How to manage your time: ep 21 feat. Evelyn Mabhunu

by Hungry woman at work

Time management is a challenge for the best of us. Our to-do lists are too long. Our workload keeps growing. Add to that, family, domestic and social responsibilities. And then try to squeeze in time for fitness, healthy meal plans and, if you’re lucky, hobbies and fun stuff!

How can we find the time to get through all our responsibilities without feeling overwhelmed? How do we get through our to-do lists without feeling burnt out? The answer, according to Evelyn Mabhunu, lies in planning and prioritising your time.

Evelyn manages the educational trust for Umbono Capital, an investment group focused on private equity and venture capital. She is a wife, a mom of four, she’s completed a Social Entrepreneurship course at Gordon Institute of Business Science and works with GIBS students, she fundraises for a crisis response team, serves in kids ministry at her church and mentors young married couples together with her husband. #issalot!

If anyone should know about how to manage your time better, it’s Evelyn.

How does she do it all, without burning out? She prioritises and plans her life, she says.

Read the transcript of her interview on Hungry Woman at Work podcast below.

Listen to the full episode here on Time management with Evelyn Mabhunu

Episode 21 interview transcription

Nevelia: Evelyn Mabhunu, welcome to Hungry Woman At Work.

Evelyn: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Nevelia: So wonderful having you on the show today. Now, Evelyn, you’ve got quite an interesting career journey, that starts in one place and ends in a totally different place. Do you want to give us a brief snapshot of your working journey?

Evelyn: Yeah, you know, my working journey has been quite interesting. Like I said to you, I worked for Standard Bank. Then when I had the third child, my husband was studying, I was busy working full time, I actually decided to take some time off. And that time off became eight years. And in those eight years, it was a lot of, you know, teaching children, you know, just really loving it and being content, you know, for that season. And then at the end of the eight years, I really felt that it was time for me to move to another season. So, yeah, now I work for an educational trust and I really love the work because, I mean, it’s making such a huge impact in the lives of students. That’s where I am now.

Nevelia: So I know we want to talk about quite a few things about scheduling and time management. But I want to go back to this eight year season because I think there’s a lot in there. You go from working quite a high-paced, fast-impact corporate job in banking, and you are then home schooling and mothering and managing your home for eight years. How did you make that transition mentally? Was there ever a time when you felt like I’m missing out or I’ve now slowed down my career? What was it that enabled you to make that shift without feeling like you had just changed your career trajectory quite significantly?

Evelyn: What made it easy was that understanding to say this is the decision that I’ve made to stick with it and it’s obviously for a defined period. And also the other thing was this is what God wants me to do in this season.

Evelyn: It’s a critical season, know below the age of seven. You know, it’s important for me to be here and to teach my children. So I think I had that mindset to say, you know what, this is what I want to be doing and I will do it. Yes, there were challenges. I mean, there were seasons where I was just like, this is way harder, it’s way easier, you know, to go to work. And, you know, your hours are defined. I know I start to work at this time and I finish this is like 24 seven, you know, but, you know, with God’s grace, with a lot of, you know, being content and really having faith, I think that’s what pulled me through that season.

What made it easy was that understanding to say this is the decision that I’ve made to stick with it

– Evelyn Mabhunu

Evelyn: And also, I think the other thing is that deep understanding of saying, you know, children are actually entrusted to us, so I need to value them and I need to take time to actually look after them and to teach them certain things myself. So those are some of the things that pulled me through that.

Nevelia: That is so courageous. I really commend you for that. So now you said you felt that the season was up after eight years and then you went. So tell us about that transition again. How did you know the season was up? Because we have lots of listeners who might be transitioning from one thing to the next and there’s always the question around, when is it time to leave? When is it time to stay? How did you know that the season was up? That’s the first part. And then secondly, how easy was it to transition back into the nine to five environment?

Evelyn: I must say to you, it’s really not easy, but at the end of the seventh year already, I realized that, you know, the kids had, you know, routines, they were into good schedules. You know, it was getting easier, basically. And I also felt the need to challenge myself a bit more. So I really started praying. I must say to you, I really started praying and really trusting the Lord for, you know, something different. And also I was quite specific about what I wanted for the next season. So I guess you can ask again and say, did you know exactly that this was the time? Probably not. But I think I was beginning to feel that I had taught them what I needed to, you know, to teach them. So now it’s time for me to transition and, you know, move into the next season. But the other thing is, that eight-year gap that you spoke about earlier, I also studied and, you know, advanced myself in certain skills and all that. And yeah.

Nevelia: So on that note, I mean, for those who haven’t figured out yet, you’ve got four children and you’re also studying amidst this. I mean, some of us are struggling even with one one child home-schooling, especially during the Covid-19 lockdown period. It was quite a shock to some of our systems. How did you manage to keep your house systems, your home systems in check and then be able to, you know, throw studying in there and maintain the many other aspects of your lives? You must have quite a hectic system or are you just naturally wired to organize things. Share as many tips and a wealth of wisdom with us.

Evelyn: I think it’s more around planning. If we don’t plan things, someone else will plan for us. If we don’t plan our time, someone will plan it and something else will come. So I think it’s more around that, around planning things, know when to do what. Same with the children teach them to plan their work. You know, that responsibility should stay with them, the planning for their work and stuff that they can do. Then the other thing is don’t do stuff for children that they can do for themselves. I’m very strong on that. You know what is expected of you. You do it. Because look at the end of it you’re trying to raise a responsible citizen. You don’t want to be doing this of picking up dishes until they’re 30. So it has to be very clear. The responsibilities have to be very clear; what tasks are yours and which ones are mine. So I think that those are some of the things that have really helped us to sort out our structure and also, you know, to be able to actually manage with the different things that that we do. 
Then the other thing that helps a lot is that, you know, the saying that, you know, it takes a village to raise children. It’s so true. You need to have a support structure in place. You need to know I mean, who can help me face the kids, you know, when I can’t what can babysit for me when I need to do other things, when I need to go out? So you need to have a set support structure in place. Who are the couples that I trust with with my children? Those things help you to actually raise your family and to have structure around, you know, things in your house and even stuff like, you know, schedules. Have things written down and know exactly when to do what. The biggest thing is, is to set your priorities right. I mean, we’re big family, you know, we accept that, you know, we won’t  go at the pace like, you know, other people do. So we have to set our priorities right and say, what is important to our family. And we do that first and all the other things will fall in.

Nevelia: That’s wonderful. I think something else that I’d like to just pick your brain on and, you know, for many women, so you were there, you were home schooling, you were the primary caregiver to your children, and then you transitioned and you move back into the work space. You are married to a very loving husband whom I know and I’ve met. And I also know that he is you believe in duality of roles in the family. But what I get, what I hear very often and what you read about in the news is that for women, it’s so much harder to transition from one career to the next with a senior level to the next, or even from not working full time to then working part-time because they still have to carry the bulk of the domestic load. Are they any tips from your and your husband’s model of working or that you could share with perhaps a woman who doesn’t have that support at home, who’s feeling that quite acutely? What kind of conversations should we be having in our homes with our spouses or our partners in order to make the roles more equitable?

Evelyn: That’s a tough one. I hope, you know, I will be able to answer it. But the important thing, especially for people in marriage, and I’m really blessed with this, that, you know, my husband supports me in, you know, in the different seasons that we have gone through. We made a decision upfront to say, you know, we won’t study at the same time, right, so that at least someone is there for the children and the other person is focusing on whatever, you know, they need to do.
For example, his support in terms of saying you are studying, I will look after, you know, after the kids, I will be the primary. I mean, the responsible person for those things. Those are the kinds of things that really help. And the other thing that also helps in that transition period is, is mentoring. Find another woman out there, another man out there who can mentor you and who can give you some of the skills that you need. Sometimes people are scared to approach people, but guess what? People actually want to develop others. So take that bold step. Approach other people, ask for mentoring and for that support. But I would say the support of the family, especially the support from my husband, is what is really helped me through all the different seasons, you know, that that I’ve really gone through. Yes. Sometimes it’s a matter of talking and saying this is what needs to be done, but sometimes it’s also demanding his time, you know. Let’s say I actually need this dad, so please give me. Yes, but sometimes as women, we keep going. You know, we really have this superwoman spirit to be with us and someone was saying, sometimes we want to do more than what Jesus himself would do! So we need to learn to ask and we need to learn to accept help as well.

Nevelia: I think that’s a very big one I know, because we because we’ve built up this persona of, you know, Superwoman or I should be able to do it all, it’s sometimes very hard to ask for help. But I like that you kept asking you keep mentioning around who’s who’s in the village around you, who can you draw help from. Which other when it comes to time management and scheduling and prioritizing your day in your experience, what works and what doesn’t work. Some of us who are just naturally more organized or structured than the rest of us. So what would you say would work and what doesn’t work?

Evelyn: Well, in my experience, what works is determined by how I start my day. I start my day with the word of God, with prayer and a bit of exercise. That sort of grounds me and prepares me for the day, I must say most of the days that I’m very disorganized, I always go back and say, how does I actually start this day? So for me, that’s very important, you know, my faith and, you know, really trusting the Lord and worshiping before anything else, because that’s just sets me to say, you know what? I actually depend on God. Yes, He has blessed me with talents and gifts. But guess what? I need to start here. So that’s one thing that I can tell you that I’ve seen that works. What doesn’t work is trying to do too many things. I mean, there are so many hours in a day. There’s so much we can accomplish in a day so we can’t set unrealistic goals for ourselves. I mean, you can’t say you’re going to do 200 things. I mean, on a Friday, you know. Choose the ones that you’re going to do and do those ones well. So setting unrealistic goals doesn’t actually work. And, you know, you need to focus and say what are the things that I’m going to do and you do that. And I have calendars everywhere, to be honest with you. Those sort of help me to check and say this week before a week starts, like on a Sunday, I go through my week and see, what do I want to achieve, what are the important things that I need to do? And at the end of that week, I also go through that same calendar and say, what did I actually do? That gives me a sense of fulfillment to say this is what I set out, and I’ve done it. And also accountability, you know, to actually say this is what was supposed to be done. And I’ve done it because as you work, you need to understand that we’ve been blessed with work. We need to work is if we’re working for the Lord. So we need to be accountable and actually say, What have we done?

Nevelia: You know, I really like what you said there. Just the realistic expectations, because I do think I mean, even now, you know, with the last few months and the impact of the pandemic, I think we’ve all been crisis responding. And sometimes it’s hard to be doing that forward planning because you’re just kind of putting out fires all over the place. But this thing about, look at what it is that you want to achieve for the week and be realistic about it, because I think that’s where we sometimes get it wrong. We think we think that we can do absolutely everything and it has to be done today.

Evelyn: And also the other thing is there are so many things that needs to be done. For example, there’s so many social problems in the world, so many of them we can list them, education, poverty, this, this, this. If we don’t choose the one that we want to solve and focus on that, we’ll just be spreading thinly on all of them. So it’s very important to focus and to say, what do I want to do this week and what should I be focusing on?

Nevelia: Very good. Coming back to your earlier point about how do we make things sustainable? So you studied at GIBS, in social entrepreneurship, and as I mentioned, you also head up this educational trust. We find ourselves in a very precarious place in South Africa and in the world right now, especially around education and job creation. In your experience and drawing on some of your studies, what are some of the learnings you could share with us, that we create a more sustainable future, both from an education and a job creation point of view?

Evelyn: We should start small. You know, a lot of times people want to wait until they have billions, then they can fund, you know, two thousand students. It shouldn’t work that way. Fund one student. It’s one student’s change. It’s one family changed. It’s one community changed because that child is going to be a role model in the community. So that community will also be changed. So we need to start small. What wherever we see the gaps, let’s start small. Start with one child. Mentor one person. Give the next person some of the skills that you have. You will have changed that person’s life and you also have changed change that family’s life and then it will carry on. You teach that person to teach the next person. That ripple effect actually works. So we need to really constantly ask ourselves and say, the things that I’m good at, who else have I taught? That’s how we will sort out some of these social problems that we face in South Africa. That mindset has to change. The mindset of saying when I have the next million, then I will be able to help, should change. It should go to, when I have the next fifty rand, I will buy another child a pair of school shoes, because then that child can now go to school confidently with a new pair of shoes or with a second pair, you get what I’m saying. So we need to start small. Those small things will really build up and will really change eventually.

Nevelia: Powerful, powerful words. One last question, as we transition to the last segment of the episode. You speak about starting small. What small things for those of us who really went to prioritize, schedule and manage our days and our times better. Small tips or last pieces of advice that you’d like to give us.

Evelyn: What are your priorities for the day? Start with those ones. And when your private life is in order, chances are high, your outside world will also be in order. So make it make it a priority to put your private world in order. What are the things that feed you? Is it your faith? Is it the word of God? Is it worship? Start with those things. Never hurry around those things. Have time for those things. Because those are the same things that are going to help you to plan for all the other things. I always look at a jar, an empty glass jar and I pick, you know, a big piece of rock and pop it in the jar. That first piece, I would say maybe that’s that’s my faith. And then I’ll put another one. That’s my family. Those important things. And then all these other small pebbles, guess what, they will be able to fill in. But then if you start with all these other small things, the big and important things in your life wouldn’t fit. So know your priorities and start ordering your private world first before you look at all those other things outside the world.

Nevelia: You are giving us a lot of fire today, so now we are going to transition to a section called Rapid Fire Questions, I will fire a question at you and you will say the first answer that comes to mind. Are you ready?

Evelyn: I’m ready.

Nevelia: A song that always gets you through the day?

Evelyn: Uthando by We Will Worship. I love that one.

Nevelia: A book that’s changed the way you think about work?

Evelyn: Ordering your Private World.

Nevelia: A gadget or app that helps you work smarter?

Evelyn: Oh, my phone. The kids schedule, the babysitters, the transport, everything is there, the calendars. Everything is there on my phone, shopping, everything. No the phone really helps me.

Nevelia: Your advice to your younger self?

Evelyn: Work hard, prioritize, know the season you are in and do that.

Nevelia: Three things that keep you centered?

Evelyn: It’s my faith, my family and friends around me.

Nevelia: One thing you do to overcome distraction?

Evelyn: I just read.

Nevelia:  Your advice to younger working women?

Evelyn: Don’t be too harsh on yourself. Take your time. You know, things fall into place.

Nevelia: Your advice to senior women leaders?

Evelyn: Give back! Mentor someone. You have experienced certain things. We don’t have to experience everything. Sometimes we have to learn from others. Be willing, give your time time, mentor other young women.

Nevelia: Evelyn, I could spend hours talking to you. You’ve got so much wisdom to share with us. But I’m also mindful of the time of Mrs Time management herself. Thank you so much for putting Hungry Woman at Work as one of the rocks in your jar this week. It has been an absolute privilege and delight to have you on the show and we look forward to hearing from you in future.

Evelyn: It was such a pleasure.

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