How a few tricks have made me a better mom and consultant – and how they can help you lead a better life, too.

During the last four months, since having twins, I’ve learned a lot about myself. Some good (I can make a really tasty meal from two-day-old leftovers). Some bad (I can block out anything to work – including labor!!).
life hacks

But I’ve also had to come to grips with the fact that my time is no longer mine, at least for the foreseeable future. Three little bodies – I also have a three year-old daughter – want my undivided attention at all hours of the day and night, so I’ve had to get a lot smarter about how I spend my time and energy.

I’ve identified three life hacks that, when followed, make me a better mom and consultant.

It’s Okay to Say No

Some of us, find it hard to say “no.”

Perhaps we’ve been conditioned by too many self-help books that to live a full and meaningful life we need to constantly open ourselves up to new opportunities and experiences by saying “yes” to everything that comes our way. Until recently, that included me. Case in point, I said “yes” to running (aka fast walking/waddling) an off-road relay race when I was five months pregnant with my boys – insane, I know!

Anyway, that advice makes for great motivational speeches, but the truth is we have a limited amount of time and energy each day to devote to our careers and personal life. By saying “yes” to everything that comes your way you’ll likely feel that you’re doing much of it badly – you don’t have enough time to devote yourself to anything completely. Worse yet, you’ll run yourself ragged in the process.

Now, I’m not advocating that you tell your boss “no” the next time he asks you to take on a project you’re less than excited about – that’s a good way to end up unemployed!

Instead, I’m suggesting that the next time you’re juggling a major work project, training for a half marathon, and balancing personal responsibilities, all while taking online classes for your next degree or certificate, you pause – when asked if you’re interested in joining one more advisory board or taking on more responsibility at your child’s school.

Weigh the opportunity cost. Because let’s face it, everything comes at a cost. For me, I like to treat my time like I do the money in my bank account: It’s precious, I use it for the things that matter most.

Prioritize How You Spend Your Time

With three little ones at home, and clients expecting results, I’ve learned that prioritizing how I spend my time can make the difference between spinning my wheels all day and actually accomplishing meaningful objectives.

Is that something you struggle with too? If yes, keep reading, my process is very simple. It only requires two steps:

  • Each night before you go to bed (or while you’re drinking your morning coffee), take five minutes to list and prioritize everything you need to accomplish the next day. I’m not taking about the minutia (though taking a shower is important!), instead list the big stuff such as finishing a budget report, buying back-to-school clothes for kids, starting MBA application…you get the picture.
  • Now, this is the hard part – stick to your list!

Yes, I know other “important” things will pop up throughout your day and you’ll have to make accommodations for them. However, with the day’s key objectives already identified, you’ll have an easier time ensuring your time is spent on real value-add activities instead of managing your day by the manic flow of your inbox. Which brings me to my next tip…

Change Your Email Habit

I, along with millions of others, am guilty of having a Pavlovian response to email. The second the email alert on my phone buzzes I feel the need to find out who it’s from and what it’s about, knowing full well that it’s likely to be spam or some other non-urgent communication. Because, if it’s really that important, the sender will likely follow up the email with a call or text.

Yet I still feel this powerful urge to check. Why?

Researchers have recently concluded that checking our email has become a habit that our brains crave when we receive certain stimulus – like the vibrating phone or Outlook email popup preview. In other words, we’ve become Pavlov’s dog, minus the saliva, and wagging tail. Not a pretty picture!

According to a very interesting book I recently read called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg writes that over time our brains become wired to crave the short-lived distraction that email provides. But does that mean we’re doomed to be forever beholden to every buzz, ping, popup, or what have you that alerts you to new email? Heck, no!

Duhigg explains that by removing the cue (i.e. the “you’ve got mail” notification) we can disrupt our habit and go about our day blithefully unaware of the mounting pile of email in our inboxes.

While I think this is oversimplification, I have found that by turning off my alerts and setting aside certain times of the day to check email I can significantly increase my efficiency because I’m no longer stopping and restarting projects to respond to emails in real-time.

To sum it up, juggling all the responsibilities of modern life isn’t easy. But there are little things we can do in our professional and personal lives to help us be healthier and more productive.

Perhaps it’s simply saying “no” to things that would overwhelm us, or maybe it’s taking the time to prioritize the important activities and tasks in your day, or maybe still it’s breaking your email addiction.

Whatever it is, I hope that it can help you lead a more focused and purpose-driven life. I know these life-hacks have made me a better mom and consultant.