Managing the Load: 12 Tips for Parent/Entrepreneurs

Most entrepreneurs have an insatiable desire to see their ideas and projects come to fruition. They have many balls in the air at once as they build out their ideas and create businesses from scratch. It is a volatile position to be in, but manageable.

But, when an entrepreneur also wants to have a family, the juggling act can get overwhelming – at times even out of control.

For me, the health of my family comes first, but that often means I put my own needs by the wayside. I hit major burnout a few times in these early years of parenthood after letting the candle burn at both ends a bit too long. Running two businesses while creating a new magazine and raising a spirited baby-then-toddler became more than I could handle. After some time, I recognized that I needed to put a few things in place to help me manage the load (and eliminate some things from my plate altogether).

My system is far from perfect, but these are the tips that have helped me regain some balance:

12 Tips for Parent/EntrepreneurS

1. Sit down weekly to plan.

Spontaneity can be a good thing, but life can unravel quickly when you fly by the seat of your pants a bit too much. When you take some time to sit down and look at the calendar, you can get a good overview of how your time is balanced in the upcoming week, and where you’ll fit in your workout/outdoor time, family time and meal prep on top of your workload.

2. Synchronize your calendars.

Whichever platform you use (I use Google), a digital calendar allows you to synchronize between your devices and synchronize your calendars with other people. I share a calendar with my husband and a  calendar with my business partner. This allows me to maintain a good level of communication when things get busy, and it also helps me manage my family’s schedule overall because I can instantly see when we are all available or what’s in the books.

3. Buy a crock pot.

An odd one, I know, but seriously it’s a lifesaver. After a long day, whether I’m working or in full-time parenting mode, I find I’m usually feeling exhausted or scattered right around 5 p.m. The last thing I want to do is start cooking dinner. With the crock pot, I can prepare most of the meal in the morning, when I have energy. My particular model has timers and a “keep warm” setting when the cooking is done. So satisfying.

4. Avoid the unnecessary.

This one sounds rather obvious, but I find I often get caught up in the “urgent + unimportant” and “not urgent + unimportant” quadrants (if you’ve never used the Do, Decide, Delegate or Delete method, check out this post). Ideally, tasks should get broken down into these quadrants to help you identify what you can simply delegate to someone else or eliminate altogether.

5. Don’t try to do it alone.

Neither of our businesses – both media and photography – are run by a single person. There is power in partnering up for many reasons: you share the load and the responsibility, you can work according to your strengths and eliminate items from your list that you simply don’t enjoy doing. Yes, this involves some financial output, but if you can swing it, bringing some assistance on board, or going into business with a suitable partner, can be key assets in helping you manage the load.

6. Turn off notifications.

Most notifications are totally unnecessary and I promise they will distract you from what you’re trying to accomplish. I recently read it takes 25 minutes to regain your focus after giving in to one of these distractions. Productivity aside, I noticed I felt less stress when I shut down my notifications and wasn’t tempted by the small bits of information appearing each minute on my phone. It also keeps me more focused and attentive in my meetings and social engagements.

Sometimes my "media fasts" look like this. One day in the great outdoors is enough to refuel me for a week or two. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Sometimes my “media fasts” look like this (see #10). One day in the great outdoors is enough to refuel me for a week or two and provide me with new perspective. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

7. USE Wunderlist.

This one also made it onto my list of productivity tools for writers. For me this app goes far beyond the writing business. We use it for all of our businesses and as a family, too. Having the ability to share specific lists with specific people, and to categorize them into folders keeps me organized and helps me to clear the clutter from my brain. The ‘Quick Add’ feature on the desktop version allows me to add an item without interrupting my workflow. Gold, I tell you.

8. Prioritize.

This one goes back to our quadrants from #4, but let’s go deeper. Priorities need to be made on a daily basis because life is constantly changing. A task that may seem important one day can be eliminated the next. I frequently scroll through my Wunderlist to look for items that can be *starred* as important or deleted. I also use the 80/20 rule when I’m looking for items to bump up or down the list.

9. Just ask.

My daughter is in part-time daycare, but I live far from family (and, as I say, help I don’t have to ask or pay for). There are times that Paul is travelling for work, or we’re both in crunch time on a project, or someone is sick (you name the reason) and I simply need to reach out for help. Now we schedule visits more regularly from grandparents or set up a few hours when someone else can take care of the little one. When I try to be Superwoman, I crash – big time.

10. Go on a media fast.

Each week, I pick one day to go on a media fast. What this means for me is no checking emails or social media for the entire day. (Since text messages have largely replaced phone calls now, it’s difficult to cut those out, but I cut out work-related texting on those days.) My media fast days usually line up with a weekend day when I’m with my family, which ensures quality time together. I’d like to try to add a second day during my regular working days to increase my productivity level in other aspects of my work. Once you get over the initial urges to ‘check in’, it feels so good to be disconnected.

11. Choose to unitask.

I am becoming more and more convinced that multitasking is much less productive than choosing a task and seeing it through before moving on. I have also heard that you’re not actually multitasking so much as toggling between tasks quickly. This working style makes me feel scattered and stressed. Eckhart Tolle writes about this in The Power of Now – about finding calm and peace in the present moment by focusing wholeheartedly on a task, even if it’s making a cup of coffee. If you find you’ve got 10+ tabs open in your web browser and you’re flip-flopping between tasks, take a minute to assess what your focus should be.

12. Finished is better than perfect.

This has been my mantra this year, and I have grown to love it. I am certainly still on the perfectionist end of the spectrum, but being a parent has certainly taught me that I simply can’t always finish things because my time is not always my own. There have been many times in the past few months that I have resisted the urge to go that extra mile, provide feedback or tweak something myself. It’s not to slack off; it’s being realistic and practical when I have so many things demanding my time and attention.

The bottom line is to create more time in our lives by sloughing off the unnecessary. If anything is truly urgent, it will present itself again. Keeping our priorities in check helps us to quickly determine how to expend our energy and worktime, and retains some quality, stress-free time to spend with family.

Resources in this article: 

What tips do you have for managing the work-family-life balance? Let me know in the Comments below!

On the Hunt for Aurora Borealis with Paul Zizka

Feature photo from Travel Alberta Winter Magazine 2014-2015. Photo by Paul Zizka.

It is not every day that you get assigned a story you’ve been dying to write, and even less likely to be asked to write about a person very close to you. So, I was ecstatic when Travel Alberta approached me about writing a story about my husband, Paul Zizka, and his quest to chase the Northern Lights here in the Canadian Rockies. Having the insider’s perspective on this crazy chase, especially during the solar maximum in 2013, I could have written a lot more about life at home, and how it intermingles with aurora forecasts, solar flares and Paul’s incredible ambition to capture the dancing lights. But I left myself out of the story, and talked purely about Paul’s efforts to photograph the aurora borealis, and the resources he uses to track the likelihood of their appearance.

It was a cool night on May 31, 2013, when professional photographer Paul Zizka left his home in Banff to drive to Herbert Lake, a small body of water along the world-famous Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park. Eagerly, he glanced upwards through the windshield, checking the skies at regular intervals. All forecasts predicted the aurora borealis, aka the northern lights, would put on a show – perhaps the best one of the year. “I knew I was on the verge of what could be one of the greatest photo ops I had ever encountered,” Paul explained.  → Read the rest of the article, starting on Page 30 here. 

New E-Guides Available for Adventurous Parents

I’m excited to announce that I now have two e-guides available for adventurous parents, Adventure Travel with a Baby: 40+ Tips and Insights and Essential Gear for Travelling with a Baby (a handy checklist for packing!). Versions of these articles are available on adventurousparents.com (see below), but if you want to full version, you can now download it for a small price. Newsletter subscribers can receive them free! Check out details below.

e-guides:

e-guideAdventure Travel with a Baby: 40+ Tips and Insights

Buy it here!

Description: Adventure travel takes on a whole new meaning when you add a baby to the mix! After 20+ flights and four countries with a baby, outdoor, travel and adventure writer, Meghan J. Ward, has compiled her best tips for globetrotting as a young family. 

A condensed version is available on the blog here.

e-guideEssential Gear for Travelling with a Baby

Buy it here! 

Description: Gear doesn’t make the world go ’round, but having the right gear on-hand can sure make your life, and travels, a lot easier! If you’re bringing a baby along, refer to this checklist compiled by outdoor, travel and adventure writer, Meghan J. Ward, with her recommendations for the best gear for adventure travel. 

A version is available on the blog here. For the handy-dandy checklist (perfect for packing!) you’ll have to download it.

Please note that e-guides contain affiliate links. By clicking on them you say “thank you” to Meghan J. Ward by providing a small commission from your purchases.

Copyblogger’s 11 Essential Ingredients Every Blog Post Needs

Copyblogger is a fantastic website that I have subscribed to for awhile now, and I highly recommend it to bloggers and writers. They published this infographic recently, and I just had to share! I have now printed off their pdf (see the link at the bottom of the post) and keep it by my desk. Happy blogging!

11 Essential Ingredients Every Blog Post Needs [Infographic]

Click to download a one-page PDF of these rules, suitable for printing and hanging near your workspace when you need to see it most.

Click to see the full, original post.

15 Tips for Getting Started in Freelance Writing

About once a month a friend, colleague or stranger will ask me the very same question: “I have been wanting to take my writing to the next stage. How did you get started in freelance writing?“.

Sometimes I’m tempted to say, “Just start.” How do you train for a marathon or big climb? You start running, you start climbing.

But I know it isn’t that straight-forward. There are definitely some pointers I wish I had known when I started out – things I had to discover on my own in a fairly long, drawn-out process that continues to this day. So, I often let these curious writers treat me to coffee and I download my knowledge. After some time, though, these conversations became repetitive, and time-consuming for both parties, so I decided to write this article.

These tips are based on my own personal experience. There are many ways of getting started in freelance writing. In my research I definitely looked at a few options and picked the one that resonated most with me. I welcome any tips from other writers out there and encourage you to use the Comments to provide your feedback.

15 Tips for Getting Started in Freelance Writing

1. Keep Writing and Reading

You’ve probably heard it before, but spend some time writing each day. Sharpen your tools so that they are as effective as possible when someone is willing to give you a chance at being published. Tips #8 and #9 can provide you with a great platform for this.

Equally important to writing, however, is that you continue reading. Read the authors who inspire you, deconstruct their sentences and develop a keen eye for what works and what doesn’t. Last year I dedicated myself to 52 Weeks of Feedback to help me commit to reading other people’s work more regularly (and provide some feedback to them).

Also, read the publications you want to write for so that you have a good sense of what they have published recently, as well as their tone, style, departments and article lengths. Many libraries have a good stock of back issues from magazines.

Just some of the books I reference regularly.

Just some of the books I reference regularly.

2. Research the Industry

Some people have the advantage of a degree or certificate that introduced them to the ins and outs of freelance writing. I came out of university with a Theatre Degree. But thanks to the World Wide Web there is a flurry of information already available online and websites ready to help you get started. I spent an entire winter just researching what it meant to be a freelance writer, what kind of outlets existed for my writing, and what the process was for getting published. I met with the only freelance writer I knew to learn how she got started. As it turns out, the path she took (ie. writing for newspapers) had no appeal to me, but at least I learned this was an option.

3. Learn How to Write a Query Letter

Learning about the infamous “query letter” was my first big “aha!” moment when I was researching how to enter the freelance market. Most publications, especially those that pay for material, don’t want to receive a complete, unsolicited article. Instead they want you to pitch your idea in the form of a query letter.

Editors are busy and likely won’t read a full article, but they can make time to browse through a well-written query. If an editor likes your idea, this also gives him or her some space to suggest possible angles and fulfill the current needs of the magazine. Check out this article by Paul Lima for How to Structure a Query Letter. Keep track of your queries so that you know where and when you submitted.

4. Find a Home for Your Words

Writers Market produces an annual volume of publication listings (by category/topic) and writing advice. The Canadian Writer’s Market offers a listing of Canadian publishers, which is handy for the Canucks out there. Otherwise, you can use the web to research magazines and journals that might be interested in the topics you like to write about. Figure out which publication (and department within that publication) is the best one for your idea and submit your query letter to the appropriate editor.

5. Attend Writing Conferences, Workshops and Seminars

I could write a whole post about why this is so important. As a writer, you need to keep learning and these types of events not only help you to perfect your craft, but also teach you about the writing industry (and its current state) and allow plenty of opportunity to network. Sometimes the opportunity to be published is a “right place, right time” kind of thing, and meeting editors face-to-face can really expedite the process. Some of my most valued relationships are with the magazine editors I’ve met at conferences. Meeting them in person enabled me to discuss ideas and turn them into reality almost on the spot.

Thanks to the Internet, online seminars (or “webinars”) now also provide writers with the opportunity to “attend” a workshop without even leaving the house.

6. Read the Masthead

You might have flipped past this before, but it’s a good idea to read through the masthead – that list of names, departments and circulation information at the front end of a magazine. You might see the names of other writers you know, notice that the magazine has a new editor, or learn that the magazine accepts interns (more on that in Tip #10). All this information will serve you well when you are querying a magazine, and particularly when you’re wondering whom to send your query to.

7. Subscribe to Newsletters and Blogs

These appear in my inbox once a week and while sometimes they go straight to the trash (depends on how busy I am) I often scroll through to see if there is any content that appeals to me. My favourites include Worldwide Freelance, Funds for Writers, Masthead and Show Me the Money.

8. Write for Free (at first)

I hear some freelancers screaming out there. There is a debate in the industry about how writers can undercut the market by providing their services for free or cheap. To a large extent this is very true, but there will always be grassroots publications, non-profit organizations or websites in need of content and they simply can’t pay. To get some experience, I wrote for organizations like the Alpine Club of Canada, CPAWS and the Stephen Lewis Foundation – all for free. You need to be published to get published. Start small and work your way up.

9. Start a Blog

I’ll start this tip with a warning: be careful what you put out there. The first blog I ever maintained is now offline. At some point in my career, I simply couldn’t have a lower quality of writing floating around the Internet. My writing has improved hugely since I set off on this journey. But that being said, I now maintain a few websites, including The Campsite and The Adventures in Parenthood Project, which allow me to publish my own words, explore with my writing and position myself as a pseudo-expert on certain topics. On another note, these websites have helped me to nurture relationships with people involved in the industries I like to write about, including other writers, bloggers, gear companies and organizations. Blogging is also just plain fun.

10. Seek Out a Magazine Internship

If you live in a larger city, you’ll likely have more opportunity to find a magazine that is looking to hire an intern (this could be paid or unpaid). I leaped for joy when I discovered that Alpinist Magazine was looking for an Online Editorial Intern and didn’t mind if that intern worked remotely. I spent six months with that magazine, working from Banff with regular Skype calls with my editor. And though I slaved away for free, the experience taught me a lot about the industry and my own writing. I emerged a much better writer, with new connections in the industry I never otherwise would have made, and with a bit more credibility behind my name.

11. Build a Website and Get “You” Online

Once you have a fair amount of credible publications under your belt, and you’re keen on pursuing freelance writing, I recommend you start up a website. There are plenty of platforms to help you do this and my personal favourite is WordPress.com. This can be attached to your blog somehow or kept separate. A website, such as the one you’re on right now, will provide people with an online resume, help to attract potential clients and provide you with credibility. Go ahead: buy a domain with your name in it right now, even if you don’t plan to build a website for a year.

Furthermore, in today’s world I believe it’s absolutely essential for a new writer (well, anyone) to take control of his or her online profile. When people Google your name, what comes up? Google mine. You’ll notice that I share names with another U.S.-based writer. After discovering this, I realized the importance of 1. adding the “J.” to my name (to distinguish us) and 2. further “branding” myself as an outdoor, travel and adventure writer. (From time to time we have been confused but both gladly assist people in finding the right Meghan).

You need to be the one that makes sure your online presence is clean and accurate. Having a website will help.

12. Join a Writing Organization

Once you have a few publications under your belt, you may benefit from joining a larger organization that supports freelance writers. Again, this will broaden your network and provide you with numerous professional development opportunities. I am member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (you’ll also want to check out their writers.ca) and the Alberta Magazine Publisher’s Association.

13. Build a Social Network

Building a strong social network online will not only help you get your work and name out there, but perhaps more importantly will introduce you to people and publications you may never otherwise have encountered. These people include other writers, editors and potential sources or experts. I use LinkedIn to expand my professional network and Facebook, Google+ and Twitter to create community around my work, to crowd-source and simply listen. If I had to pick just one, I would use Twitter (check out my 5 Reasons Why Writers Should Be On Twitter).

If you’re interested in connecting your business online I highly recommend you read Six Pixels of Separation, by Mitch Joel.

14. Don’t Quit Your Day Job…Yet

We only have 24 hours in a day, and many people struggle to find time to pursue writing when they are working full time. For a few years I worked full time while I built up my portfolio. Then I moved down to 30 hours a week, and took on more writing. At one point, I was working 30 hours a week at a local retail store, 20 hours a week for Alpinist, and freelancing on the side. Eventually I took the leap to writing full time but only when I saw that I had enough work to get by.

It’s worth mentioning that there are not many people in Canada who make a living purely off of freelance writing for magazines. My income comes from 1/3 freelance for magazines, 1/3 web/brochure/marketing copy, and 1/3 social media and marketing consulting. Those ratios are always in flux, but at least that gives you an idea.


15. Be Resourceful

One of my favourite quotes is by Ben Franklin: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” Naturally, we like to write about topics that interest us. And one of the coolest things about writing is that you can take something you do anyway, write about it and make some money.

In April 2011, my husband and I went ski touring in Auyuittuq National Park, within the Arctic Circle on Baffin Island. While I was writing an article for IMPACT Magazine about ultra runner, Ellie Greenwood, I got talking with the editor about that trip. He asked if I would write something, so I did (you can read about it in The Land That Does Not Melt).

I’ll admit it’s not always easy to find a balance when anything could become fodder for an article. You can read about that in the 6 Things I’ve Learned From Living Off My Lifestyle.

Be persistent. In can take years to build up a portfolio and gain credibility in the industry. If you really want to make it happen, even as a side business, you need to stick with it. To this day I still have many query letters rejected each year (and often I don’t hear back at all). Keep your love for writing at the center. Give yourself a pat on the back just for showing up and watch this talk by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I would appreciate any additional ideas that other writers have for getting started in freelance writing. Please use the Comments feature below to share your ideas!