Productivity is important to me. Like everyone else, there’s so much I HAVE to do in a day and so much I WANT to do in a day. Nearly a year ago I set some big goals for myself. But since having my 10-month-old I constantly find myself wondering: how can I stay productive as a mom?
There is an insane amount of productivity content floating around the internet. Everyone has a different system for utilizing their time and productivity writers swear by all kinds of fancy websites, apps and tools to keep them on track.
Some people schedule out practically every moment. Others take a free-flowing approach to their day. Moms have the added challenge of trying to fit everything in while caring for an unpredictable, needy and adorable little being that is in constant need of instant gratification. It’s TOUGH!
I work 20 hours a week from home, have some small side gigs, try to keep my house looking somewhat presentable, serve in my church and have several hobbies/interests. And I’m not even THAT busy–some people have multiple jobs, multiple kids, and multiple projects. In sum, we’ve all got a lot to handle!
I’m no expert, and of course what works for me might not be ideal for you. But “momductivity” is within your reach, even on your craziest, most chaotic days!
Identify Your Overall Goals
It’s a great feeling to sit down and relax at the end of a productive day. But what does a productive day look like?
The definition varies a ton depending on your goals. Your productive day might look like getting your kids to school/extracurriculars, doing some cleaning at home and getting in a couple hours of “me” time. Maybe your productive day consists of going to work and relaxing with family in the evenings. Your productive day might involve some time spent on hobbies or side projects. No matter what, you need to identify your goals.
I found early on that I don’t feel productive when I do certain things that are considered useful, but that don’t fundamentally excite me.
Case in point: studying a new language has always been one of those things that seems productive in my mind. But that hasn’t been productive for me in practice. Inevitably it is always the last item on my to-do list, even if it seems cool to be bilingual. And when I’ve forced myself to do some language study I usually end up feeling guilty because of my hit-or-miss approach to it!
There are probably things on your to-do list that you feel similarly about–things you’d like to do, things that are good, but that fall by the wayside because of everything else you need to do. It’s helpful to identify your goals early on so that can spend more time focusing on the things that help you feel fulfilled.
As a mom I benefit most from goals that are measurable and deconstructable: in other words, you should be able to break them down into much smaller, more manageable units–units that you can tackle in between feedings and diaper changes. Here’s an example.
The goal: gain 20 lbs. by the end of 2019
I’ve always been underweight and breastfeeding has caused me shed pounds that I can’t afford to lose. This goal is deconstructable; I can say I’ll eat X amount of calories per day for an average weight gain of Y pounds per month. Each day when I turn my attention to tracking my calories, I can ask myself, “what do I need to eat today to reach X calories today?”
You can create deconstructable goals for almost anything you want to accomplish. Need to clean your office? Start by reorganizing a drawer or two. Want to teach your baby sign language this year? Start by teaching her one sign this week.
Deconstructable goals a powerful tool for helping you get where you want to be, and they help create a positive feedback cycle of small “wins” each day that keep you motivated.
Nail Down Your Productivity Priorities
I’m finally at a place where I feel pretty good about my daily goals. My daily priorities look something like this:
- Have fun bonding time with my baby
- Read my scriptures, say my prayers (religious study)
- Make meaningful progress on tasks at my day job
- Work on my side projects in ways that directly lead to more income and growth
- Tidy up my house
- Cook at least one healthy and tasty meal for my family; track my calories all day
- Workout or ride the horse I’m leasing
- Get outside of the house at least once a day for a walk, errands, to see friends, etc.
- Connect with my friends through messaging or social media
- Do something artistic (write, draw, crochet, etc.)
- Have some down time to unwind and relax (aka watch Netflix!)
I tried for the longest time to write out a to-do list for each day. I tried using productivity apps, websites, planners and good old-fashioned paper lists, but I never got consistent with those methods.
Maybe it’s unpopular, but what has worked best for me is keeping it all in my head. Seriously. It sounds lame when I write it out, but on a normal day I’ve got my routine down to the point where I usually know what I should focus on next. On *really* busy days or hectic weeks, I might use a whiteboard to keep my schedule straight.
I also try to leave plenty of unscheduled time in my day, like one of my favorite bloggers recommends. I like the concept of unscheduled time because as moms we’re constantly dealing with interruptions. If I tried to plan out every moment there’s NO WAY I’d stick to my schedule!
If keeping lists in your head doesn’t work for you…
Find a Tracking System You Like
There are SOOO many different tools you can use to build and track your schedule. Spreadsheets. Trello. My husband swears by Asana; if he disappeared tomorrow you could literally reconstruct his life based on his Asana account. A lack of tools isn’t the challenge; it’s figuring out which one you like best!
After you’ve nailed down a productivity tracking system, make it as easy as possible for you to use. Have it be the first tab that pops up when you open your internet browser or tack your to-do list to your refrigerator so you can’t miss it.
Create Tasks that Move the Needle
Oftentimes it isn’t enough to tell yourself “I’m going to work on a side project today”. Instead you need to tell yourself what specific tasks you want to tackle within the scope of a bigger project.
I have an online business and I’ll admit that I’m usually drawn to doing whatever tasks are easiest instead of the tasks that will actually have the greatest impact on reaching my overall goals. To combat this, I break my objectives down into small, easy-to-understand tasks.
The objective: partner with another company for a giveaway
The actionable task: email or message five relevant companies to ask about collaborating on a giveaway
Before creating smaller tasks for myself I’d get mired down in the details of every little thing I wanted to accomplish. It’s so much easier to have a productive day when you have actionable tasks to perform!
Take Interruptions in Stride
At first, trying to balance productivity and motherhood was frustrating for me. People kept telling me that just getting up in the morning, getting ready and taking care of my baby throughout the day was enough. But it didn’t feel like enough when I wanted to be pursuing my other passions, working, trying new things, etc.
But looking back I realize I was too hard on myself. On some days as a new mom (or a not-so-new mom), taking care of your family is more than enough as far as accomplishments go. Being a mother is truly the hardest job I’ve ever had. So if you need a day, a week, a month or more to detox and focus solely on yourself and your family, don’t feel bad. There is no shame in putting your family first.
Once I felt normalcy return to my life, I started adding tasks back into my day that I’d neglected as a brand new mom. I still struggled though because of interruptions.
I wanted to exclusively breastfeed my baby, which meant that any time she needed sustenance, she needed me. At first I’d get exasperated when she’d cry for me and I’d have drop everything and dash to her side. But now I try to take an attitude of gratitude toward these small interruptions instead of seeing them as productivity busters. We won’t always be the center of the universe for our little ones, and at this stage, each moment with my infant is precious.
That said, it isn’t always easy to deal with distractions and to be patient. This is where having a partner, a family member or a friend that you can rely on is a huge blessing. My husband has a lot of goals that he wants to accomplish as well, so we take turns tending to our daughter so that we can each get ahead. This isn’t an option for everyone, but if you have people offering to help, don’t be afraid to say yes sometimes.
Don’t Bite off More than You can Chew
I am absolutely terrible at this. Terrible. I’ve gotten better over the past few years, but marginally so. As moms we tend to get pretty good at multitasking. But inevitably your productivity suffers when you’re trying to balance 12 things at the same time. So don’t try to be the carpool driver, the CEO, the employee, the PTA member and the town councilwoman; not all at once, at least. Be honest about what you can manage.
It’s also important to plan your commitments around the hours you want to work, not around the hours you have available in a given day. Most of us don’t want to be working from sunrise to sundown; we want some time to unwind, play with our kids and enjoy life. So don’t be afraid to say no if an opportunity comes up and you’re not 100 percent onboard.
Celebrate Your Accomplishments
In the last couple years Taylor and I have set ambitious goals, and lots of them. We’ve accomplished some of them and failed miserably at others. What’s nice about setting an ambitious goal is that you naturally feel good if you get within 20-40 percent of achieving it–because even that level of accomplishment is more than you thought you could manage.
Set ambitious goals, and set them often. Know that you’ll have to pivot if something isn’t working. Know that you’ll fail. Know that there are second chances. My failures have been struggles not because I didn’t expect to fail at some point, but because I wasn’t kind to myself in the aftermath. Productivity is a process. Be kind to yourself, do your best, and celebrate even the smallest wins, because you’re doing great, mama!