The time we spend during a workday in the office has a completely different feel to it post-baby. In the past, I’ve written about how much less time I’ve had for drama at work since becoming a working mom (see There’s No Time for Drama When You’re a Working Mama). Today, I’m delighted to share with you the pro tips of an amazing working mama on how to make the most of the time you’re in the office. Abby Thai is a marketing director and mama of two, who also happens to be Mindful Return’s social media manager. Thank you, Abby, for this incredibly practical and actionable workplace time management advice!
After returning to work after my first baby, one of my biggest hurdles was fitting my work into the actual workday. Not necessarily because I had too much to do. But rather because my workday was inefficient. I just never realized it. Or maybe I just didn’t care.
Pre-baby, I wasn’t overly critical about what meetings I attended or what I was getting out of them. If a co-worker wanted to stop by for a short chat that ended up lasting 30 minutes, no big deal. I’ve never been the type to work around the clock, but if I didn’t accomplish what I needed to during the day, I knew that I could always work at night if necessary.
All that went out the door once I had my first child. I wanted to make the most of the hours during my workday. It really wasn’t feasible to work at night. At least not in the beginning, while we were struggling with evening routines and sleep schedules (or lack thereof!). And even if it was possible, it really wasn’t how I wanted to spend my little bit of precious free time.
Suddenly, the corporate norm of meetings upon meetings upon meetings wasn’t working for me. And the more time I spent on conference calls that weren’t accomplishing anything, the more frustrated I got. I quickly realized I probably wasn’t going to change the culture of meetings at my workplace. But I could change how I personally approached my work day.
Is this a struggle you’re also facing? It might not feel like it, but you do have (at least some) control over your schedule. Here are my tips for taking back your time so that you have a more productive workday (and can keep your evenings to yourself!):
- Get to know yourself and what you need. Really sit down and think through what your ideal workday looks like. What are the types of things you typically need to accomplish? And what kind of time do you need to make available to do it? What time of day are you most productive? What gives you energy? Some people get energy from meeting with others. Others find this draining and prefer to work on their own. Whichever you are, your schedule should support this. If you don’t think through these things to start, it will be hard to make an intentional plan that maximizes your time at work.
- Block off “you” time. I suggest blocking off two or three 30-minute blocks of time throughout the day. Save this time for YOU. What you do with it is your business. But protect it fiercely. Use it to do something that energizes you, whether it’s exercise, reading, talking with a coworker, or brainstorming for a project you’re working on. For me, this was an important lesson I learned when returning to work after my first maternity leave. I was forced to take breaks to pump, and I really valued that time away from my desk and my computer. When I stopped breastfeeding, I continued to keep the time blocked off on my calendar anyway. Bottom line: everyone needs a break during the day, whether you are a pumping mama or not.
- Set a meeting limit. What is the maximum number of hours you are willing to spend in meetings in one day? For me, it’s 5 – but only if absolutely necessary. I typically aim for 4 hours or less. With this number in mind, block off your calendar for the remaining hours in your day and decline additional meetings that conflict with your “work” time. In my experience, life still goes on when you miss a meeting. Pro tip: When blocking off your calendar, try to give yourself a good chunk (like 1.5 – 2 hours) of uninterrupted, focused work time during the time of day that you’re most productive. If you need to, book a meeting room so you avoid interruptions from your coworkers.
- Make it realistic and achievable. I live on the East Coast in the US and work with many people in London. This means my mornings are usually packed with meetings and my afternoons are free. Unfortunately, my afternoons are also my least productive hours. So how do I work around this? I try to book my meetings into 2 or 3 days, leaving the other mornings for productive work time. When I’m facing the afternoon drag but still have a lot to do, I make sure to block off time to move. For me, leaving the office and going on a 20 minute walk is energizing and helps me refocus for the rest of the day. Picking up a coffee while I’m out on said walk never hurts either.
Truthfully, I wish this was something I had mastered long before I had kids. Feeling in control of your day and accomplishing the things you set out to do can lead to better job satisfaction for anyone–parent or not. It’s not always going to work out that you are able to control your day and cross off all of the items on your to-do list. But if you start to be more intentional about how you spend your working hours, hopefully you have more days where you feel in control than not.
Over the past decade, Abby Thai has built a successful career in marketing, specializing in marketing strategy, campaign planning, and content marketing. She is passionate about supporting women as they navigate work, family, and motherhood. Abby truly believes that a world full of successful, thriving mamas is a better world for everyone. This mission comes to life through Abby’s business, Mama Grow, where she aims to help mom-run businesses reach their full potential.
If you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for the next session of Mindful Return.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave