Being an entrepreneur is a lot like mothering a toddler; it is a 24/7 job that requires an immense amount of both flexibility and focus. Both, at times, make me want to pull my hair out. But both bring a unique sense of joy, adventure and vibrancy to life.
After moving to East Africa and learning more about the issues facing women and girls living in extreme poverty, I launched my company, Sseko Designs. I didn’t have a plan, a mortgage or a family to consider. My only responsibility was pouring everything I had into try to make an idealistic, half-baked idea of building a premium fashion brand that would create community and opportunity for women globally a reality.
Fast forward eight years and I’ve got a life filled to the brim with much more than just my company (my first baby!) The last two years of parenting have surprised me as I’ve discovered that I feel just as called to motherhood as I do to the marketplace. They each bring something so unique to life in me and while it isn’t easy and the idea of perfect or even consistent “work-life balance” is a mystical unicorn, I am realizing there are habits and routines that help me build a life that is full, joyful and sustainable.
While writing this piece, I am sitting on an airplane, on my way back from a weekend with my best friends from college. It may sound indulgent or superfluous to you. Perhaps your reaction to reading that is one I’ve been met with many times before, especially by other working moms: “How do you find the TIME for something like that?” and the most simple, honest answer I have is this: I don’t find it. I make it. Cultivating these life-long relationships with this small group of women is one of the highest priorities in my life.
But here's a key thing you’d learn about me if you dug a little deeper: I just don’t have that many priorities. I’m really not all that impressive, I’m just ruthless when it comes to establishing my priorities and using them to guide every single opportunity or ask that comes my way.
If you’ve never done the hard work of carving out the time and space to establish, articulate and write down your priorities, every day you wake up to a paralyzing amount of decisions to make without a framework for making them.
Once you’ve determined your “priority matrix,” every single question, decision or opportunity in your life can be immediately filtered through your priority matrix. Over the long run, this process saves not only an immense amount of time, but it will give you an immense amount of your freedom back.
Here are three examples of my priority matrix with the daily routines and time-hacks that keep me sane while running a global company… with a toddler:
Action : We commit to at least one week of kid-free international travel every year and budget both dollars and credit card points towards this goal. (In the last five years, 100 percent of our airfare for international “fun” travel has been free, thanks to being credit-card savvy!) We don’t live near family so we plan months in advance and budget in a plane ticket for a grandparent to come have some quality time with our kid, while we remember why we fell in love in the first place. We also swap childcare with another couple so we each get free babysitting for date nights with our spouses!
Action : My husband and I wake up at 5:30 a.m. each morning and trade off mornings on who goes to the gym and who uses the extra hour to read and pray before starting their day. Two to three times per week for both of those things keep us on track.
Action : My hard and fast rule is instituting blackout hours from work between 5:45 p.m. and 8 p.m. every night. I only get about two hours with my son each night, and I am ruthlessly committed to being 100 percent focused and present during that time. Any work that needs to happen before the next morning happens after he goes to bed. The good news? I find that two focused and present hours is more fulfilling for both my son and I than an entire day together while I am juggling parenting, work and other responsibilities. So for us, this works.
Maybe there will be a useful idea for you in there, but tips and tricks and commitments and practices only work if they align with your priorities. And the best thing we can do for ourselves, our companies and our families are set a high standard for what constitutes as a priority. It’s not a true priority unless you can name it and claim it! And then once you do, you must be committed to making decisions that align and support your priorities.
Written by Liz Forkin Bohannon for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.