaching clients: (1) What would I be doing if nothing stood in my way? (2) What stands in my way? (3) What do I need to do to achieve my goals? Pondering these questions opens our minds to possibilities we might not otherwise consider because the first question makes us ignore limitations, and the other questions help us figure out how to overcome them.
Setting big goals spurs us to accomplish more instead of slogging along through a boring smallness. Get out of your comfort zone. If your goals don’t scare you a bit, you’re probably not dreaming big enough. Of course, if you have a new baby or a serious illness in the family, that’s not the time for stretching yourself any further. But normally, you need to stretch and grow. Don’t wait for “some day” to do what matters most. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
When your physical possessions are not organized, they cause frustration and steal your time. My main rule: A place for everything, and everything in its place.
In order to organize your time wisely, you have to know where it’s currently being invested. Just as you track expenses to plan a financial budget, track your activities to plan a time budget. Write down what you do every half-hour, and then evaluate your time log after a week or a month. See if you’re spending too much time on some things, neglecting important things, doing things you could eliminate, or overlooking opportunities to get things done.
Once you know how you’re using your time, you can plan how to use it better. I use seven planning tools: Big Dream, Yearly Goals, Monthly Priorities, Weekly Plans, Daily Tasks, Running To-Do List, and Stop-Doing List. When we build our lives around short-term tasks, we focus on the urgent to the neglect of the important. Start with a Big Dream for your life and build your yearly goals around that. Then you can plan each month, week, and day in alignment with that long-term vision.
Multitasking has gotten a bad rap lately. Some say that if you can multitask while you are doing something, it’s not worth your time; in business, this might indicate tasks you can outsource. Others claim that multitasking undermines focus and is inefficient; in some circumstances, that can be true.
Used judiciously, however, multitasking can buy you time to focus on your priorities. It helps you do more with your twenty-four hours and trains you to use small blocks of time efficiently. Introducing new math concepts requires focus, but you can quiz your child on spelling or multiplication facts while preparing dinner. Fold a load of laundry or empty the dishwasher while talking on the phone. Listen to educational CDs in the car or while going for a walk.
Use Your Tools Wisely
These tools are not listed sequentially, but they all work together. Dreaming helps you identify your focus, and eliminating helps you maintain it. Organizing helps you eliminate, and multitasking frees up time to reflect, educate, and dream.
When you use these tools wisely, you won’t be paralyzed by what you can’t do. You’ll begin to find peace in the space between the ideal and reality, and you’ll enjoy a more productive and balanced life.
Mary Jo Tate has been educating her four sons at home since 1997. A book coach and international editor, she helps entrepreneurs and speakers author books . . . whether or not they can write (www.WriteAGreatBook.com ). She is the author of How Do You Do It All? Balancing Family Life and Home Business in the Real World (www.HowDoYouDoItAll.com ), Get Started as a Freelance Editor (www.EditingBusiness.com ), and Critical Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald. She blogs about books at www.EclecticBibliophile.com .
Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the Annual Print 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.