When I started my business six years ago, I was prepared to work hard. And I had some twisted notions of what working hard meant.
Coming from an environment where I had to fill out a timesheet each day, I was used to tracking every minute, taking inventory of my efficiency. I was used to an overstuffed workload that required me to be diligent about how I managed my time.
So when I sat down in my quiet home office, without the need to make a timesheet equal to eight hours (or more!), without a boss to answer to, just me and the little bit of work I started off with, I had a feeling of panic. It was as though I had associated a packed to-do list and frantic pace with my ability to actually do the work.
Of course, these weren’t conscious thoughts. This mindset was only apparent in how I worked. If I didn’t have a lot to do, I’d drag out whatever I was doing to fill the time I had. Because then, I could say I’d had a full day, and that full day meant I was busy and successful. If I found myself with an extra half hour before I had to pick the kids up, I wouldn’t use it to relax or pick up a book or take a walk around the neighborhood. I’d use the time to get ahead, thinking that a shorter to-do list would relax me.
I carried over bad habits from my previous job. I ate at my desk almost every day. I put pressure on myself to come up with good ideas and the right words immediately, rather than allow myself to ponder and explore. If I got stuck, I wouldn’t walk away and come back to it. I’d push through.
It was that mentality that increased my stress and decreased the amount of time I had to just….be. To think. Brainstorm. Now, I’ve realized is that I need that time, that space. Doing nothing, or having time to do something just because I want to (and not because it’s on the to-do list), is vital to my creativity and productivity.
I need to feel free to focus on a topic for as long as it takes, or to daydream, thinking about nothing specific, until the big idea pops into my head.
I need time to myself– time without chores, or deadlines, or errands. I need time where no one needs anything from me, where no one calls my name or even touches me.
I have always been this way. I need SPACE. I yearn for it, sometimes, like I crave water after a morning run. It’s a thirst, a physical feeling– an ache– for beautiful nothingness.
My mom recently told me that, when I was younger, there was a period of time where I was involved in a handful of activities– Girl Scouts, dance, and art– all of which happened after school. The days were just too long for me, the commitments too much, the downtime too little. My mom and I quickly realized that, for me, it was too much.
I am only just coming to a full realization of what this means, and learning how to implement it in my life. Now, I know that I need to allow myself space in my work days. I try, as often as possible, to give myself ample time to complete tasks, as well as free time at the end of the day where I can do something that fills me up. Even if it’s just 20 minutes, I take it.
Some days I paint, some days I grab a book and read, some days I take a walk, but it’s that time and space and freedom that allows me to pick up my kids feeling refreshed and proud of what I “accomplished” that day.
I’ve learned to look ahead, to make plans with friends weeks or months in advance, so that in the back of my mind I know I have the lush lightness of a girls’ day to look forward to. I’ve taken classes, in writing and watercolors and woo-woo spiritual things, because they bring me joy and that expansive feeling I crave. I have learned to tell my husband what I need, without excuses or apology, and I’ve learned to receive what I ask for like the gift that it is. I’ve tossed guilt (mostly) and turn to grace instead.
I have limited work time, and felt that if my kids were away from me, I should be WORKING the entire time. When I’m not working, I’m with the kids, and attempting to take time for myself with them around felt impossible and selfish. The guilt and pressure were immense. I had to learn to let that go, and once I did, I began to feel the spaciousness I had been craving for so long.
Overall, I need less time to check off the items on my to-do list and can more easily find the time for those activities that make me feel happy, light, and expansive. The freedom I grant myself fuels my work, and the work gives energy to my need for freedom, and it has all begun to feel like a beautiful symbiotic relationship that has led to a calmer, steadier satisfaction with all aspects of my life.
As moms and entrepreneurs, it is so easy to give all of ourselves away, to leave no space to breathe. We do it without realizing that we’re doing it. But that doesn’t bring us to where we want to go– it’s the time and space for big thinking, or a long walk, or that blessed nothingness, that gives us the fuel we need to keep going. Creativity needs room to grow, and we do, too. It’s never too late to take what you need.
MotherHustle panelist Stacy Firth is a writer and content strategist who helps moms who are small business owners and solopreneurs create online content that keeps it real. She also leads workshops that help mamas lead a lit-up life, and is mama to two. You can find her on her website or on Instagram at @stacyrfirth.
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