What if I told you that there was one principle that would have the biggest impact on whether or not you’re successful as a work-at-home mom?

Hint: It’s not the industry or niche you choose. It’s not the structure of your business or what trade organizations you join. It’s not even the people you network with or your customer service.

All of those things are important, of course, but the number one reason many work-at-home moms give up is not because their businesses aren’t doing well, but because they’re not doing well. They’re tired, stressed and frazzled, pulled in a million directions and feeling like they’re not giving their best to their families or to their businesses.

So what’s the key to success? Simply put: Get it done early.

This principle applies to your home and family life as well as your business. Whenever possible, get it — whatever it may be — done early and eliminate the stress and frustration of being pulled in a million directions.

Avoid the guilt of shushing your teething baby because of looming deadlines or groaning in frustration when the school nurse calls, or saying no — yet again — to a fun activity with your kids.

The ironic part of this for those of us who are naturally procrastinators is that while the pressure of deadlines provides incentive to get things done, the freedom that comes from getting things done early is an entirely different type of motivation that can make work fun again.

And because you’re able to cuddle your teething baby, rush to the school to pick up a sick child, or run through the sprinklers with your kids on a whim, you fight back against the mommy guilt that threatens to slip in as you try to juggle a business and your family.

This isn’t a magic formula, and you still have to work hard and make sacrifices as a work-at-home mom. But being ahead gives you the same kind of freedom and flexibility that being debt-free does; you eliminate the “time debt” of always being behind.

The benefits of getting things done ahead of time are fairly obvious, and I think we can all agree that it sounds great in principle — but what does it look like in real life? Here are some examples:

At Home

  • Cut up produce, divide and freeze meat and prepare snacks at the beginning of the week so they’re ready and waiting.
  • Fold laundry straight out of the dryer rather than leaving it in baskets for later.
  • Meal plan so you don’t have to wonder what’s for dinner and whether you have all of the ingredients you need.
  • During the school year, empty and repack backpacks for the next day every afternoon.
  • Practice the touch-it-once rule rather than shuffling clutter around to be dealt with later.
work-at-home mom tips

In Your Business

  • Respond to and delete as many emails as you can as soon as you read them.
  • Eat the frog first thing in the morning, whether you feel like it or not.
  • Work on projects early rather than waiting until the last minute. This will look different for different businesses, but here are a couple examples:
    • Write and schedule blog posts ahead of time.
    • Work on accounting and taxes as soon as the month, quarter or year ends rather than waiting until they’re due.
    • Keep inventory in stock rather than waiting for orders to come in.

But what if you’re already behind?

If you’re barely meeting deadlines (or regularly missing them!), then the idea of getting not just caught up but actually ahead can be overwhelming. Let’s face it, though — being behind is pretty overwhelming and stressful too, so it’s probably worth the extra effort to break that cycle!

Here are a few strategies to use:

  • Start today. You’re already behind on everything, so don’t wait until you get caught up to start working ahead. Instead, start working ahead on emails, projects and action items that come in today while you’re catching up on the older stuff.
  • Set aside an extra day to catch up. Leave the kids with your husband, hire a babysitter on a Saturday or take a “vacation” day from regular work duties and use that day to catch up on outstanding projects.
  • Make the effort. Is it easy to move from behind to ahead? No, of course not. If it was, we’d all be ahead all the time. But put in the extra effort now and it will pay off in dividends with less stress as you work to stay ahead.
  • Build margin into your day. If there’s not enough time to get everything done, then there’s nothing you can do to change that other than to eliminate things from your schedule and to-do list. Which things on your to-do list feel really important but aren’t actually all that important?  It’s okay to do less, and if you really can’t eliminate anything on your to-do list, then it’s time to hire an assistant to help you!

The more I commit to getting things done early rather than under the wire, the more convinced I am that this is the most important thing I can do as a work-at-home mom. There are so many things we can’t control on a day-to-day basis, but we can get things done ahead of time so that we have the time and energy to handle with the unexpected!

How could you put this principle to practice in your own life? What can you get done early today?