Creating a Mind Map

Life is constantly evolving, particularly on the work front. How I spend my time and energy depends on the projects I have on my plate (and how I manage them). Being self-employed, I have a lot of choice in the matter of how I prioritize my time and which projects I take on. But, my tendency, like many others, it to take on too much when my businesses already demand a lot of my attention to ensure they run smoothly and successfully. Add my family and personal life into the mix and it all starts to feel like I’m riding a runaway train.

As our businesses and lives evolve, we need to take a step back to see how certain elements may have shifted. What needed our attention six months ago may no longer deserve the time we’re putting in. Certain tasks we’ve been doing on ‘robot mode’ may have become irrelevant over time, and yet we’re still doing them!

One thing I do when it’s time to take a step back (or when I’m feeling scattered) is create a mind map. The point of this exercise is to see how you spend your time, what demands your attention and how you are prioritizing your life.

All you need is a big sheet of blank paper and a pen or marker (you can also search your apps for a digital version like this one, but I prefer to go ‘old school’ with this exercise). If you’re a visual learner, you may choose to organize your thoughts with various colours and stickers.

This is a simplified mock-up of a mind map, but you get the idea!

This is a simplified mock-up of a mind map, but you get the idea!

1. Begin your map with a central idea in the middle of the page (My Commitments, Current Projects, How I Spend My Time, My Priorities, your Name are all good starts). This can be as general (Life!) or specific (Your Business) as you want.

2. Branch out from there. Draw a line to a blank space on the map and start breaking down that central idea, giving each new section its own area on the map. These could be Family, Work, Volunteering and Friends. Or, if you’re going with a more specific mind map (e.g. Your Business), this may include Admin, Client Relations, Marketing, and Revenue Streams.

3. Branch out further. Under Work, for instance, you could write out your projects – even indicating roughly how many hours a week you allot to those. Under Revenue Streams, list out each of the areas and products that bring money into your company. Under Household, list the various areas of responsibility you hold, such as cleaning, bills, groceries, and maintenance (the point is to identify which things take up time, energy and money). Keep branching out, smaller and smaller, until you have created as comprehensive a map as you need.

4. Next, ask yourself some questions:

  • Where is the bulk of my energy going? 
  • Which areas need more attention?
  • Is there anything on my map that could be eliminated, delegated or hired out to free up more time?
  • Which projects or commitments bring me joy?
  • What doesn’t serve me anymore? 
  • How do these items line up with my life goals?

Make notes on your mind map however you like – cross out, highlight, circle, star. It’s all yours to play with in a way that makes sense to you.

5. It’s thought that 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers, and this concept (the 80/20 rule) can be applied to many aspects of your life and business. Use it with your mind map to identify which 20% of your items/activities you should be focusing on the most. Look for ways to eliminate, delegate or hire out the 80% of activities that aren’t as deserving of your energy and attention.

If you find this concept confusing, check out this article on the Pareto Principle. This principle applies particularly to the work side (handy for entrepreneurs/self-employed/business owners!), whether it’s your customer base or time management. But, you may also find it useful as you analyze your relationships, how you organize your personal life, and more.

6. Next, set some goals around how you can shift your focus to the things that matter and the things that make a difference. Use this downloadable goal setting sheet to help you through that process.

Let me know how your mind maps are coming along in the Comments below!

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!

How To Create an Inspiring Workspace

Some days I sit down to work and I’m distracted by the piles of papers on my desk – invoices, notes from interviews, brochures from travels and Post-It notes of all colours. Books from a random array of topics have accumulated from research for various projects, leaving just enough room for my laptop. As a writer, I have to say that these kinds of distractions really affect my productivity and often send me to places like Starbucks, where I can work on a table that is clutter-free.

Inspired to make some changes, I called on the services of Margarita Ibbott of Downshifting: Professional Organizing Solutions in London, Ontario, to help me work my way out of my mess. Margarita gave me a virtual consultation and some tips to finding my desk again. After our call I set to work. Her tips turned out to be easy to follow and have proven to be completely sustainable. Weeks later, I am still enjoying a clean workspace.

Upon her recommendation, I also removed my wall calendar where I used to keep track of due dates (they are now in my Google Calendar). In its place I have put up some inspiring quotes, cards and photos – things to keep me focused and excited about life and my job.

You can read all about these improvements in my latest article, Calling the De-Clutter Therapist, on tujawellness.com.

Thanks Margarita! 

Love What You Do (Yoga Challenge: Day 17)

Love what you do and all will follow.

I suppose I could leave this post at that, but I’ll elaborate a little bit.

This was the quote I got at the end of practise today (with “Devotion”) on the other side of the card. At the end of class, I turned to my friend that was practising next to me and said, “funny I got that one…it’s kind of my mantra anyways.” He agreed.

I could easily flip this quote around, too: “Do what you love and all will follow.” This has been my path in the past few years since I finished university and moved out to Banff. Since 2008, I’ve had my own series of jobs: server at a local restaurant, sales coordinator at a destination management company, community leader and floor leader at lululemon athletica here in Banff. I wasn’t passionate about everything in these jobs, but there was always something I enjoyed and loved doing. There had to be in order for me to be happy in my word. When it was time to move on, however, I didn’t linger long (this could be another mantra – “Don’t do what you don’t love!”)

My goal for the past few years through all of this has been to be writing full-time. While I was working at lululemon athletica (a company that strongly and authentically supported my goals, thanks goodness) I was writing on the side and, through the summer of ’10, interning with Alpinist Magazine. I was always waiting for the scale to tip towards writing, whether it be with finances or new opportunities. At some point I realized, however, that the scale would forever remain weighted more firmly in the land of “comfortable, reliable income” as long as I had one foot standing in that camp.

So, I took the leap into writing full-time and tipped the scale on my own. And guess what? The work came. The opportunities came. The connections came.

The view from my home office here in Banff brings extra inspiration to this writer.

Lesson from Day 17

It’s hard to let go the comfort and ease that comes from stability in our lives. But are you really doing what you want to be doing? Do you drag your feet to work in the morning?

Sometimes doors will only open up if we open them on our own. But, that takes stepping out into a void and screaming to the world, “I’m here! This is what I want to be doing with my life!” Then, let people respond. Put your neck out there and have conversations with people that are doing what you’d like to be doing. Learn how others have done it, then carve a path that works for you.

A life of stability and comfort is always waiting for you if you want to go back to it. And you know what that looks like for you. For some of us, stability means at least a tent over our heads at night. For others it is a full-time, salaried job with benefits. For me, it is a stable income in which I also work for someone else (thinking about that now makes me shudder a bit).

So, love what you do or do what you love and I promise all will follow.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2011.