I'm excited to be here today with Jessica Turner. Jessica N. Turner is the author is The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You, a bestselling book, and is the author of lifestyle blog The Mom Creative. Her latest book, Stretched Too Thin: How Working Moms Can Lose the Guilt, Work Smarter, and Thrive -- the website for that is StretchedTooThinBook.com -- came out in September 2018. A frequent speaker on work-life balance, productivity, and faith, Jessica lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and three young children. You can follow her on Instagram @JessicaNTurner or @BookSnobbery.
Hey, Jessica. Thanks so much for coming on "Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.”
Jessica N. Turner: Hey there. I'm so glad to be here.
Zibby: What prompted you to write the book Stretched Too Thin? Were you feeling stretched too thin yourself as a mom?
Jessica: I hear that question a lot. The complicated answer is yes and no. I had signed a two-book deal. My first book, I knew what I was going to write. The first book is called The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You. I didn't know what I was going to do next. At first, I thought I would write a book about slowing down. After six months of trying to do that, I realized I wasn’t the person for that. I thought, “What do I know?” I know what it is like to have a full-time job, a career, and a couple kids, and a marriage, and that it can really feel overwhelming. I did a survey of working moms to gut check if this might be something worth pursuing. Had over two thousand women respond in just a couple days. Had probably five hundred pages of open-ended responses. Over and over and over again the women said the phrase “stretched too thin.” I thought, “You know what? I think I've got something here.”
Zibby: How did you find the women for your survey?
Jessica: I'm a blogger. I've been blogging since 2006. Most of it was through my online platform as well as friends sharing about the survey. We were able to get women from across the country, those who work full time, part time, at home, in an office, in a retail setting, all types of jobs and positions. It was a really well-rounded survey, which I was really pleased with.
Zibby: Were there any surprising findings among this group of women?
Jessica: The most surprising statistic was that most women didn't say that they had troubles with work boundaries. I felt like maybe they don't know how they define those boundaries. For me, if I'm looking at work email at night, that means that I don't have a great boundary in place with that. It has become so engrained in the way we do life, that we have this computer in our hand all the time, that we don't even recognize that that's a boundary that we don't have in place. When I talk with women anecdotally, it seems like a lot of women have trouble with boundaries with work. The survey didn't really reflect that.
Zibby: Got it. What were the most consistent findings in your survey aside from feeling stretched too thin?
Jessica: The biggest -- no surprises here -- were that the two biggest struggles for working moms were that they struggled with home management. Four out of five cited that as being a challenge. Four out of five cited self-care as being a challenge. That is not a surprise to any of us.
Zibby: I'm trying to get women to think that reading is a form of self-care. It’s the easiest one to do. You just pick up a book.
Jessica: It absolutely is.
Zibby: You don't have to jump in a bathtub or something crazy. You just have to open up a book.
Jessica: That's so true. You know what? Data backs that. My first book, The Fringe Hours, I also did online research and did a survey. The number one thing that women said they would do if they had more time was read. It’s so funny because it’s the easiest thing to do. You can read your Kindle app on your phone. You can be listening to a book while you're doing chores. You can read anywhere. I agree with you a hundred percent.
Zibby: People, maybe, feel too much pressure to finish lots and lots of books. A friend just emailed me today. “But I only read two pages a night. It takes me a month to finish a book.” I'm like, “That's great. A book a month. How great is that?” I'm getting off topic.
You say in the book that you want moms to be able to say with pride, “I love my family. I do great work. I'm thriving.” You have a bazillion tips in this book. It is so useful and amazing. I'm going to use it as my bible.
What are some of the best tips that moms who are listening now could take out of it and take away?
Jessica: My biggest tip is for women to track their time for a week. That is an exercise where you literally write down everything that you're doing throughout the week. Just like we track our food or we track our steps or our calories, you're tracking all of your activities, not just the big things. You're not just writing “work” for eight hours. You're actually writing what you're doing within that. You're writing if you're taking a lunch break. You're writing the drop-off line and soccer practice and all those things. It gives you a really great perspective in what you're doing, where your time is going, and where there's opportunities to make change. That's step number one.
Step number two is to take care of yourself and really give yourself that permission to practice self-care. It is that oxygen mask philosophy. You've got to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone and everything else. You're going to be the best wife, the best mom, the best friend, the best coworker when you're taking care of yourself. Make that a priority. Even if you have to put yourself on the calendar, do the things that you need to do to take care of yourself. Self-care is so much more than massages and manicures. It is our health. It’s going to the doctor. It is getting enough sleep. It’s drinking enough water. It’s eating well. It’s doing those things that bring us joy like reading. It’s also making time for community and making time to be with friends. That's another important piece that a lot of women miss. Number two would be to practice self-care.
Number three is to recognize that you're not going to be able to overhaul everything. If you're stretched too thin in all of the areas that I talk about in the book -- every chapter I break down a different pain point for working moms. Listen, I get it. You're not going to be able to change all of those things. Start with one thing. If home management is a struggle and then within home management your kitchen is always a hot mess, okay. Start with just one thing. Then build on that.
Zibby: I like it. Small steps. One of the things you say in the book is you recommend moms spend less time on social media. Yet you are this giant social media star, online, social media, your blog, everything.
What's the best way for moms to approach social media, do you think, working moms?
Jessica: Just because I have a business that's based online doesn't mean that I don't have good boundaries in place. The theme here is having boundaries with that. For me, I schedule my content so that I'm not glued to it twenty-four seven. I have an assistant that helps me manage some things. I write on weekends so I'm not having to work every single day, necessarily, on online content and that sort of thing. It is really good to check on how much social media you're consuming because so much comes from social media that isn't good like comparison and jealousy and guilt and all of these types of feelings.
Recognizing that in yourself, I know I was noticing a season where I was getting really jealous. I was like, “Where is this coming from?” It was a few profiles. I unfollowed those people so that then that toxic-ness wasn’t impacting my day-to-day life. It’s really personal. The new iPhone interface tracks how much time you're doing, which is really horrifying. It’s horrifying to me every week. Although, I did realize that Audible is counted in that average hour. I was like, “Okay. That's a little better if I know that.” It’s still alarming. That's a lot for sure. It’s something that you've got to make personal changes for. For some women, they’ll find deleting the apps from their phone and then just checking them on their laptops is a good way to go. Then there isn't that aimless scrolling. I like to say women who say they don't have time to read but then they're on their iPhones four hours a day looking at Instagram and Facebook, well there you go. There's opportunity right there.
Zibby: I like it. Swap out all that time. Now, we have a actual goal. That's excellent. Is the Hyatt SMARTER System, is that the tracking that you were just referring, or is the SMARTER System even more of that? I know it’s an acronym for lots of different steps. Could you take me through the SMARTER System?
Jessica: The SMARTER System is actually a goal-tracking system. It’s not something related to time tracking or media consumption or something like that. SMART goals are a pretty popular vernacular. SMARTER’s something that Michael Hyatt developed. It stands for specific, measurable, actionable, risky, time-keyed, exciting, and relevant. These are words that you use as you write goals for yourself. Goals are really important because they give us motivation and grounding and direction. So often we’ll set goals for our businesses or the work that we do, but we don't do them in our personal lives. I encourage women to use that little acronym of SMARTER to set good goals from themselves that they can keep themselves accountable for.
Zibby: Are there any particular goals that you use for yourself?
Jessica: They vary based on the season. I have goals for my personal development. I have goals for the work that I'm doing. I have goals for me as a mom that I pay attention to and goals for my own personal health, whether that is exercise or how I'm eating, those types of things. Using that lens has been really powerful for me.
Zibby: What are some of the things on a crazy afternoon -- let's pretend I'm standing in your living room at four thirty in the afternoon or something, or maybe later. Let's say six thirty. You're off of work. You're home. Everything's crazy. Everybody's screaming. Well, I'm assuming sometimes your kids scream. My kids scream. What do you do in that moment when you're feeling totally overwhelmed? You are the author of this book. You have all the tips at your disposal.
Jessica: I'd probably yell. They say that you write from what you know well. In those times where I'm really overwhelmed, I'm absolutely just like the rest of us. What I've learned is I'm quick to apologize if that is the way that I react. I'm quick to get down on my knees and get at the eye-level of my kids and talk to them. It’s important for our kids to see our humanity. I don't think that makes me a better person just because I've written Stretched Too Thin. I'm right in the muck of it during those moments. At six thirty, we’re probably just wrapping up dinner and getting ready for baths and checking homework and that sort of thing.
I really try to be intentional about the time that I have with my kids. Because I work a traditional corporate job, I'm gone a lot. During that time when I'm home from about five forty-five ‘til they go to bed at eight, I do really want to be present. You probably won't find my phone attached to me. It’s probably in my purse or it’s in the dining room. We actually are old school and still have a landline. We feel like if there's a real emergency, the people who need to reach us know that number. Hopefully, I'm not screaming. Hopefully, we’re snuggled up on the couch watching Food Network or something like that, or reading stories or that type of thing. That doesn’t happen every night.
Zibby: When do you do everything? You have a traditional, corporate job. Is it involving writing at all or blogging?
Jessica: I work in marketing for a large health care company doing mostly social media content strategy and development.
Zibby: Nice. You do that. You have a blog, which is super popular and you've been doing for a while. You write books. When do you find the time to do this? If you're totally present with your kids until they go to bed, are you using your weekends? I'm looking for suggestions here on how to find time too, any tips.
Jessica: You always can find time for things that are important to you. If we use the book for an example, I got up at four thirty or five and would get ready to leave for the day and would often leave the house by five thirty and be writing from six until eight thirty. Then, I worked my job all day. For the blog, it’s kind of the same thing. I’ll get up early to do some writing. On weekends, I would take about a half day on Saturday and a half day on Sunday to work. I would get up really early again so I wouldn't miss out on a whole lot of time with the kids. I'd be back home by noon or one o’clock. We'd still have the majority of the day together.
The book was written in small bites of five hundred, a thousand, two thousand words at a time. You have a long time to write a book. I was able to do that over the course of probably four to six months to get the book written, the same with the blog. I'm working on the next thing, the next thing, the next thing, and not getting too in the weeds of what I need to do a month or two months from now. I don't have that capacity. It’s also been really important for me to not compare myself to bloggers who do it full time, which would be really easy for me to do particularly if I looked at how many followers we have or what our traffic is like. I'd be able to say, “Oh, look. We’re really equal,” but we’re not because I'm not able to put the same amount of time into it. That's saying no to some opportunities. It’s streamlining some things. It’s writing things that I'm only really passionate about and that I think make sense for my audience.
Zibby: That makes sense. That's a good framework for that. When you talked in your book about relationships and how having enough time for your relationship is always a challenge, one tip you gave was reading together, for how spouses or significant others could not be so much of a challenge. I'm literally reading a book right now out loud to my husband because we both wanted to read it so badly. I'm reading it out loud to him. I was like, “Wait. I thought I was the only one who did that.”
What other things aside from reading together do you suggest couples do to stay glued together more, at least emotionally, during the chaos of childrearing?
Jessica: It’s really important to make time for one another. That can be as simple as playing a game or reading together like you're doing. It doesn't necessarily have to mean going out. Although, going out can be a great way to reconnect and commit to not talking about kids and not talking about the house, but really talking about what one another are feeling and doing and listening and being present and putting our phones down. It is an active commitment to invest in one another. Here's the thing. Hopefully our children are going to leave someday. When they do and we have an empty nest, all we’re left with is our spouses. There's so many marriages that their kids leave and they're left with brokenness because they haven't invested in one another. It’s really important to commit to investing in one another even during these tiring, hard, little years.
Zibby: Will do. I'm going to note that and try to do more of that this week. I was maybe just really emotional when I got to your chapter seven after a particularly trying day with the kids. In your chapter seven which is titled “Parenting Well,” you start and say, “As we begin this chapter, first and foremost know this, you are a great mom. The very fact that you are reading this book tells me. Don't beat yourself up.” I literally started crying. I was like, “Thank you. Someone thinks I'm a good mom today.” I wanted to thank you for putting that in there.
Do you think that part of good parenting is researching and trying to find more information about parenting, or was it more of a joke? What do you think?
Jessica: No, I don't think that you necessarily are a better parent if you are researching. I think that you are created for your child. Nobody else was meant to be your child’s mom. That in and of itself is really powerful. We can become so distracted, particularly by social media when we’re looking at everyone's highlight reels of what everyone is doing and how they're doing it or reading all of these books. Books can be a really useful guide. Ultimately, we have what we need within ourselves. Every single mom’s a great mom out there. I don't think anyone sets out to be a mom thinking that they're going to be terrible or that they don't want to do a good job. We’re all just doing it a little different. That's okay.
Zibby: If you don't mind, tell me a little more about the process of getting this two-book deal. What happened? You were writing a blog and you got a lot of -- well, just tell me. I won't fill in the blanks. How did you go from writing your blog into the two-book deal? Tell me more about that please.
Jessica: It’s important to note from my story that my husband is an author. He’s been writing full time since 2003. He has published about twenty books for grown-ups but now writes kid’s book. His bestselling book, When God Made You, has sold more than a hundred thousand copies. He has a really phenomenal story and background. I'm fortunate because I live with someone who does this really well for a living. I had that perspective. Being a blogger, I know a lot of authors. I’m friends with a lot of authors and always said that I was never going to write a book. That's something that was great for them but wasn’t something that I had an appetite for.
I was at a blogging conference called Alt a few years ago and was in a segment or a program about time management. During that session, the title The Fringe Hours came to me. It sounds dramatic, but I really felt like it was an act of obedience to write a book called The Fringe Hours. It was not something I wanted to do. It was not something I felt I had capacity to do. At the time, I had just two kids and really was overwhelmed by it but felt like I needed to. Came home from that conference, immediately started a book proposal. I found an agent because I didn't want to have the same agent as my husband. I thought that would be weird. She started shopping the book. I said, “I just want to write this one book. I don't want to do anything else. I feel like this is something I need to do.” She said okay.
Nearly every publisher we pitched the book to wanted to buy it. That was very fun and exciting and had a big bidding war. It came down to two publishers. Both publishers wanted a two-book deal. As an author, that is a good thing to sign a two-book deal, particularly when you're new like I was because your publisher’s going to be more invested in you if they know they're going to be stuck with you for a second book as well. That was how it came to be. I just was going to do this one book. I got this offer for two. It was a really generous offer. We figured we could figure it out down the road. I'm so glad that I did. I'm so proud of Stretched Too Thin. This is a conversation that we need to really be having. We don't have a lot of great resources out there for working moms. This has been a tipping point for a lot of women. I'm glad it worked out. It was certainly not something that I set out to do when the idea for the first book came to me.
Zibby: Would you do it again? Do you have any more books in you now, any big callings?
Jessica: It’s too fresh right now. It definitely was hard. I found out that I was pregnant with my son, my third -- I have two boys -- my third child right during the time that I was writing The Fringe Hours. We actually had to push the pub date because of my due date. I had him New Year’s Eve. Then six weeks later, the book came out. I never thought that when I was writing The Fringe Hours and had two kids that I would have to do it again with having three kids. Right now, I'm just really excited that Stretched Too Thin came out as a hardback because the publisher believed in it so much. It’s in airport bookstores and Target stores and everywhere books are sold. I'm really enjoying that right now. It’ll come out in paperback within the next year or so. It’s hard to say right now. It’s possible. Right now, nothing has moved forward with that.
Zibby: Do you have any tips to other people, maybe even people as busy as you if that's possible, who are interested in writing books?
Jessica: You can just start writing. I wrote The Fringe Hours and Stretched Too Thin literally in my fringe hours. In those little pockets of time I was able to write two 50,000-word books. Just get started. It’s really important to have representation. If it’s something that you want to pursue having a traditional publisher, finding an agent is critical. It’s very unusual to get a book deal if you don't have somebody representing you. I also think it’s really important to build your platform. My understanding is that publishers want to sign authors that have platforms, that have followings that will be able to help market their book. It’s just as important that you can market as it is that you can write, which is not something that authors historically had to do. It’s a new age. It’s important to have a platform and build a newsletter list as well if you're pursuing being an author.
Zibby: How might you go about accomplishing that? You're very adept in this. You have this skill set nailed, I feel like, with your job and everything I've seen you do. If somebody's trying to build that type of a platform or they have a band they're trying to market or something with today’s framework as it is with social media and everything, what are some of the most important things or the most helpful things that they could do to achieve that goal?
Jessica: It’s different because I started twelve years ago. What I did to build my platform isn't what people need to do today. Ultimately, it’s about having really great content. If you have content that resonates with people, that you're not just throwing up a picture of your cat, no one is interested in that. How can you bring value to somebody's feed every single time they see an image from you on Instagram or on Facebook? Write really great content and bring value to people. They're going to keep coming back.
Zibby: Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on "Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.”
Jessica: It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Zibby: Take care.