Since before I can remember, I’ve been seeking a big life full of adventure, and that has manifested in what I have today: a global business making life better for women, and a crazy household overrun by half a dozen kids.
In a way, having six children was a game I challenged myself with. It costs a bucket load to provide for them, educate them and travel with them. (You can imagine when we fly anywhere how much the eight plane tickets cost, and we always need a minimum of two hotel rooms when we go on vacation.) I knew that having a big family would be expensive so I’d either have to learn how to play big or simply not get ahead.
I’ve never been someone who’s sought balance. The idea of having your life in perfect equilibrium has always felt a little unattainable and elusive to me. I just try to bring more health and sanity into my life where I can, never attempting to have the scales tipped perfectly each day. I feel lucky that I started my entrepreneurial journey very early on, owning my first business at the age of 18. Before I became a mom, I’d already collected a bunch of useful skills from business that became helpful in parenting. When it comes to running my household and my business, the same rules apply. Get good people around you. Have fun. Watch your body language and check your mood too. Move fast when required, and slow when needed. Create a fun environment. Stay calm. Don’t take yourself too seriously. And perhaps most important, get organized and don’t waste time.
I’m constantly getting asked how I fit 30 hours into 24 or how I ‘do it all,’ so here you have it: my favorite time-saving hacks. You’re welcome.
1. Do it now. I try to never handle emails twice. When I read an email, I try to respond then and there and delete it. I don’t open it, read it, close it and go back to it another time.
2. Done is better than perfect. I gave up perfectionism a long time ago. I’m all about doing a quality job, but there are always corners to be cut.
3. Shorter emails are better. Effective writing is actually saying what you need to say in as few words as possible. Often the fewer words, the greater the impact. There are few things more disrespectful than someone sending an email that goes on for days. No one has that time.
4. No emails are better yet. Do you really need to send it? Can you shout out across the office? Or get up and actually talk to someone? Pick up the phone?
5. Outsourcing is where it’s at. I get groceries delivered. When a kid gets sick, I use a telemedicine app where you dial up a doctor and have a video consult over your phone, and then they send the prescription to your closest pharmacy. No more doctors’ waiting rooms for me! If you can bring the world to you, you’ll save on precious time.
6. Dump the meetings. I’ll do anything to avoid ineffective meetings. The conversation generally expands to the time you have available, and so much time is wasted. Meetings should be for meaningful decision-making and moving the game forward. Whenever I get asked to be in a meeting, my response is, “Does this really need to be a meeting?” and “Do you really need me?” If it’s critical, I’ll do it, but I much prefer a quick conversation or, even better, a walk and talk around the block.
7. Do the worst first. My willpower is highest in the morning, so I tackle the hardest thing first. When it’s out of the way, it makes me feel good, and feeling good propels me to want to achieve more.
8. Make everything a game. When I was little, I’d play a game with my sister whenever we had to do the washing up. I’d look at the time and tell her, “OK, let’s get this done by 7:24 p.m.,” and we’d race to beat the clock. Nothing’s really changed. I still set myself little races all day long. “Let’s get this pitch in by 12:00 p.m.,” “Let’s get to inbox zero by 2:15 p.m.,” and so on. It makes me extraordinarily focused and means no time is wasted. Ready, set, go!
9. Delegate. There are loads of reasons why people don’t delegate: thinking they don’t have the time to train someone else, the fear of losing control, a concern that someone else will get the credit, that they’ll lose the jobs they actually enjoy, that they can do it better or that they don’t trust others to do a satisfactory job. These reasons are all valid, but unless you find a way through them, nothing will change. The first step is accepting that, yes, others probably won’t do it as well as you, and they’ll most likely do it differently. Big deal. The aim here is not perfection—the aim is to save time. If you’re worried about losing control or giving someone else the credit, then you’re managing from ego, and that’s never the best way to lead. Seek joy in watching others achieve a task that was once yours. You’re giving a gift of empowerment, and that’s a beautiful thing.
10. Sit on your hands. There was a time, when I knew no better, that I volunteered to be class parent. It was the first time I’d ever had a child at school, so I was full of enthusiasm and had no idea what the role entailed or what I was doing. The lovely kindergarten teacher looked straight at me when she said, “OK, who’s going to volunteer to be class parent?” I just couldn’t help myself! It was definitely one of those times I should have sat on my hands and said nothing. Those class parents need medals for all they do. I fumbled my way through for the first term and failed miserably. I struggle enough to get my own kids organized, let alone remind everyone else to do the same. Thank goodness the other class parent was both forgiving and exceptional at the job, so he stepped up, but it was a great lesson in overcommitment for me.
11. Pick what you’re good at. While I’m useless at admin, you can always count on me to be there with class supplies or be the one to buy a great present on behalf of everyone for the teacher. It’s important for everyone to play to their strengths.
12. Control your environment. I choose carefully what I read and what information I absorb. I rarely watch television. In fact, the only TV in our entire house is in our bedroom. (I know, right now you’re wondering how we ever managed to make six babies.) I don’t spend a lot of time on social media, and it’s safe to say that I completely suck at Facebook. I’ll go there maybe once a week if something draws me in, but I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what other people are up to. I remember a few years back when my assistant, Britt, logged in to my Facebook account. As a committed Millennial and social media user, she was aghast that I had over 280 friend requests just sitting there. Instagram is my one vice, and I’ll be on there a few times a day. I only follow and connect with people who enrich my life, and I unfollow them if they make me feel anything other than positive.
13. Don’t commute. A 2015 study conducted by Canada’s University of Waterloo discovered a direct correlation between commute time and well-being. The survey found that people with the longest commutes have the lowest overall satisfaction with life. I’ll do almost anything I can to avoid a commute. If you can, draw a seven-mile radius around your home and try to have all your regular activities fit in that circle. Get your office in that circle, your kids’ schools, and any stores you access too. Sitting in a car or on public transport is time wasted that you could spend on being productive elsewhere. If you just can’t avoid a commute, use that time wisely: meditate, or get ahead with your day by planning how you’re going to be effective. Take a gratitude journal with you, get a good book, do an online course while you’re traveling—anything besides just mindlessly whittling away time on social media.
14. Be a multitasking demon. Science tells us not to multitask, so let’s listen to that. We all get it: the tasks that require your full focus need to get your full focus. And I’m not for a second suggesting that you text and drive, or anything irresponsible like that. I am saying that if you’re in the hairdresser’s chair for two hours, make those two hours count. My hairdresser would fall over if I arrived without my laptop. It’s never happened. I make calls on my short commute to the office (hands-free, relax), I’ll feed my baby while having a chat with another of the kids, I read stories to the kids while they’re in the bath, and we have a rule in my house that you’re not allowed up the stairs without carrying something that needs to be put away.
15. Beware the charity coffee. We all get asked to have coffee and a chat. But you should be protective of your time and use it wisely. Of course, some businesses and roles require you to be out meeting new people all the time, and if this is you, go for it. If not, be ruthless with your time. The quicker you cultivate the skill of saying no and protecting your time from nonessential business, the better.
16. Say no. A LOT. I turn down lots of things that just aren’t going to give me pleasure or help in any way. I guard my time above all else. Where I spend my time is always my No. 1 consideration.
Emma Isaacs is founder and global CEO of Business Chicks. She is the author of Winging It, and is mom to six kids ages 11 through four weeks.