If you’re a parent, then you know how hard it can be to manage your time well. Now imagine running two businesses on top of parenting. Elissa Liu has mastered the art of managing time while being a parent and CEO. As the founder of Spark Growth and the CEO of Influential Executive, Elissa Liu has to maximize every minute of her day. Hear the 2 ways she makes every second count. Elissa has discovered how to value your kids and the time you spend with them while also getting work done. Listen to find out how to become a better parent and a better Entrepreneur at the same time.
“Your experience with your first child is not necessarily going to be replicated with subsequent children.”
1:07 - The story behind Elissa’s niche: How observation and learning from your field can reveal a special place for profit
2:32 - Parenting is hard, but find out how Elissa parents 2 kids AND run 2 businesses at the same time
6:47 - What the best options are for a CEO or Entrepreneur who has to take a step back from the business because of personal life issues
9:37 - Downtime? What’s that? Why your downtime becomes more and more valuable with each child you have
15:47 - For the busy CEO parents: 2 ways to balance your time between your work and your kids
18:29 - Even if you don’t have kids, you need to learn this principle to maximize time for yourself and your employees
21:00 - There are 2 ways that you can maximize your time, especially during your commute or working from home
23:09 - Don’t let working out fall behind your parenting and work life! What Elissa does to make exercise a convenient and enjoyable time of the day
Connect with Elissa Liu:
Intro: Welcome to agile living the entrepreneur's journey. The show dedicated to discovering how entrepreneurs and digital leaders are doing more with less. I'm Jon Voight, your host as CEO of Agility, and we're on a journey across the country to learn from top digital entrepreneurs on how to live a more agile adaptable and fulfilling life. Thank You for joining me today. And let's dive in.
Jon Voigt: Today, I'm happy to welcome Elissa Liu on the show. This is the founder of Influential Executive and Spark Growth and is an official member of the Forbes agency counsel. I've known Elissa for years and I've been always blown away with her ability to juggle so many things. The biggest thing that blew my mind was the first time we met. And I remember her telling me the story of her writing her business while having her first child. I was expecting my first child and it just really resonated with me. Since then she's added another child to the mix and although I'm sure it's affected her and her work in some ways, I've always just been amazed by how she continues to fly forward. Since we all have things in her life that at times pull huge amounts of time away from our day to day, I thought it'd be amazing to talk about how you continue to cope with your responsibilities when huge new responsibilities land your life. Elissa thanks for being on the show. Perhaps we could start by quickly going over what you're up to right now in your business and in life and then we can jump back and chat about you know when you first had your first child. How did this affect your progression of success in your business and things like that?
Elissa Liu: Sure yeah sounds great. So just quickly in terms of what I'm up to now. I'm running as you said two sister companies. So, Spark Growth is a social media growth and acquisition company. We focus on brands and companies. So, we're really helping companies with developing smart social media marketing programs to meet their business goals. We've been doing that for about seven years now and in the last year, we sort of discovered there's another opportunity really to help executives with their social media presence. So, one of the interesting things we saw in some of the data is basically that people would rather interact with people i.e. leaders versus the brands themselves. So, we actually see a lot higher engagement rates on content coming out of a leaders profile versus the company. So that's sort of the new thing that we've been focusing on sort of building and growing over the last year.
Jon Voigt: Okay. Cool. Cool. And how have you been able that do all that while having two children? I know I can barely do anything, and my wife has helped me out so much and especially when you have a new child, the mother needs to be there so much of the time. So maybe you can jump when the first one came. How did how did how did that hit you?
Elissa Liu: Really good question. So, my older son is a little over four years old now. So, kind of going back to you know four-plus years ago I was at a point you know we were several years into the company but we still sort of definitely felt like a small startup. And I really didn't know what to expect when I had my first child. Obviously, you know you're coming in and you hear a lot of stories, you talk to people, you sort of get a flavor for what might, you know what, how big of a responsibility this might be. But once you're sort of in that situation... obviously you're just kind of taking it day by day hour by hour. For me I guess one of the big things was, you know, as I was getting closer to my due date one of the big things I wanted to do was put a strong team in place and have clear accountabilities around some of the key things that I would typically be responsible for, because that's what was really my biggest worry was, you know, what's going to happen when I'm not there day to day and what is that going to look like and I wanted to make sure you know I have the right kind of people in place: clarity around who's doing what. And I guess for me like, you know, I had my son and it was kind of that… that first few weeks was really a huge adjustment obviously, you know, you're waking up every couple of hours, you're constantly feeding, there's just so many things going on, you're in recovery mode, and all of these things. So I guess it was it was definitely. I'm thankful that I had a strong team and my business partner at the time was there, especially in those early weeks such that I really didn't do almost anything for the first four weeks or so. You know checking emails here or there, but I'd really sort of tried to clear my plate entirely to be able to focus on my son and just sort of, you know, getting used to that completely new situation. Right.
Jon Voigt: And that was that was because you had those people you trusted in place pretty much, right?
Elissa Liu: Exactly. Yeah. Without having that trusted team. I mean I've heard of others who've been in situations where you know they're constantly having the team coming to them asking to make decisions and you know, that, I think, would've been a lot harder if you know day two after giving birth. You're getting phone calls asking you know what should we do about this. What should be, you know. Those kinds of things and I think that would make it a lot more difficult but because they had that strong team in place they were able to you know for the most part kind of, you know, figure things out and run things for those first several weeks. But of course, as you know an entrepreneur and a business owner it's not like you want to just completely step away from your business either right? So there's a bit of that balance where you want to stay involved. You want to continue to push the growth forward, you want to be continuing to shape that business. So after about four weeks is when I started to you know get a little bit more back into things. So, of course, like it's tough with sleep patterns and sort of figuring out you know, you hear the classic like sleep when your baby sleeps kind of thing. So there's a bit of that but there's also kind of work when your baby sleeps too. So I think that's kind of how I adapted over the first few months was just starting to work a few hours a day starting to kind of build my schedule back up. One of the key pieces that I realized was just do not book, like do not schedule calls. Do not have scheduled meetings.
Jon Voigt: You don't know what's going to happen, right. The baby could be upset or something. Yeah right.
Elissa Liu: There's so much unpredictability there and I think that's where you know this idea of agility comes into play when you have to be agile you have to be able to sort of flex back and forth. You need to be able to respond to the situation you're in at that moment and not be overcommitted to other things. So I think that was one of the key pieces that I learned was you know don't schedule things but find the time where you can to step back into things and really kind of you know focus your time in a way that's going to make sense you know during that time that you do have available right.
Jon Voigt: Right. You mentioned there you know you kind of wanted to get back in the business because you know you're drawn as an entrepreneur to kind of, you know, push the growth, push the strategy and these things. Does that mean... because some people want to put a team in place that will do that for them and some people are putting people in place that will, you know cover them. Was this a temporary thing that you kind of set up saying you know I want you guys to be able to take these you know five roles off me and cover them while I'm away or is this a shift that you did to the business to say you know I want you guys to take accountability and lead these things more even when I come back and this was a catalyst to go in that direction?
Elissa Liu: That's a really good question. I think to be honest at that time it was more of a “cover me while I'm out” kind of a strategy. I had a business partner at that time though, so he was obviously involved in you know kind of shaping the strategy and kind of doing a lot of business development, client conversations, and so on. So I had strong people there who were able to step in and play you know play that role to a greater extent than they were previously for example. Yeah. But I think if I were to you know to do this again. So if I were to get pregnant a third time, which is not currently in the plans but if I were to, I think I would more be thinking along the lines of what you said you know what you said second there, which was finding someone who's more senior and more in position to actually take over and grow and push the business to the next level and who really has that capability. So, I definitely see value in both. I think where I was at and where our business was at, at that time was more of a sort of "cover me while I'm out” kind of a strategy.
Jon Voigt: For sure, for sure. Which is obviously super important but maybe you know it doesn't give you that flexibility going forward because we're you know with my second child just come in just about three or four months ago, I'm going through that phase where I'm just realizing you know I can give lots of direction and I can I can be there but you know sometimes I have to do other things and I'm… The first one I kind of did what you did too. I even, though I'm not the wife who needs to feed and everything, so much more time is pulled, right? So I get a free ticket there. But you know I had to get people to help me out with things but it's very temporary with the first one and after the second I'm like, you know what I need people that actually take some of this stuff from me and run with it and come back to me saying they've already gone in this direction the strategic direction and they've already done you know gone this way or done that and are leading it a bit more because otherwise, it's still in your head right. And you had to run back all the time.
Elissa Liu: Exactly. Yeah, I totally hear that.
Jon Voigt: So when the second one came you know we you know obviously the first one is this big learning thing the second one you're a bit more prepared because you kind of know what's coming. But at the same time a second one for me at least it was like more than double the amount of work because the number of people and how you can cover each other. So how did that affect you in terms of you know adding this new big spin of responsibility and in your personal life that conflicts with your business life.
Elissa Liu: Yeah really good question. I guess the one piece that I didn't get into on my first son was that I actually had him home with me and I had some part time care but for the first eight months he was actually home with me which was something I did not do with my second son so that was a big change and I had additional support. So with my first son I did have him home. I did you know I was actually working from home pretty much for that first whole eight months. And I brought on like a part time nanny I had I actually had my sister staying with me watching him for a couple hours a day in the early in the early months with my second I was kind of because my first was now in daycare and I had him in daycare part time plus I had a part time nanny. When I had my second I basically moved to a full time nanny to help me out with him with the second one and that helped a lot. Just because obviously if you have someone there full time who's supporting you and helping with the kids and just sort of helping to make sure that everything is happening the way it needs to. It just is that extra set of hands and was really helpful to me. At the same time obviously you know you want to spend time with both of your kids and of course I you know I wanted to spend that that quality time with them. So it's continuing to balance that with getting things done. And I think one of the biggest things that that was different for me with my second was, and I think to be honest I got a little bit overconfident with what I could handle based on my first thought was I basically, I was trying to you know take calls within it within a couple of weeks. I was trying to work almost a normal day within a month when I didn't actually factor in with my older son now in daycare bringing home all these you know illnesses and all these other things. Now my body was you know having just given birth my immune system was down and so on. So all of a sudden I'm sick and I got sick for a few months actually. So that really set me back from a work perspective it was almost like I kind of thought I was going to hit the ground running and all the sudden I was like No I just need to completely pull back from work and I need to focus on getting better. So that was completely unexpected and something that I wasn't really anticipating at all. And for me the big learning there is like you know you're experienced with your first child is not necessarily going to be replicated with subsequent children though. So that was a big learning for me.
Jon Voigt: Yeah. Our second one is like a breeze compared to our first one now our first one's regressed and a whole bunch of things and he's right in the middle of the twos and just all this emotional stuff and diaper changes which in from getting diapers so he's going through all this transition and the new one's an easy one but because we have the new one in our arms that transition is that much more escalated right. So right. And it's interesting you mentioned the getting sick because you know I talk about a lot on the show about you know you have to be physically fit and in good shape to really be agile to be successful all these things but you know when we something surprises out of out of nowhere or some change we didn't expect like you said. The changes that you're your older son brought back all these things if you don't expect those things they catch you off guard and you can't get around it you you'll get sick. That's what happens. Yeah.
Elissa Liu: Yes exactly. Exactly.
Jon Voigt: That's cool. Like very similar effects for me but not to the same scale obviously because I'm able to get away from the newborn because I don't have to feed, right. Was there any things that you kind of really got surprised at that really caught you off guard that, you know, not necessarily about kids but just about this new load of some new responsibility that affected your work in a positive or negative way?
Elissa Liu: I think I mean the illness was really the big thing that caught me off guard but I think that there were definitely other learnings along the way just in terms of things. And in many cases, I've actually a lot of my learnings have actually come more recently it's almost looking back. I sort of see oh you know here's what's important or here's how I should have approached it. So I think there's a lot of learnings but I would say just in terms of catching me off guard it was really you know I think one the illness and just the fact that you can't anticipate everything you can't as much as you can plan as much as you know you have a really healthy pregnancy and all these other things. There's certain things you can't anticipate. And then of course just the amount of time that goes into you know spending time with and raising your kids right like there's a there's every minute there's things to do. And so I think it's a lot of you know a lot of women and a lot of people going to a pregnant and go into you know a pregnancy and they're sort of anticipating their first child they're thinking oh I can have all this time I'm home with the child I used to start all these projects and you know read all these books and do all these things but quickly they realize you know that's not realistic. And what seems like you should have all this time of global to you really you really don't. And so it really does come down to prioritizing and being really thoughtful with how you spend that time.
Jon Voigt: Yeah, it's huge I was talking to a guy I work with. He kind of coaches me on health different things and he's talking about you know when I have downtime and I'm like “Oh yeah.” I went snowboarding on the weekend or whatever and you know that you realize that's not really downtime, you're body's being pushed. Your mind's actually doing a lot when you're doing sports or things that you know involve a lot of things so your mind's not resting either. You really don't have downtime with the kids they chew up everything totally. You talked about spending more time with the kids. And I think you know we as parents always want to spend as much time with our kids as possible. Do you foresee and you talked about priorities of work do you foresee that you got more optimized or focused more on the higher priority items? Because you know you have so much time in the day so you gotta get those high priority items done first and then you can spend more time with the kids and maybe you dropped off some lower priority items. Is that a methodology your husband has left for you?
Elissa Liu: Yeah 100 percent. Yeah. That... I would say that's probably one of the most critical learnings that I've had throughout this process is really I've had to learn to prioritize and focus just on the most important things and really be able to delegate the rest. And I would say like I'm still not perfect I didn't. I think it's the further you get out from being right in that situation where you have, you know, kids at home with you all the time to now both of my, one of my kids is in daycare and one is in school. You kind of almost start to drift away and drift back toward some of the bad habits from before but I still try to keep some of this thinking in front of mind because I think it's really helpful. One of one of the key concepts that I've learned that I that I find really useful is this idea of time-boxing. So it's something that... I was a previously was in the management consulting world and one of the things we would sort of talk and joke about was, you know, if you gave yourself... if you just gave yourself an unlimited time, amount of time, to work on a presentation you might spend you know 14 hours on it but if you would specifically set and time box eight hours to spend you likely could have actually gotten it done in that amount of time. All right. And if I find with kids you really have to force yourself to say you know what I'm going to work for two hours right now and here's what I need to accomplish needs to be you know this first and then that. And so I've really found that kind of being really thoughtful about how I'm spending my time is absolutely critical. And then I think the other pieces is, as entrepreneurs, there's a lot of...there's certain types of tasks that we have on our plates that we really know we shouldn't. And for each person it's probably something different for you know it could be like some accounting related tasks or other administrative tasks or whatever that thing is. And...
Jon Voigt: Anything someone else could do really is...
Elissa Liu: Exactly. And there's some where you know you want to get it off your plate right. There are certain things you're as soon as you're able to delegate. You kind of delegated but there's other things that you kind of just hold close to you. Yeah. And so for me it was certain administrative and accounting things that really weren't, It shouldn't have been things that I was doing. And so by looking more closely at that I was able to identify some of those things that I was kind of keeping close to myself that that I shouldn't have been and really pushing those out and delegating those.
Jon Voigt: All right. I love that. I love this concept because it, it's not specific around having a baby it's just about having some other huge new thing in your life that that takes up more time. It could be all sorts of different things that could happen in your life you know a divorce or moving cities or all sorts of things and when we hit the road on our podcast trip last summer you know we were driving we're travelling and didn't have the best internet all the time so I was pressured for time or quality time where I could work and I had the same exact problem I had to really focus and priorities and actually it really helped me focus on them. And actually when I was working with my with my employees, I was able to mentor them about that stuff too because I could carry that and be like you guys I just saw this optimization with just focusing on the top priorities which everyone knows you have to do but I'm forced into it now. Now I can be remembered to remind you guys to do it. And it was... it actually had a trickle down effect and I think our whole company right now is much better at working at top priorities than they were six months ago maybe because of my second child as well. Maybe it's a combination of things but so many of those things come top down and I really want to make those more ingrained. But you're right. It's easy to go backwards too.
Elissa Liu: Yeah, no. Definitely. I definitely agree. And I think even like you're talking about different scenarios where this kind of concept applies. I think another one is you know with us launching influential executive a whole new service offering country similar concept right now you're kind of running the core business but you're also trying to launch something else or you're launching whatever that that new thing is that you're trying to build. Same concept right. Because it's very easy to get drawn back into all the day to day of the core business. And so being able to apply some these concepts, I found that's been really helpful as we've been launching this new service offering to just make sure that I'm focusing on what's going to drive growth and what's sort... of you know... what are the things I should be focusing my time on.
Jon Voigt: Yep. And it's interesting because all these different things can take so much time and force you into this kind of methodology. But when you go back to the having a new child you know for everyone out there who hasn't had a child yet it's the best way to force you into this because you can't just say screw it there's no way out. You have to deal with it and it kind of forces you into that. So I don't know if you want to be forced to do it but you know there's gonna be many times in our life where things are forced onto us and we don't have control over it. So it's better to have one that you made the decision I think.
Elissa Liu: Definitely.
Jon Voigt: Any other kind of things you would have done differently? Like you know that maybe don't just apply to children but apply to this you know getting thrown this new responsibility? Any way you learned or look back on and that you could give us a tip at a trick to somebody out there?
Elissa Liu: Yeah I think there's a couple things. So the biggest things when I when I sort of think back and say "What did I learned from this experience and how am I changing my behavior because of it," I think there's... it really kind of centers around the idea of maximizing every minute. And so whether it's you know you want to spend time with your kids or whether it's you want to invest more time in a new hobby or you want to invest time in growing in you know your business or a new part of your business or whatever that is. What I kind of found is and when I say maximize every minute it's not about being super busy. For me it's about being thoughtful with your time. Right. And then the second piece is around minimizing wasted time. So for me an example of that is commuting time right. So yeah our office is downtown. I live out in the in the beaches in Toronto. And so that commute especially on the way home can sometimes take as much as an hour actually. And so when I work from home I'm like I'm minimizing that I'm just eliminating that commute but finding ways to you know stay closely connected with my team while kind of working from home has been a key piece of it. And the other thing just related to that that I see is a lot of I think that millennials and Gen Z like you know the interns that are coming in now are kind of actually post millennial Gen Z and a lot of these guys really value flexibility as well. And so I think they appreciate the opportunity to do things like working from home so we actually have across our company work from home Wednesdays for example. Right. And it just sort of helps others to be able to schedule things on their own time and also minimize that commuting time.
Jon Voigt: Yeah that's cool. That's cool. Less distraction maybe too right? So yeah that's neat.
Elissa Liu: Yeah exactly and everything that goes into getting ready for work going to work, all of those kind of things sort of add up to time that you're not spending on things that you necessarily want to be spending them on. And then then the other related thing was for me I realized and this is actually only a realization in the last year or so although it probably should have come earlier is making things as easy and convenient as possible. So for me working out. Right. So as an entrepreneur and as a mom for like one of the biggest challenges for me has been when do I work out like when where how.
Jon Voigt: Yeah. Sure.
Elissa Liu: And so it's kind of figuring that piece of it out. And so I kind of realized the only realistic way for me to work out in any kind of regular way is actually to make it super convenient and have just completely flexible timing. So for me what that looked like was getting a peloton spinning bike in my you know in my home that I can use whenever I want to and that's been awesome for me. But whatever that is for you just making it easy making it something that isn't a big sort of task was one of the key things that made it like made it doable basically.
Jon Voigt: Yeah. That's for sure that's for sure. Because when you're so crammed with stuff and you have less time and you're already tired especially with a baby with less sleep anytime there's that much more effort it really does deter your motivation.
Elissa Liu: It does. Yeah.
Jon Voigt: Oh this is awesome. I think it's really good. I love it because I think hopefully the audience can kind of relate to some of the baby stuff for those of you who have kids already are and those have had you looking to them you know what to kind of expect and and whatnot, but it also relates so much to as you said adding that new kind of service offering or you know a lot of people that are listening have multiple businesses or start new businesses on a regular basis you know all that stuff is like having another baby. So you got to. Yeah you got folks in the top priorities and you got to you know really value your time. If people want to ask more questions get to know you or you or your business how can they find you?
Elissa Liu: Great question. Yeah. So you can reach me at Elissa@Sparkgrowth.com is my email you can also find me on Twitter my handle is Elissa, E-L-I-S-S-A underscore L. Yeah we can probably edit that but I don't know if there's other ways that you would typically recommend
Jon Voigt: No, that's good for sure. yeah.
Elissa Liu: Twitter and email. Okay cool awesome yeah. Thanks John.
Jon Voigt: Yeah. Thanks so much for being on the show and hopefully I get to see you when I come back to Toronto on my next visit.
Elissa Liu: Awesome. Looking forward to it.
Jon Voigt: Take care. You too. Bye.
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