All systems… no

Motherhood needn’t kill your ambition… or your productivity

With over one million #mumpreneur posts on Instagram, it’s clear that motherhood and business often go together like peas and carrots. Nothing boosts your creativity like creating a little human. Yet when it comes to practical advice on managing your new life and working at home with a little one, the productivity experts are frustratingly quiet. You’re left to stumble along, working through meltdowns (yours and your baby’s), figuring it out as you go along.

Welcome to the juggle that is motherhood.

What does success look like to you?

In your pre-kid life, you may have harboured delightful fantasies about how much you could accomplish on maternity leave. Once your little one has arrived and you’ve had a taste of what baby life is really like, you might find it’s time to adjust your expectations of yourself.

“I thought he would sleep in his bed and be happy to be away from me,” says founder of Seedling Digital, Nikki Hamilton. “I planned to use his nap times during the week to get work done and thought I’d work late at night if I needed to, but the reality was very different. I feel like I didn’t put him down for five months straight. He would only sleep if I were holding him.”

The competing demands of business and motherhood are humbling. If you’re going to thrive, you’ll need a new definition of success – one that’s focused on living and acting within your values, rather than on task accomplishment. Step back and recognise how much you are achieving each day in simply caring for your child, and ask for help from your support network when you need it.

“Taking care of a baby is incredibly demanding, it involves hundreds of little interactions every day. Often these moments are taken for granted or not seen as visible achievements, however each of these interactions is an opportunity to connect and express love. Meeting your baby’s needs in a loving and connected way is a massive achievement. Anything achieved in addition to this is can be viewed as a bonus,” says registered psychologist Renae Jarret.

Forget goals… focus on your systems

Setting goals is fantastic but if you make them your focus, you may find yourself falling frustratingly short. As a work-at-home parent, you’re better off directing your energy into the systems or processes that support your targets. As author James Clear states in his blockbuster book Atomic Habits, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

My goal – to be a successful, working writer – hasn’t changed, but in the first year of my son’s life, my processes had to shift and adapt significantly to achieve this. From working at the kitchen bench with him in a baby sling in the newborn days, to having a full-blown babyproof office as he tottered toward toddlerhood, I’ve found peace (and success) in going with his flow.

For Nikki, automation and embracing digital technology was a big part of her success system. “If there was a task I was doing over and over, I’d find a way to automate it. For example, I wrote templates for client sales emails or Facebook responses I found myself writing over and over. I also worked on my phone a lot. I built keyboard shortcuts into my phone and would use them to quickly respond to an email while my son was occupied with something else.”

What works for you will be different to what works for someone else and their child. But if you can be flexible and adapt your approach, you won’t find yourself derailed when your baby reaches another indisputably exciting yet often impeding developmental milestone.

Working in micro blocks of time

Do you remember the old days of working in an office when you could ‘warm up’ to a challenging task with a coffee and a quick scan of your emails? As a mama juggler, you don’t have that luxury. You won’t feel it, but you’re about to become more productive than you’ve ever been in your entire life. Motherhood has given you a new superpower – the ability to work in micro blocks of time at a moment’s notice.

By keeping a prioritised running list, you can snatch five minutes in between baby care to handle an urgent business item, counsels Nikki. “The reality when you’re working for yourself and have a baby is that you need to be able to switch tasks very quickly, and put your whole brain into it. You don’t have time to mess around. Being present and mindful is a really important skill to foster.”

Although life as a work-at-home mum can be overwhelming and make you feel as though you’re nurturing two babies instead of one, it’s important to keep sight of why you’re doing this: to provide a better life for your family and fulfil your own needs of self-actualisation. Yes, it’s a juggle, but the rewards outweigh the costs. Nothing cures a bad workday better than a gummy baby smile.

Annie Bucknall

Annie Bucknall describes her work environment as ‘curated chaos’.

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