@Pinningnarwhals via Twenty20

Imagine this… You roll out of bed in the morning, feeling well-rested after having woken up naturally. You exercise and then have a healthy breakfast and feel ready to start working on your dream business. Your little ones wake up and wander downstairs for some snuggle time and breakfast. Then you settle into your Pinterest-worthy home office to work while they go play on their own.

Ahhh… the life of a work-at-home parent.

Sound far-fetched? Of course it does!

Starting and running a business while looking after young children is full of unexpected challenges and ups and downs. The only predictable thing about kids is that they are unpredictable. If you’ve never had a day where you’re ready to throw your hands up and call it a day by 10 a.m., well, I don’t believe you.

When I was just beginning to build my own consultancy, I was at home full-time with my youngest daughter, who was three. Despite the fact that it seemed our days were filled with big challenges and tiny victories, she taught me three things that made me a better business owner.

1. Use Short Bursts of Focus

In those early days, a familiar scene played out daily: I would be trying to finish up some client work while my little one tugged at my arm, trying to pull me away from my chair and over to a board game she had set up for us. My attempts at explaining that I could play with her “once I finish this project” fell on deaf ears. The little foot stomped. Her hand rose to her hip. And the pleading sounds of “NOW, Mommy! You need to play now!” rose to a fever pitch.

Of course, “later” is meaningless to a three-year-old. And if we’re being totally honest, it’s a bit of a cop-out.

“Later” never happens.

It finally occurred to me that we both need to clearly define time in a way that works for us. So I said, “I’ll play for a little bit, but I’m going to set a timer in the kitchen. When it rings, that means I need to go back to work, and you need to find something that you can do by yourself. When the timer rings again, we’ll play together again.”

It worked. Frankly, it was magical.

She was happy, expectations were set for both of us, and I finally had uninterrupted focus time. I later learned that there is a name for this time-management trick: the Pomodoro Technique. I still call it the kitchen timer method.

2. Prioritize and Commit

Parentpreneurs can feel scattered as we race from one urgent task to the next, never fully completing one thing before we move onto something else that our business “needs.” Our goals become moving targets, shape-shifting and even completely dissolving as the day marches on.

But my little one? She’s a planner. One of the first full sentences out of her mouth in the morning is, “What are we doing today?” which is often met with some variation of, “I have to do some work this morning, but maybe we’ll go for a walk to the playground or the library in the afternoon.”

Latching on to whichever activity I happened to mention, she makes it the subject of her laser-like focus for the rest of the day, keeping me on task and reminding me of it at frequent intervals.

A commitment is a commitment. Why is it so hard to make these commitments to ourselves?

I too need to have one (just one!) guiding goal for my day – a commitment to myself and my business that I will follow through on no matter what else comes my way.

3. Just Get Yourself Out There

Despite coming from a fairly introverted family, our 3-year-old has never met a person she didn’t want to love, approaching strangers with an unselfconscious curiosity I can only dream of. She confidently marches right up to other kids her age to say hi and offer a hug.

She knows her people, and instinctively knows how to make an immediate connection.

As business owners, we know that we need to understand and identify our tribe, but do we always know precisely who they are? And when we do, for those of us who are introverted, it can be a real struggle to put ourselves in front of those people and say, “hey, here’s what I have to offer you.” We quietly hope that the right customers will find us, when what we really need to do is seek them out and speak directly to them.

Connection is the lifeblood of business.

Fearlessly put yourself out there, and make those connections quickly.

These days, I work from a co-working space and then at home while my youngest is at preschool. Though I still sometimes wrestle with competing priorities, those early struggles are mostly behind us. I’m thankful to have experienced a business launch in the way that I did, because it made me that much more sensitive the need for simplified strategies for my clients who are also growing businesses and families. 

And of course, without the struggle, I never would have learned that my preschooler is a business coach in disguise.

Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com