The Startup Mama’s Guide to Getting Sh*t Done
As much as I love running my own company while also being a work-from-home mom, I can’t tell you it’s all sunshine and roses. Being a startup CEO while also taking care of a baby at home isn’t for everyone. It’s really, really super hard.
There are times when you feel like you are being pulled in a million directions. When you can’t do anything you want to do.
It takes a certain level of commitment, persistence, and honesty with yourself to make the work-from-home-mom life work.
In college, I was informally known as “The Timestopper”. I had an uncanny ability to get a lot done in an incredibly short amount of time. I would speed-read 300-page homework assignments in an hour, wear far more leadership hats than your average college student, and still manage to get eight hours of sleep at night.
When I became a parent, I had to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to stop time anymore.
At least not like I did.
And yet, I had the biggest challenge of all — creating, running and growing a startup while also creating and growing a child. And four days out of the week when my husband is traveling as a consultant for work, I’m doing it by myself.
So what happens next? What do you do when you know that your competitors are able to invest hours of uninterrupted work time into their days, and you can’t?
You outsmart them.
You work better than they can.
You use your resources more efficiently.
You refuse to equate time with effectiveness.
And you use a few of these tips that I’ve learned on the hustle.
Here’s how to get shit done as a startup mama, when time is never on your side:
Hands-free, hands-free, hands-free.
Let’s start off by talking a bit about what’s easy to do and what’s hard to do as a startup mama:
Easy to do
- Team meetings
- Sales + discovery calls
- Sending emails (via phone dictation)
Hard to do
- Updating your website
- Editing content
- Creating and formalizing documents and agreements
- Financial analysis and projections
From here on out as a startup mama, your work life will be divided into two categories: one-handed tasks and two-handed tasks.
You will learn quickly which tasks can be accomplished one-handed, which tasks need two hands to be completed, and, my personal favorite, which previously two-handed tasks can be modified to suit one-handed folks (this is presumably because you have a baby in the other hand, but if you happen to have one hand in general you are probably an even bigger master of these things than I am).
By far, the easiest things to do as a startup mama are things that don’t require two hands. I can talk all day while holding a baby. I can host team meetings while going for a walk, talk with prospective partners while in the car, and do a host of other things thanks to my handy dandy Bluetooth device.
So your primary focus is going to be creating as many hands-free opportunities as possible, while delegating the two-handed things.
If you haven’t started dictating your emails in your phone, get practicing. You’ll never want to type an email again.
Automate your processes. Get any Tweets and Facebook posts that you can post automatically with IFTTT. Get the “canned responses” app in Gmail for any emails that you find yourself writing quite regularly, and use those instead of typing out whole new messages. Use Calendly to encourage people to book meetings with you so you don’t have the back-and-forth of scheduling time.
There’s a bit of work at the beginning, but it’ll make your life a million times easier.
Be smart about scheduling your meetings.
The best thing I’ve done for myself in the past few weeks is really taking a hard look at my Google Calendar and deciding when is the right time to have meetings.
When someone asks you for a meeting, the first thing you’ll want to do is see if you can take it by phone rather than in person. If you can take it by phone, do your best to schedule them at times that ARE NOT naptime.
This sounds like it would conflict with everything you know about working with a baby. I imagine many of you are thinking, “but wouldn’t naptime be *the perfect* time to have a meeting, ie when it’s quiet?”
No. Naptime is two-handed time, and you don’t need two hands to talk in a meeting.
If you have an in-person meeting scheduled for that day, it also means that you are likely to have arranged for childcare that day = lots of two-handed time. For that reason, try NOT to take any phone meetings that entire day, because you’ll want to use the two-handed time to focus on all the hard-to-do items that you usually can’t do with a baby in your arms.
If you have a phone meeting scheduled on the day of an in-person meeting, try to reschedule the phone meeting to another day.
Naptime = two hands time. No matter what.
On the note of two-handed time, burn the following advice into your brain: as soon as the baby goes to sleep, IMMEDIATELY drop what you’re doing and shift to two-handed time.
This is absolutely, 100% mission critical.
There have been far too many times when I’ve had meetings that have happened while Nora was sleeping, that end just as she was waking up. It felt like such a loss to watch this perfect focus time slip between my fingers because I was on a call (not because the calls were not important, but simply because they could have happened at a time when I didn’t have both hands available).
Scheduling your meetings so they are as far from naptime as possible is critical in this way. But if you find the baby falls asleep at an unexpected hour, do everything you can to switch what you’re doing to two-handed activities.
If you have a call that can be rescheduled by an understanding colleague or partner, do it.
If you’re working on your emails, drop them. You can always answer your emails later with your dictation.
Take the blessed 1 hour (or 2 hours, or sometimes 4 hours, or sometimes 30 minutes) to focus-focus-focus on whatever those two hands can do on your computer. And only do that.
Cultivate your team
The best thing you can do for yourself and your business is to create a dynamic team of people who can get shit done when you can’t.
Give them authority to make decisions on your behalf (and know what the right decisions are that they can make, versus what you need to keep in your wheelhouse).
Rather than sending emails, set up calls — and ask them to take notes.
Be clear about action items and deliverables. And don’t forget to praise them for stepping up. A little gift sent through Amazon Prime from time to time goes a long way in maintaining a positive and enthusiastic work environment.
Don’t be afraid to share your strategy, goals, and ideas with your team whenever you can. They will help you identify what to prioritize, which will ultimately save you valuable time.
If you’re able to make the investment, this is where a virtual assistant can come incredibly handy. A VA can not only help you get through your email inbox, but also take care of typing up and sending notes, scheduling meetings and calls, and doing all those little things that two-handed people can do so easily.
Invest in cutting down on time-consuming activities.
I no longer go to the grocery store. Nope. I LOVE the grocery store, but it simply takes too much time that I don’t have. I am a pathological Peapod user. Anything I can’t get on Peapod, I order on Amazon Prime. I make shopping lists so that when I’m out, I can do one swoop and be done with everything I need.
Take a look at your day and your household chores and find the efficiencies. Every. Minute. Matters.
Use your babysitters — not just when you have meetings. Leave the house when you can.
One of my biggest mistakes was only calling on Grandma when I had a meeting to go to. I would run out to a meeting, run back home because I felt bad taking advantage of Grandma, and then curse myself because I felt like I got absolutely nothing done that day. The worst was when I had a meeting that didn’t go as well as I wanted. I would get incredibly resentful for the time “wasted” not closing a deal when I had childcare.
I urge you to make sure you bring in childcare — when you can — on days when you don’t have meetings set up. Leave the house and head to a coffee shop. Turn off your email and phone notifications, and just focus. Get shit done — no distractions — until closing time. Do all the two-hands things you need to do while you have the help.
Work nontraditional hours.
You don’t need to work eight hours straight in order to get good work done.
In 2016, Sweden tested a six-hour work day. Studies have even shown that we are really only productive for three or four hours per day. So even if you can only give yourself 4–6 hours of really good, really clean focus — it should be enough.
It’s okay if you can’t be in front of the computer from 9–5. What about 12–2, then 7–11? Or 9–11, 3–5 and 8–10? That’s six hours of quality work time when baby is likely sleeping or quiet anyway. Just *do not* work all night long. You will exhaust yourself, and then you’ll be useless for just about everything.
I live by my lists. Every day I have three activities that I *must* get done before the day is over. Each thing can take no more than 60 minutes to achieve. That way, when the day is done, I know at least I’ve taken care of three important things that are critical to the growth of my business.
Make sure you take time everyday to plan out your next day. Sometimes you will find you get nothing done on a day you thought you’d have time for everything. Sometimes you’ll surprise yourself with how much you get done on a day you initially had written off. Your list will help make sure that if those surprises come, you know what’s first priority to get done so you can attack it head-on.
Have a birds-eye view.
My most important piece of advice is this: sometimes it will be awesome, and sometimes it will just plain suck. There will be days when you absolutely *NEED* focus. You have got to nail a pitch, or finish up a deck, or send a really thoughtful email to a partner organization. And that cute little baby will wake up and be having the worst day and you will literally have to drop that email mid-sentence to help, cursing yourself at the same time.
There are days when you will feel like you are being pulled apart.
But there are also days when you will be endlessly grateful that you are spending this time with your child.
Being an entrepreneur has many advantages. It is one of the only careers where you actually CAN stop what you’re doing and hang out with an episode of “Sesame Street” in the middle of the work day.
It’s one of the only careers where you can actually shift your schedule around so you can be there for the important things — family, friends, self care — in a way that you simply can’t with other careers.
It’s a career where you can build a legacy for yourself and your child, and in my opinion there’s little more gratifying than that.
When it’s difficult (and even when it’s easy), take the 10,000-foot view. Work hard, but most importantly, work smart. Know it won’t always go according to plan. But also know that the years you’re building a business while also raising a young child are few. School days will be here before you know it.
Embrace the moments you’re pitching investors and changing diapers. You’re paving a path for other parents behind you.
Originally published at Beth Santos.