Time management as a mummypreneur

This article is going to discuss how to manage time. A lot of articles I read about “time management for business owners” leave me rolling on the floor laughing. I wonder why people can’t get things done. They don’t have a curious toddler on their hands.

Then I think about all the time I wasted before I had a baby. I was definitely about three times as productive when I was working from home by myself, with no one else to think about, but I know I wasn’t getting as much done as I probably could have. I have ADHD, which is one complication, and it was only diagnosed earlier this year after a lifelong struggle with focusing, organizing and timekeeping.

A lot of the problem is the online working environment is designed to distract you as much as is possible. Each website you visit is designed to keep you coming back for more. More scrolling. More clicking. More time for them to make money showing you adverts.

It’s a pretty good moneymaker for the sites involved, but you don’t want to drink the Kool Aid and start thinking any of that nonsense actually matters. Nothing bad will happen if you don’t check Twitter for a few hours. The world isn’t going to change drastically if you don’t see what news stories all your friends are outraged about today. They’ll be different tales tomorrow. And that’s what it all is. A big narrative that keeps us trapped in an ineffective, time-wasting spiral.

We need to break away from it.

Those social media sites are not your friend. And you don’t need to be on them all the time. It often feels like everyone else is constantly on Facebook etc, but no one needs to be. Just go online to check your messages or notifications once a day, don’t respond to anything that comes in while you’re online, and do the same the next day.

It’s mind over matter — those who mind how much time you spend online don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

That’s the key to time management for anyone in our modern world.

For mums, the other time management issue is children. They demand attention at the most random moments and they don’t wait. They are too little to have any understanding of what you’re doing or how they’re affecting it.

However, it’s very easy for us to make excuses to ourselves about where our time has gone. Our brains are complicit in this, because a lot of the time, when you think really hard about it, you probably don’t remember exactly what you spent your time on, or you feel like you must have spent more time on your kids because you weren’t doing something productive or valuable for yourself. Right?

But what if you ditched social media or significantly cut back on it, moved away from all the gossip, politics and bitching of online groups, and focused on only what you and your immediate family needs? How would your timescape change? Would you have more time for your kids? For your work? Absolutely.

But let’s look at what you can do about your little ones.

You can’t control how much attention your child needs, any more than you can control how many nappies they use in a day or how much milk they drink. But you can control how you solve their problems.

Never do something for a child if they can do it themselves

Maria Montessori

For mommypreneurs, letting go of that sense that we alone are responsible for the happiness of our babies is hard to do. But we have to step back, while still being present for them in the moments when it matters, to help them grow into independent adults.

It takes time and repetition and persistence to teach children of any age to do things for themselves, especially if they’re not used to it, but they will reap the rewards for the rest of their lives.

Imagine you’re building a blueprint for them to follow when they grow up. Start small. My fifteen-month-old brings me nappies (diapers) for his changes. I say, “Could you bring me a nappy please?” He didn’t do it the first ten times. But the eleventh? Or the twentieth? He started going to the nappy table, and when I praised him for that consistently, eventually he started bringing me nappies for his nappy change.

That’s just one example. It takes a bit of time in the short run, but long term, they’ll do more for themselves which is more time you can spend doing the things you need to do.

What is your biggest challenge with time management? What are you doing to overcome it? Let me know in the comments!

Writing targets and burnout

How many words does a professional writer type in a day? What if they get burnout? How do I set a writing target? These are all going to be answered in this article.

Sometime a few years ago, I stopped being an unemployed person who also wrote a blog and I became a writer. It was a gradual process and it’s still not a bombproof career – it only works if I keep releasing books, writing blog posts, and sharing these on social media and in my author newsletter. I believe this is the case even for James Patterson although his income is obviously several orders of magnitude greater than mine.

That means I have a target for how many words I write every day.

It started when I was living in China and I was contracted to a publisher to get 1 book to them every 3 weeks. On top of that, I had my own projects I wanted to write and self-publish. A lot of the time these days, I don’t have enough words left over at the end of the day to write my blog which is a shame.

At the height of my productivity to date, I was writing at least 4000 words a day. In fact, four thousand was a bad day. On a good day, I could do 8k or more and I worked 12-16 hours a day, taking long breaks only to cook or shower. After about forty published books, I am working at a point where those words usually only need one or two rounds of edits to be publishable.

It all got a bit too big and unmanageable around late 2018, when I found out I was pregnant. The first trimester hit me especially hard. Due to pregnancy concerns, and the hormones making it impossible to think clearly, my productivity plummeted to about 2000 words. It felt like I was working through treacle. At the time, with my bipolar misdiagnosis (I don’t have bipolar, I have ADHD and PMDD), I thought my productivity was linked to mania/depression, although I now know that’s not the case.

After I had a baby, I thought things would get better, but then I was lost in a mist of severe post-natal depression that kept coming in waves, so every time I thought it had lifted, it came back again. At first I thought this was writer’s block, but I had no shortage of ideas, I just couldn’t execute them.

There were weeks at a time when I couldn’t write anything at all. Not a book, not an article, and I withdrew from social media completely. I became a recluse because I couldn’t handle the pressure from all the things I’d been so good at, which were now on fire.

I. Was. Burned. Out.

The trouble is, like depression, it’s hard to recognize true burnout until you’re so deep under the weight of failed commitments and broken promises that you’ve drowned and they’re fishing your blue corpse out of the river you used to float on top of.

I had to get rid of every pressure, every target, every expectation, that I or anyone else had of me. I had to stop doing and just be. Lockdown didn’t help. I took up running. That helped.

Like a snowdrop poking through the snow I finally started to emerge after about a year. The storm was over. I had survived even though there were many times when I thought I hadn’t.

For about six months now, I’ve been writing again. Some days, more words come out than others. There’s also the constant pressure of needing to drop everything whenever my baby needs something. And trying to hash out a fair arrangement between my husband and I, since we are both working from home.

I have realized that even 1000 words a day is enough to release a 30,000-word book a month (luckily the romance genre supports this length of book), and 1000 words is about an hour of effort (a little over an hour). So now, my target is 1000 words a day. This means at the bare minimum I am writing enough to pay the bills, and if I have time to write more, then great, it can be a more satisfying book.

Even releasing one book every two months will pay for the bare minimum, as we have no mortgage or other big loans (and we are ninjas with a food budget), but to save for bigger and better things, a book a month is optimal (Craig Martelle, founder of Twenty Books to 50k, suggests that rapid-release brings in more money for all the books in a series than releasing on a slower schedule).

I don’t have the luxury of writing that mystery that’s been on the backburner for about 9 months, yet, but if I keep plugging at 1000 words a day, I will get there. And one hour of work time a day is really not that much to ask of my family. In an ideal world, that would be one undisturbed hour in a room of perfect silence, but as anyone with kids knows, that’s not how life works as a mother.

Usually, that’s an hour while my little jellyfish watches car videos on Youtube. I make up for it by taking him outside for a walk and to splash in puddles before or after (or both. He loves splashing), and playing cars with him when it starts to go dark. I was worried about letting him watch TV when he was a lot younger, but now I realize that was unrealistic. As long as the shows are chosen with care, the television is a key weapon in the parenting arsenal. Like any weapon (such as an adjective, adverb or flashback scene) it must be used sparingly.

My point is, if you want writing to be a career, rather than a hobby, you have to set yourself an achievable, realistic goal and make yourself stick to it. Recognize your limits and go easy on yourself. Don’t do what I did and push yourself past the point of not being productive. “Pushing through” burnout is nonsense. It’s a lie spun by people who want you to fail, or who never experienced genuine burnout.

No one ever wrote a book by… not writing.

Goal setting advice for finding your word count and making it stick:

  1. How many other commitments do you have? How much free time do you have? Don’t overestimate all the time spent in between other things. If it’s dead time, such as sitting on public transport, you can use that to write. If it’s time spent driving or similar, don’t count it as free time.
  2. How many words can you realistically write in an average (not perfect) hour? 200? 500? 1500?
  3. Now do some math. Don’t fill every waking hour of free time with writing, unless your lifestyle supports this. Your laundry still needs folding (although I use speech-to-text when I’m doing tasks like this in a quiet house). A good rule is to start by setting yourself half an hour or an hour a day of absolute ringfenced time to write.
  4. You can’t control other people or their interruptions, problems etc. You can tell them that if it’s not bleeding or on fire, not to bother you, but they might still, especially if they crawl or toddle and don’t understand words yet. Embrace the distractions when they are unavoidable, be present with the people who need you, and come back to writing. As Barbie says, positive attitude changes everything. If you spend all your interruptions stressing, you will return to your desk stressed. If you spend your interruptions generously, with the intention of helping people, you will return to your desk feeling good.
  5. Have a dedicated work space. Actually use it. I have a terrible habit of working on the sofa. I am more productive at my desk. You are too. It’s basic psychology. You spent all your youth being conditioned to work at a desk by schools.
  6. Plan your work before you start writing. Know what you want to say. Whether you’re a plotter or pantser, this is going to help you stay focused during writing sessions. You don’t need to know every fine detail, but some vague info will mean you spend your writing time typing rather than thinking.
  7. Never edit until the book is finished. Don’t waste your writing time stumbling over what you want to say. Write cliches, misuse the subjunctive, use twelve adverbs to a sentence. You can unpick it all later.

You can do it! The main thing is to get writing and keep writing.

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