"How do you do it?" It's the question I've been asked countless times since my twins were born. Before I had kids I thought I was busy. Fitting in going to the gym six times a week, seeing all my friends and family, and spending time with my fianc seemed like a tall order. That was before my kids enlightened me about the meaning of the word busy. Now I really am busy, and people ask me all the time how I do it, making me realize that parenting twins has taught me many valuable lessons for the workplace and for life.
8 Lessons From a Parent of Twins:
Lesson 1: Yes, I am ignoring you.
Imagine pushing a triple stroller through Seattle's bustling Pike Place Market every morning and afternoon. It was my favorite daily ritual. My three girls (my twins along with their sister, 23 months older) were well known at the local fruit stand, butchers, and fishmongers. It came with a price, however: the stares and the comments (some of them ridiculously rude) from strangers. I quickly learned that I couldn't answer every question or it would take two hours to walk fifty steps. So I learned to smile, keep walking, and look past people who were trying to talk to me.
With the world now able to tweet, like, post, email, and text relentlessly, it is easy to get sucked into inane and futile discussions. Ignore what can be ignored, and prioritize responses to your customers, employees, investors, and friends. Not every communication that comes our way has to be attended to.
Lesson 2: Simplify your life.
These three words of wisdom came from a CEO friend of my husband's and a fellow parent of twins. He boldly said, "Get rid of everything in your life that takes up unnecessary time and attention."
With that we realized our beautiful marine aquarium had to go. It was high maintenance and took up precious floor space in our downtown condo. Two newborns make it clear just how precious your time and space is.
As your business grows and your life changes, simplification will be necessary. What in your life right now can be simplified? What are you spending precious time on that could be spent doing something more important to you?
Lesson 3: Don't treat everyone equally.
Fraternal twins are siblings that happen to be born on the same day. Their birthday is where their similarities end. One of my twin daughters loves alone time to play. The other wants to be with others all the time. If I treated them equally, they would be miserable. We regularly have one-on-one days with each of our girls. By "dividing and conquering," we have the opportunity to give undivided attention and learn the unique characteristics of each daughter.
Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of treating all their employees the same. My twins have helped me to see the futility of that strategy. Ask your employees what drives them crazy, what makes them happy, and how they like to be praised and rewarded. Then start treating them in a way that will speak to them and help them do their best.
Lesson 4: If you can, do it.
Try telling a hyperactive, energetic, CrossFit addict not to lift, walk, or even stand up for two months. That is what happened to me when I was six months pregnant and put on bed rest.
My resolve during this imprisonment on my sofa was that in the future, whenever I could exercise, I would. No excuses. I learned that when you can't do something, you really want to. I now use the memory of being sofa bound to fight procrastination.
What are you putting off right now? Imagine what would happen if you could not actually do it and just get on with it.
Lesson 5: Laugh. Get out the video.
Sometimes you have to just laugh. What would you do if you had two newborns and a two year old crying at the same time? Who would you console first? How can you juggle two babies? Will they remember what a terrible parent you are?
One day when all three were crying, I made a video recording of them screaming at the top of their lungs--and then I started giggling at the absurdity of it all. Laughter shifted my mind from being overwhelmed to knowing that I could control my reaction and remembering that eventually all three would stop crying. That video is a priceless reminder to me that I shouldn't get stuck in the moment.
When you are overwhelmed, how do you rise above whatever is going on and create a new reality for yourself?
Lesson 6: Autopilot your social life.
Have you ever realized that it has been months since you saw your favorite friends? Parents of multiples find it is easy to lose touch with their friends just when they need them the most. Ongoing work deadlines can have the same effect.
My twins have taught me to put my social life on autopilot. I did this with a close group of women in Seattle. We decided to meet the first Monday of every month; whoever could make it that night would show up. We picked the venue for the following month at the end of each dinner.
We all need friends. They help us to be our best selves. Don't rely on yourself to remember to make plans. People are busy. How can you autopilot your social life today?
Lesson 7: Date night saves your sanity.
I hear phrases like this from busy executives all the time: "I owe my partner." "I need to pay him [or her] back for the last six months of my crazy work schedule." "My partner isn't happy with how much time I spend at work."
It's okay to need some alone time with your partner. It's okay for your partner to need that from you. There. I have said it. I love my kids, and I also love my husband. Sometimes our conversations revolve solely around tasks, schedules, chores, and parenting. That can be no fun. We have always prioritized date nights once a month and date weekends twice a year.
My twins have taught me that I have to be intentional. It is easy to allow family and business commitments to take over everything. Rather than sitting back and letting that happen, how can you prioritize some date time this coming month? Don't put it off. Come up with one date idea right now and put it on the calendar.
Lesson 8. Sleep when the babies sleep.
I rarely meet an entrepreneur who tells me they are getting enough sleep. Research backs up the idea that Margaret Thatcher, who led Britain on just four hours of sleep a night, was an anomaly.
In the early weeks of our twin daughters being home, there were three priorities: feeding them, feeding us, and sleeping. Everything else could wait. It was difficult to ignore the messy house and the piles of laundry and just sleep when our babies slept, but it was the right thing to do.
How many hours of sleep do you get each night? Experiment for the next five nights by adding one hour of sleep to your nightly average. Pay attention to how the extra hour affects your focus, mood, and energy. It gives me clarity, enthusiasm and a positive belief I can achieve anything.
Twins have taught me a lot about limits--and how to work within those limits. They have taught me the value of time and, therefore, how to make the most of it. I've heard that if you need help, you should ask a busy person, and I think that's true. When we're busy, we learn to prioritize--but the key is to remember to prioritize what is truly important, rather than what is simply demanding. You can do this by being Thoughtfully Ruthless with your time, your energy and your resources.