Award-winning author Maria Dismondy knows what matters to her and is determined to prioritize those things. In this episode, she shares how she's intentionally built her life around her most important priorities.
Know what matters to you, and prioritize it every day
Maria Dismondy left a decade-long teaching career to write “children's books with a purpose” while spending time at home with her young children. She loved her job working with the kids at school, but she felt drained from teaching. She didn’t feel she could balance her life as a teacher and as a mother and give as much as she wanted to either role.
Maria resigned from teaching in 2011, the year both her second daughter and her second book entered the world. She started working on building her business and building her brand, and now, in 2017, she has three children (ages 3, 5, and 7) and has surpassed her salary as a teacher while working part-time. She loves what she's doing.
Maria writes children’s picture books she describes as “realistic fiction,” each book using a silly story to teach an empowering message. When a child opens up one of her books, she says, they should be able to see themselves within the pages. She wants children to have tools to cope with what they experience in the world.
She says, “We can see in the media right now the presence of bullying, access to social media, and the effect it is having on our children and our society. I want children to feel empowered to handle these situations when they are away from their families at school for eight hours a day. I want to help parents raise children who have character, who are leaders and problem-solvers.”
Maria’s goal is for each reader to walk away from one of her books thinking, “If something like that happens to me at school, I could try one of the things the characters did.”
A Typical Day
Maria wakes up around 5 or 6 a.m. and uses that time before the rest of the family gets up to either work on her business or exercise. If she wakes up by 5:30 or 6, she can usually get an hour and a half of work done while the house is quiet. She prepares the night before to make good use of that morning time by writing down her top two to three things to be done first thing in the morning.
By 7:30 a.m., the kids are up, and she and her husband are getting the older children ready for school. Their youngest is still at home with Maria. They do activities during the day and pick up her daughter from school at noon, and then everyone has an hour of quiet time or nap time. This is when she schedules work calls.
When the children wake from naptime, they work together to prepare dinner, and then pick up her oldest from the bus stop. Then they do homework, play, and have dinner once her husband is home from work around 6:30 p.m. The kids are usually in bed by 8 p.m., and then Maria will often read or hang out with her husband, and be in bed by 10 p.m.
Biggest Productivity Challenges
Maria’s biggest challenge is keeping boundaries between work and family life. She has about 75 half-day speaking engagements each year, but she has learned to say no a lot. While she still has a child at home she wants to limit her work hours, as she understands will never get that time back with him. Maria reminds herself she is dedicated to her kids right now, and understands that she will have eight-hour work days again someday.
In order to keep boundaries in place, Maria has support from her husband and her family. For example, they help with the kids if she needs to work over the weekend. Her husband will remind her of her values and is supportive of what she needs to do.
Maria met with a business coach a few years ago, who encouraged Maria to ask herself the question, “What brings you joy?” Maria tries to use this question to guide her work, and especially to evaluate what tasks she will do herself and which she'll find ways to outsource.
It is important to be willing to outsource parts of your life or your business. It’s okay to say, “It needs to get done, but not by me,” so you can focus on the parts of your life that only you can do. Maria has outsourced a housekeeper to come every other week. She also has an assistant in town and a virtual assistant who can help out with work tasks and help her maintain those boundaries.
Recently Maria was looking at her marketing and writing calendar for her blog and realized she was spending about two hours editing each of her video blogs. She found someone it on Fiverr who'll do it for less than $100, a price she felt was worth paying to buy back some of her time for better uses. She mentions that there was a time when she wanted all the control in her business, but she has learned to think about what she values most and then evaluate her schedule, and what needs her personal touch and what does not.
In order to get in a little extra work time, Maria will spend one or two evenings a week on her business when her husband has to be away for work. On those nights, she'll put the kids to bed and put in some work time before bed.
Maria uses her smartphone to set reminders for recurring tasks that might otherwise be forgotten.
She uses Asana to manage her team. It allows her to set deadlines and communicate and work with her team easily.
She also loves Forest, a fun, creative app that allows her to set up “power sessions” of focused work time.
Maria's favorite planner is the Day Designer. It includes a place for gratitude and a positive quote every day, as well as sections for your top three priorities for the day, your to-do list, your daily plan, and your monthly and yearly goals. She uses the smaller model she can put in her purse.
She schedules important tasks on her calendar, looking for days when she sees some open time that can be committed to making progress on her important projects.
What happens on a day you feel gets away from you?
Maria admits that sometimes she chooses a less healthy reaction, like eating salt and vinegar potato chips. She understands that it doesn’t help the situation, but it nobody's perfect, right?
For Maria, the healthy reaction to a day like that would be exercise. She enjoys being outside, as that clears her mind and fills her up, but on really cold Michigan days, Maria will usually do a 25-minute exercise video, or work out on the elliptical.
The other way she fits in exercise is by doing it with her children. She has created the expectation in their house that their mind and body are important, so they prioritize activities that contribute to health and fitness. She can go on a bike ride and with her youngest son, stopping by the firehouse for a visit, which he loves. Sometimes she’ll pop her son in the stroller and run the two miles to grandma’s house for a cup of coffee, and then run the two miles home.
What's on the horizon for Maria?
Maria's newest children's book, The Jelly Donut Difference: Sharing Kindness with the World, is releasing around the time this episode is published. The book is about a quarreling brother and sister who learn to work together and quit arguing when they decide to do something nice for a neighbor.
Last Words on Making a Life That Matters
Having an accountability partner can transform your productivity. Maria has worked with two different women. She will do a call once a month with one of them, during which they ask each other what they can do to meet their goals. This has helped her business to progress. They check in weekly via email and every few days via Voxer (a voice messenger app).
Maria also suggests being good to yourself. We all strive for balance, and it’s not possible to reach every single day. If you make a mistake and fall down, you get back up, you forgive yourself, and you keep moving on. Dwelling on the bad days doesn't get you any further.
What do you think?
Connect with Maria:
More about Maria:
Award-winning author Maria Dismondy inspires lives through her poignant stories about topics challenging today’s modern child. Maria’s background in early education and commitment to teach the importance of character building enables her to touch lives the world over while touring as a public speaker in schools, community forums, and at national conferences. Maria’s eighth book, The Jelly Donut Difference, drives home the important message of generosity and kindness. When Maria isn’t writing, she can be found embarking on adventures throughout southeast Michigan and beyond, where she lives with her husband Dave and three book-loving children.
- Maria's new book, just released:
- If you're interested in self-publishing a book, check out Maria’s free self-publishing workshop.
- Day Designer planner
- Power Sheets planner (Maria says, “This one is more goal-centered and I won’t be using it for my day-to-day.”)
- Maria loves to read and has her favorite books, both business and personal, documented on her Goodreads page.
Announcements & Reminders
- Spend time this spring with a group of motivated women like you, in one of my paid The Productive Woman Mastermind groups. If you’re looking for encouragement, motivation, and accountability in achieving your goals and moving forward in a life that matters, you'll find it there. TPW Mastermind groups are small, to allow maximum participation and benefit. New groups will start the first week of May, but the groups are being formed in March and April, and spaces are limited, so get on the list now–visit the Work with Me page on the website for information and a link to the short online application. Questions? Email me!
- Thank you to our sponsor, FreshBooks. Be sure to check out the 30-day unrestricted free trial they're offering TPW listeners by visiting at FreshBooks.com/WOMAN. Please enter “The Productive Woman” in the “How did you hear about us?” section.
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