Eight hours a day is all it takes Kelsey Ramsden to run three thriving businesses, one of which is a multi-million-dollar enterprise 4,000 kilometres away from her home. She knows what’s going on in each one. She makes decisions and shifts into hands-on mode when she needs to. She scouts out new opportunities, negotiates with banks and maps out strategy.

Nominate yourself—or an amazing woman you know–for the W100 ranking of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs now!

She just doesn’t let it kill her. Cancer almost did that, and it changed how she operates. “There’s a lot of power in the feeling of ‘busy,’” she says. “It’s ego-stroking, and that’s what entrepreneurs feed off, especially at the start. It’s like a drug—it feels good. But is it productive?”

Ramsden is No. 1 on the 2013 W100. View the full 2013 ranking

Ramsden is carving a new entrepreneurial path, eschewing the 24/7 go-go-go grind in favour of a rigorously edited routine that relies on strict discipline, smart delegating and an unwavering focus on doing only what most matters—to both her businesses and her life. Her companies are growing. Her wellbeing has improved. And she is fulfilled in a way she never was when the workday had no end.

Welcome to a day in the life of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneur.

5:30 am

The alarm sounds. While her spacious London, Ont., home is still quiet—husband Andrew, also an entrepreneur (he runs an aluminum foundry), has already left for work, and children Sophie (aged six), Graeme (three) and Sam (nearly two) are asleep—the 37-year-old Ramsden slips down to the basement to get in a quick workout on her stationary bike or her rowing machine.

She shakes off any temptation to sleep in. This may be the only window in her day to break a sweat, and doing so is essential to her productivity. “I think of exercise as a mental enema,” she says with signature bluntness. “All the crap gets flushed out. My best thoughts come after a good workout. If I do something physical, I deliver twice as much as I would otherwise.” For those who claim they can’t fit in a workout, she has no sympathy: “Man, set your alarm a few minutes earlier!”

The subsequent few hours are the usual rigmarole of the working parent: waking up, dressing and feeding the kids, then loading up the minivan to drop them off at daycare or school.

8:30 am

Back in her empty house, Ramsden settles into her home office. If the day’s schedule is relatively light, she rolls out the yoga mat beside her desk and does a quick practice. (She’s serious about this mind-body connection thing.)

9:00 am

Ramsden jots down her to-do lists—yes, lists—on paper. She keeps two—one for personal tasks, one for business. And each is divided into three columns: To-Do (must be completed today), Up Next (only if the top priorities are done—“essentially, tomorrow’s to-do list,” she explains), and On the Horizon (tasks to think about and be ready to start working on if an opportunity appears). She’s fastidious about keeping these lists short, with no more than 10 items on her business to-do list each day (and that includes small tasks). She’s equally anal about assigning realistic durations to each job, factoring in travel and prep time.

The beauty of the three-column system is that it gives her, in essence, a three-day plan. “I find it hugely beneficial, because before I would often carry things over that would clutter my ability to get things done today,” she says. “It turns out, all I needed was a place to capture it.”

From there, she prioritizes: “I do the crappy things first.” That means later in the day, when her energy ebbs, she’ll be working on stuff she loves, like brainstorming and connecting with other entrepreneurs.

9:15 am

Work time.

Each day’s tasks are different—an inevitable result of running several ventures at once. These days, Ramsden spends roughly two-thirds of her work hours on her startup management consultancy, a venture she launched earlier this year that advises fellow entrepreneurs via one-on-one meetings, blogs and public appearances. Another 22% of her time goes to SparkPlay, an educational-toy subscription service she founded last year, and roughly 10% to Belvedere Place Development Ltd., the West Kelowna, B.C., civil-construction company that earned her the No. 1 spot on the W100.

Ramsden’s home office has bright white walls with no clutter. “It helps my mind work best.”

That’s right: Ramsden runs a $20-million-plus business located across the country (she moved to London in 2009 to be closer to Andrew’s business) in the equivalent of one morning a week. This is cancer’s doing. When she started Belvedere in 2005, it was the typical round-the-clock life of an entrepreneur. In one particularly harried six-month period, she saw her daughter—then only two years old—for a total of three days. “I’ve lived that feeling of not being able to step away,” she says. “I get it, and I’d be totally bullshitting you if I said it isn’t required sometimes. But it’s too easy to fall into that and let your life get away from you.”

Cancer put that in stark perspective. In January 2012, two months after the birth of baby Sam, Ramsden was diagnosed with a rare and often deadly form of cervical cancer. When she grew too sick to make her biweekly flights out to the Okanagan to run Belvedere, she handed off the day-to-day management to a partner she trusted implicitly: her father, Bruce Kitsch, who decades earlier had employed her at his own road-building firm.

From The Archives: How Ramsden’s pursuit of an all-new client base landed her atop the 2012 W100 ranking

Today, Ramsden’s role as president of Belvedere means keeping an eye on the books, making strategic decisions and participating in the odd meeting. “Thankfully, I got cancer,” she says. “I say ‘thankfully’ because I now value life tremendously. Doing my 15 minutes of yoga and driving my kids to school are now viscerally important to me. But that costs.” The price was letting go of hands-on involvement and, yes, some money (good managers don’t come cheap). “I love the freedom money can give me,” she says, “but I’ve learned I’m just as happy to win a $100,000 deal to do work I’m really passionate about as I am to land a $1-million deal for work I hate. There are often diminishing returns of awesome sauce on money.”

By the time Ramsden was declared cancer-free in September 2012, Belvedere was running smoothly with her in an advisory role. Eager to start something closer to home, she launched SparkPlay, which sends subscribers monthly boxes containing toys and props for activities that kids and parents can do together. It’s no empire—SparkPlay staff consists of Ramsden and a part-time staffer who prepares boxes, populates the Facebook page and does other things Ramsden dislikes. But it allows Ramsden to nurture something she truly believes in: using play to develop children’s abilities and relationships.

Of course, having a profitable construction company is a nice cushion for a labour of love. And Ramsden’s not the least bit averse to monetizing her passion projects—hence the launch of Kelsey Ramsden Consulting earlier this year. Her rising profile in the entrepreneurial community meant a growing number of calls from people looking to pick her brain about their business ideas. She met with a few and did some talks. As the advice work started to eat up more of her day, she decided, “OK, I charge for this now.”

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