According to the entrepreneur experts, it is important that business owners create a carefully structured work/life schedule, because if they don’t, work and life can blend and this can be bad etc. When I first started out, I did manage to define my work hours. But that was at the beginning, when I had way fewer projects, and they were nicely spaced out so that in between each one I had a kind of vacation.
Now the work is non-stop, which is a good thing but also makes life very hectic. Plus, running a business means spending time on many activities that don’t bring in actual income. I estimate that paying-work, i.e. work that I can charge a client for, is actually only a small percentage of my business activities. The rest is taken up by administration; business development activities like meetings, phone calls, and blogging; and learning. All of these are important and cannot be neglected.
These activities take up a huge amount of time. Add to that the fact that I have a whole bunch of kids, and believe me when I say that I don’t have a lot of free time in my life.
Despite all this, after my last kid was born, I decided that no matter what happens, I will start to exercise on a regular basis. I remember from my leisurely days of singlehood how great exercise made me feel, plus many bloggers keep talking about how important exercise is to your career. Penelope Trunk says that regular exercise is no longer optional, since it boosts our IQ, increases our resilience to difficult times, and generally improves your quality of life.
So last Sunday I decided that was it. I got everyone out to school, fed the baby and took her to the daycare, strapped on my dusty sneakers, and headed to the car. Which wouldn’t start. I coaxed and begged. It arrogantly refused. I pleaded and explained that I was finally going to start exercising, and I needed its help. Not a sputter. I spent the rest of the morning taking it to the garage.
Monday I had tons of work to finish. Tuesday I had a major deadline and I made one of my daughters a birthday party which demanded preparation. Wednesday and Thursday are a blur. Evening exercise was not an option because my husband couldn’t be home with the kids because he was out at meetings and conferences. Friday was spent preparing for Shabbat.
Now it’s Sunday again. I really have no idea how I can fit exercise into my crazy schedule. Is there any way? Or do I have to wait until my kids grow up and move out before I can add fitness to my life?
It is apparent that many women find the work environment to be a hostile place. Stories abound about women being asked all manners of inappropriate questions in interviews, such as if they have children, do they plan on having children, what does their husband think of their career, etc. Employers want assurance that work will come above all else, and an employee must commit to that work ethic or else.
For mothers of small children, this approach is particularly problematic. As we know, children are unpredictable. They can get sick, they can have vacations, and they may just want and need attention. All of this demands time and understanding, something rare in the workplace.
Many newspapers have reported about the high-power career women who have left their jobs to pursue a career in caring for their children. But do they do this out of will, or because they feel that they are forced out?
Of course, it is not only women that seek a better balance between family and work. Many men also would like to have more time to spend with their families and children.
The ROWE approach – Results Only Work Environment
Self-employment is one option for those seeking greater flexibility in their jobs. But self-employment is not for everyone, and many prefer the security of a monthly paycheck.
The answer (possibly): ROWE – Results Only Work Environment. This is an experiment that has been implemented by Best Buy, whereby bosses have no say in scheduling and can only judge employees by tasks successfully completed. So workers can work when and were they want, as long as they fulfill their responsibilities. This “experiment” has been in place for five years, and Best Buy reports that employee productivity has increased an average of 35% in departments covered by the program.
This plan not only increases productivity, but also saves them money:
“The per-employee cost of turnover is $102,000, and ROWE teams have 3.2 percent less voluntary turnover than non-ROWE teams. So once Best Buy’s 4,000-person headquarters is completely converted to ROWE, the company stands to save about $13 million a year in replacement costs.”
I can personally attest to the ridiculousness of time-based employment. In one of my first jobs, I was employed as an editor for 20 hours a week, and up to 40 depending on the workload. I was completing the editing work in 5 hours. To fill up the remaining 15, I offered to take on other tasks. I ended up reorganizing their library and became their “librarian”, helped the bookkeeper with her backlog, and I even started working for another department doing research and improved their client-communication material. Not to mention that I worked with them on writing their brochure, and managed the project for improving their CRM system. But when the end of the year came, they saw that I was missing many hours because often I would come in a half hour late or leave a bit earlier because of my kids – this adds up over a year. They didn’t care that I was doing three times the amount of work, and made me pay for my missing hours. Some of you may think this is totally fair on their part, but I felt very unappreciated (and soon left to more appreciative pastures).
The conventional time-based work environment penalizes those who are efficient. It may even encourage people to waste time – why should they fulfill a task in one hour if it means they will only get recognition for one hour of work? Better to drag it across three hours, and make the boss happy.
Will companies begin to adopt ROWE? I don’t think so, at least not in the foreseeable future. It’s hard to get executives to wrap their heads around this new way of thinking. But at least there’s hope on the horizon!
In Part 1 of my series on Self Employment and Maternity Leave, I discussed the technical aspects of getting compensation from social security for maternity leave. In Part 2, I discussed whether it is realistic for a business owner to disappear for three months and hope that the business will still be there when she gets back from her maternity leave. My conclusion is that it is not.
Having said that, I promised that I would explain how it is possible to get any work done while on maternity leave. There are two main “environmental” supports that I found play a significant role in my ability to get work done with baby in tow:
- Home office: make sure that you have a complete a home office, since you will need to work whenever you find time available. Also, getting to an outside office is pretty difficult during maternity leave. Computer, Internet, phone, email, fax, and software should all be available to you in your home.
- Baby sling: babies like to be held. A lot. If you are holding them with your hands, you can’t get much else done. But we women are all about multi-tasking, and that’s where the sling comes into play. Place baby in sling and voila! – two hands available for typing, juggling, knitting, and even archery.
Severe time constraints
Aside from the above support systems, it is important to realize that the time available to you for work with a baby at home is severely limited. In order to handle the diminished amount of time, there are two things you can do:
- Improve your efficiency, and adopt a better system for completing tasks. Many people are avid followers of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” time management system. Not only is there a book on the subject, there are blogs, wikis, and free online software dedicated to helping people become more productive. I personally am still trying to figure out what this whole movement is about, but it seems worth checking into.
- Make a conscious effort to shrink your workload. Understand that the current reality of a new baby means that you can’t work 24 hours a day, even if you wanted to. Baby cries, needs to eat, wants to be held, etc., and this can eat up significant parts of your day. Some ways to lower your workload is to avoid actively seeking out new work, to stop any marketing programs you may be running, and take a lower profile.
Don’t feed the computer
Here’s an amusing anecdote (at least I think it’s amusing). A colleague called to see how I was progressing on a project. I told him I was working on it, and that it wasn’t easy since I had the baby on one side, and the computer on the other.
He said “Just make sure you don’t start typing on the baby and feeding the computer.”
P.S. It is very hard to find information on how to plan your business for the arrival of a new baby. Well, there’s actually someone out there who helps businesswomen prepare their businesses for their maternity leave. See the comment on this blog by Bill Dueease, who describes some things that women can do in advance to reduce the conflict of choices that faces mothers, including putting together what he calls a “baby plan.” Take a look at his informative comment, and then visit his site!
One of the challenges of running your small business is the number of tasks for which you are responsible. Your tasks range from the exciting to the mundane, the very short-term to the very long-term, and are related to clients, service providers, and even your family.
While we all want our businesses to grow, this growth brings with it many more tasks and increases the difficulty of managing them. I recently found myself spending too much time trying to figure out what to do next, rather than actually doing. I felt like things were slipping out of control, and I needed to find a simple, effective and free way of managing my responsibilities.
I tested out a number of task-management tools, including Rainlendar, HipCal, and even wikis such as stikipad. All of these systems were lacking a major functionality that I needed â€“ the ability to filter my tasks according to urgency, category or client. These systems would present all of my tasks together, sometimes with some form of categorization, but never enough.
And then I found Zoho Planner. Zoho Planner is a free (yay!) hosted system that allows you to create multiple pages on which you can enter your to-do’s, appointments, notes, and attachments. You can tag pages with certain keywords (like the del.icio.us and Technorati tagging systems), and Zoho Planner encourages collaboration with the page sharing feature, which allows you to invite people to view your pages. This is useful if you are working on a project with other people, and you need to manage a project task list together.
I created pages for each of my clients that had projects in progress, and added to do’s to each page.
You can define due dates if you want, and request a reminder when that due date is approaching. Now here’s where Zoho Planner rocks: once you’ve added all your to do’s, you can view all of them together under “All my to do’s.”
There you can see all your to do’s, both open and completed, and you can choose to view them according to their urgency: Overdue, Today, Today + Overdue, Tomorrow, Next 7 Days, All Open.
My personal favorite is Today + Overdue, so that I can see what I really need to do now!
Good, Bad or Ugly
Zoho Planner is good. It’s helped me get my business in order, and I refer to it throughout the day. It makes me happy when I can check-off a task, and I feel like things are under control.
I recently discovered the one bad thing about not only Zoho Planner, but all online services. One day I really needed to see my tasks, and Zoho Planner was having server problems, as was another online service I use. I felt pretty helpless, and realized that online services have their pluses, such as access from any computer with a browser, but have a major minus since everything depends on the Internet.
Ugly â€“ not at all. Zoho’s planners designed a user-friendly, attractive interface that adds to the pleasure of using it.