Productivity & Motivation

Staying Sane as a New Working Parent
Staying Sane as a New Working Parent

working parentHi, I’m Peter.

You know, Peter. Peter Vogopoulos. The other guy from Firepole Marketing?


One of the wonderful things about being part of Firepole Marketing is connecting with awesome people who like what we do. When I say “Peter Vogopoulos” they usually say “hello”. When they hear “Firepole Marketing”, their (virtual) faces light up and they say “Oh yeah, Danny Iny! I know him… I love his stuff. What was your name again?”

Truthfully, it doesn’t bother me in the least. I’ve taken a quieter role within Firepole Marketing by choice, but am thrilled with what’s going on. And I can’t expect anything different. After all, I didn’t guest blog my way to notoriety, run a marathon, write a book about engagement, found a start up, get an MBA, or get married while taking a blog from nothing to success.

But I did something that changed my life. More than any of those things would have.

I had a baby.

Well, technically my *wife* had it. But I was there when it happened, supposedly sharing in the miracle of childbirth, as Robin Williams puts it (check this out at the 1:55 mark to see what I mean – watch out Robin has a potty mouth).

And I bought my first house as a married man with a baby, which is MUCH different from buying one as a single dude. Like, MUCH different. Moving is tough when you have a kid because you can’t blitz for a month and get all the things you need done.

And I kept my business active, taught full-time at the John Molson School of Business and got involved in a start-up of my own.

Maybe not as impressive as running a marathon, writing two books, and blogging my way to notoriety, but if you are a parent, then you can sympathize that it can be challenging in its own way. For me, anyway. Besides, I’m always fond of saying that Danny is a super-human who exists to make the rest of us look like unproductive fools.

In the end, I learned a few things about keeping a business afloat and being productive as a new parent – some of them in a not-so-pleasant way. I’d love to share them with you while sharing a bit about me.

1 Happy News

Sometime in November 2009

I’ve never been so excited in my life to hear about someone peeing on piece of plastic. My wife caught me before heading into a prospect meeting to tell me she’s pregnant. I remember hanging up and thinking.

“Holy crap. I have to make more money!”

My prospects were probably wondering if I’m that happy all the time.

But beneath all that, I was also just a *little* terrified. I am going to be responsible for another human being. A little tiny one, to boot. Up to now, I’ve barely kept plants alive.

Work was good. Business Development was rolling. Clients were getting awesome results and enthusiastically referring business saying “You’ve gotta work with this guy. He makes you do the simplest things but they make a ton of money.”

But I was working lots of hours, usually after the wife was tucked away in bed. There was always another speech to prepare (speaking is a great way to generate leads) and another marketing strategy to devise.

I knew things were gonna be different. I just didn’t know exactly how yet.

But that shouldn’t have stopped me from planning for the worse. I was absolutely delusional about what being a working parent entailed.

2 Loved Ones

Jully 2010 – Thomas arrives and he’s beautiful

I can try to write about this and the experience of being a parent and about how you won’t believe how much you can love your child and how it changes you, and all that. But I remember when new parents used to wax poetic about this to me. I also remember doing my best to continue smiling and be polite.

So I’ll sum it up this way: You’ll never understand until you have your own. And I’ll leave it at that.

But the cycle of life does turn. A scant two weeks later my Mom rushed off to be with her sister, my most beloved Aunt.

For the most part of my childhood, my Aunt had lived with us and was affectionately referred to by the kids in the neighbourhood as “my second Mom”. This of course led to all sort of quizzical looks by other parents that I couldn’t really comprehend – I mean, what was so hard to understand about this? She was like a Mom to me. Period.

My Aunt had moved away some years ago to care for my dementia-suffering, bed-ridden grandmother. It’s a long trip and I hadn’t been to see her in years. Too many years.

And now, she is dying. And rapidly.

My wife said that I should go. I said nonsense. Thomas was barely two weeks old and it’s a challenge with two of us, let alone one person who just went through 36 hours of labor.

My Aunt went very fast. She was coherent when my Mom arrived and enjoyed Thomas’ photos. Three short weeks later, she was a shell of skin and bones, muttering incoherently and not recognizing her own sister.

She was my second Mom. I still cry because I was so damn stupid. I thought she’d always be there.

A month later, probably because she knew that my Aunt was gone, my grandmother passed away, too.

I cried again.

Lesson #1: Take a moment to enjoy, because they won’t always be there.

We juggle in our lives. We juggle being business owners, family members, working parents, sons, daughters, workers, home owners, whatever. Each of these roles represents a ball we juggle.

Some balls are rubber. If you drop them, they bounce back up without a mark on them.

Other balls are glass. If you drop them, they nick, crack or worse – shatter. Drop a glass ball, the damage is irrevocable. It’s gone.

We need to make sure that our desires shouldn’t come at the expense of other areas that are important in our lives, like loved ones and health. Unfortunately, these areas are the ones that suffer when we get busy.

If I could have a do-over (and boy, don’t we want one of those sometimes?) I’d have taken that damn trip years ago.

Who do you need to take a trip for? Take a moment. They won’t always be there.

 3 Focus

Two months in.

I am starting to get back into the swing of things at work, after having taken some time off when Thomas was born.

I walk into my office and try to orient myself on my next projects. I no longer have the time I used to, so let’s focus on essentials, shall we? Let’s look at them one at a time.

This one? Not that important all of sudden.

That one? Hmmm. Not that important, either.

In fact, many projects that were “urgent”, “important” and “ones that I absolutely wanted to do this year” were all of sudden not-that-frickin’ important.

Amazing. I could not believe I let myself be seduced by all these silly distractions.

Lesson #2: When you only have time for essentials, you suddenly realize how much time your distractions used to eat up.

Being forced to pare down and focus I realized that many things on my plate weren’t all that important. Necessity not only forced me to scale back, but also made me realize how crazy my expectations were.

Cast a critical eye on your own projects. Which ones are really important in that they further your goals, and which ones are merely distractions?

4 Time

Six months in

It’s 1AM. Oh no.

I can hear Thomas from my office.

I’m in the middle of doing client work due the day after tomorrow, but I know tomorrow is a wash. I’m teaching for most of the day and then I am meeting people. By the time that’s all done, supper and bath time and I’ll be toast from tonight’s late night. Thomas has been having trouble sleeping due to teething and consoling him tonight can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. In the latter case, I won’t be going to my office again; I’ll be collapsing in bed next to my wife.

It’ll have to be done tomorrow, somehow.

Because right now, it’s 1AM and I’m being called into service. For some reason (which I do secretly enjoy), my son only wants his Daddy at night. Even though it’s all about Mommy during the day – at night, we ONLY want Daddy.

So I pick up my tiny son and we go to our rocking chair. And I coo him back to sleep and tell him those bad teeth hurting him are only temporary and that the Tempra should kick in shortly. I sing. Those moments in the rocking chair are precious. It makes the lack of sleep and the sore back worthwhile. I think I paid for my osteopath’s honeymoon in Paris.

Where did my time go, I asked myself silently?

The entrepreneurial 90-hour work week is no longer for a possibility for me since Thomas was born. Priorities have changed and situations dictate that time must be spent outside the office.

Even though I pared down I still didn’t have enough time for every important project I want to do.

I had remembered my wife coming to speak with me to arrange baby-sitting between our work schedules around what babysitting help we could get. We had to rely on the grandmothers, but one works and the other ferries my father to hemodialysis three times a week. And don’t even get me started about daycares in Quebec, that’s a 10,000 word post on its own, but Thomas is too young for daycare, anyway.

She laid the news on me. “What do you mean ‘cut a day’?”

She was telling me that we each had to cut a day from our work activities because we have no choice (she works for herself, too).

My mind was reeling. How the heck am I supposed to do this? Teaching at the University is a full-time job on its own and naturally I won’t compromise my efforts there. And I still had clients on retainer.

But with this, business development time had just dropped to zero.

So here I am in a rocking chair, enjoying the moment, but still wondering. Despite paring down to only the essentials, those are still hard to accomplish. I need LONG lead times for deliverables because everything is so unpredictable. I can’t bank on doing the work in the 48 hours prior because one bad night of teething or one late babysitter and BLAM – my work schedule gets toasted. It’s not like you can leave the guy alone in his crib.

How’d this happen? I fell into the most common entrepreneurial trap of all time.

I didn’t put the people in place to support the growth.

Lesson #3: “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” -John F. Kennedy

Whether it’s becoming a parent or any other life changing event that can creep up on you, you’ve got to have your duplication systems primed and ready. They have to be already in place for them to take over from you as soon as possible.

That’s why those initial days of a business – you know the ones I am talking about, when YOU are the business and you can’t afford help? – are the riskiest and most fragile. If something happens, you’ve got nothing to fall back on.

In my case, I stubbornly refused my own advice I give to every entrepreneur I counsel and didn’t have a network of assistants and virtual assistants ready to go. And when I needed them, they weren’t there.

My advice? Outsource and delegate even if it hurts. Anyone on the planet who is getting anyplace successful is doing it using leverage – cheap, specialized, hired labour in particular. If you aren’t doing the same you’re gonna be eating their dust soon.

5 Delivering

I am an “I”.

One of the personal assessment tools I use with my clients is the DISC. It classifies people into four behaviour and communication types.

  • D-types are direct, action-orientated and have little patience for fluff. If your car is on fire, they are directing the firemen.
  • I-types are people-oriented, empathetic social, outgoing and optimistic. They love parties. If your car is on fire, they bring marshmallows.
  • S-people are steady and stable. They are the rocks in your life. If your car is on fire, they are consoling you and making sure you are okay.
  • C-people are analytical, methodical thinkers who keep their sock drawers organized alphabetically. If your car is on fire, they are on their iPhone looking up Consumer Reports for your next car.

Hello. My name is Peter Vogopoulos. And I am an “I”.

Being an “I” can be great, but it’s often also a pain.

For instance, we need to feel liked and included all the time. Want to hurt us? Don’t invite us to your party. We’ll cry on our marshmallows.

It also horrible in other ways. Being so optimistic, we tend to underestimate how long things will take us, like deliverables and getting to places. Traffic will be great, you’ll see! That’s why “I”s have a tendency to be late for things.
Also, we are bad at saying No because we like pleasing people, so we’re often overloaded doing things we should have said “no” to.

Being an “I” is tough when you have a business partner, too. Stuff needs to get done reliably and on time if you are working with someone. It helps if you have a great partner. Danny took on the lion’s share of promoting Firepole Marketing and has done an awesome job.

His book, Engagement from Scratch!, was originally supposed to be a joint project – it was just too much for me. Writing and doing my share of promoting a book wasn’t going to be possible.

Regrets? Some. But you can’t look back and judge decisions you have made – as long as you made the best decisions you could with the information you had at that time.

Lesson #4: Don’t second guess your previous decisions; instead, make next ones accordingly.

6 The Present is a Gift

Take a moment to enjoy the present.

Like clockwork at 6:00AM a little voice rings out from the other room.


It’s my favourite part of the day.

“Hi, little honey! Did you sleep well?”

His little arms are outstretched and waiting. We always like wrapping out arms around Daddy’s neck in a hug and be walked around for a few minutes after we’ve just woken up

This won’t happen forever. Neither will the rocking chair. So I enjoy these moments while I can. Soon, he’ll be a disapproving teenager, rolling his eyes at me and wrecking my car.

I enjoy the moment. I learned how from a friend.

The last time I saw Steven, an MBA colleague of mine who I regrettably haven’t spoken to in a while, he taught me a valuable exercise. Steven is smart as heck and walks to the beat of his own drum. He’s into Tao and mediation. And all that jazz.

We were having coffee and I asked him to tell me more about that jazz.

Peter, we are all too busy existing and don’t live in the moment. Everyone is busy doing things to get to the next thing and don’t enjoy what they are doing in the present. And as a result, time feels fleeting.

Look at you for example. You are pouring sugar in your coffee and stirring it. You are doing it mechanically, like you’ve always done it, no doubt. But take a minute and let all your senses enjoy this trivial action. Watch as the granules drop into the liquid, see the ripples of the surface and stir it with intention, feeling the resistance of the liquid. Repeat the word “stirring” and focus on this moment.

Cheesy sounding, but I am always open to any personal development idea, so I did as instructed.

A funny thing happened. Time seemed to slow to crawl. I felt like I enjoyed my moment. My coffee was the best-tasting coffee ever.

Wow. So that’s what that’s all about.

And so this morning, I am having a coffee-stirring moment. I can feel Thomas breathing on my neck, I can hear his little heart beat and enjoy every little coo of pleasure.

It’s the Day I Had to Cut from Work and I’ve got a crapton of work to do. Correcting papers and writing copy for clients. It’ll keep. I’ve got lead time, but not much.

It’s the Day I Had to Cut from Work, but it’s not called that any more. It’s called Daddy-Son day and later we’re gonna get awesome vegetarian pizza and stroll in the mall to look for some little slippers for little feeties that are freezing on the cold tile at home. Robeez are awesome and the best thing for little feet, you should look them up.

My wife and I don’t work as much. We don’t bring home as much bacon. We made some sacrifices.

So you don’t hear much about Peter on Firepole Marketing. And I’m okay with that. But I thought I’d take a minute and say hello.

 7 The end – and thinking productively

The idea of having to pare down and get less done in more time has inspired a ton of thinking around productivity and efficiency for me. I started to wonder given all the productivity advice that exists, how much of it is really useful, meaning you can draw a direct line from that behaviour to success and how much of it just distraction. Assuming we can quantify everyone’s individual perception of what success actually is, I got to thinking that if we were to poll people and their productivity and success behaviours, we could find the ones that truly lead to more productivity.

Yeah, it’s probably been done. But we’re doing it anyway.

All throughout the month of March here on Firepole Marketing, it’s Productive Marketing Month. We are going to look at what makes us most successful and efficient as the people responsible for business development in our businesses. It will culminate in a survey with some awesome partners and some awesome prizes. Keep an eye out for the details.

Welcome to all.