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MCLEOD: How to navigate the blurry years

The lines between work and home may be blurred, but make no mistake, the skills and mindset required in each venue remain distinctly different.

I’ve worked for myself, out of my home office, for 18 years. The cram it all in simultaneously lifestyle was an anomaly back then. Now it’s the norm, for men and women, those in the corporate world and those outside it.

But back when my kids were little, I often felt like I was two different people. One person put on nice suits, got on airplanes and flew to New York or Chicago to meet with executives discussing long-term strategy.

The other person often neglected to shower on her days at home, and could barely plan dinner. The woman who lived in (sometimes) clean yoga pants and bought lots of frozen pizza bore little resemblance to the well-dressed big thinker.

There were moments when I wondered what my clients would think if they saw me, their strategic business coach, bribing two kids with sugar so that I could make a phone call.

I’m happy with how I spent that time, but if I had a do over I’d make some tweaks.

Here are five things I learned during my time in the blurry years:

1. Give yourself a breather when you switch between modes.

You can’t appease your toddler then take a call with a CEO. Those two conversations require different mindsets. You have to settle yourself before moving from take charge leader to flexible nurturing parent, or you’ll wind up barking at your boss.

2. Dress for the job you’re doing that day.

When I worked from home, I often found myself wearing the same grubby shirt I’d slept in. Big mistake, it wasn’t motivating. In hindsight, I wish I’d taken myself more seriously at work, and less seriously at home. You can parent with greasy hair and a three-day stubble. But don’t call your client until after you’ve showered.

3. Don’t sacrifice sleep to get it all done.

Full confession, I wrote my first book between the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. But the problem with the “save your real work until after the witching hour when nobody needs you” is that it’s not sustainable. You set yourself up for horrible time management skills. Once you pass 40, all-nighters aren’t effective; they’re detrimental. It took me years to realize that I need to block out time during the day to do my big brainwork. Funny thing, once I kicked my late night habit, my work improved and my business grew faster.

4. It gets easier, way easier.

As your kids get older, your skills as a leader become more usable at home. As your career advances, you become more confident in your ability to develop people — large and small — and your workday becomes more flexible. If you’re an entrepreneur, like me, you can bring your kids to work any day you want.

By the time my daughters were 10, they were selling books at my events. My 20-year-old daughter, now a college student in advertising, interned for us this summer; within a month she quadrupled my Twitter followers.

5. Be nice to yourself.

My only real regret about my blurry years is that I wasn’t very kind to myself. It’s a challenging demanding time, but there’s one person who’s with you through it all — you. Give yourself some love and respect.

Lisa Earle McLeod Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of several books, including “Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud.”