In our society, many of us wear busyness as a badge of honor, and it’s not uncommon for productivity to become an idol. We measure our worth based on how much we can accomplish, and a day that doesn’t find us making a dent in our To-Do lists is deemed a waste.
This atmosphere of constant striving has prompted a backlash from bloggers, influencers, and the grandmother next-door proclaiming the merits of a slower pace, of less productivity and more mindfulness, of “leaving the dishes to snuggle our babies.” I LOVE that message. I’ve preached it myself on several occasions, and need to have it spoken over me on a regular basis.
But let’s face it: those dishes do eventually need to get washed. There are also lunches to pack, paychecks to earn, and laundry that simply won’t fold itself.
Productivity might not be the most important measure of a life well lived, but it is important if we want to avoid falling off the treadmill of life.
I’m not a productivity expert, but I run a fairly tight ship in my home. Things get done on time, often sooner, and I’m almost always content with how much I am able to accomplish in a day. This hasn’t always been the case: I’m a recovered procrastinator and someone who only recently has begun to conquer constant feelings of stress and overwhelm; but since becoming a mom, I’ve developed a handful of productivity tools and tricks that I’m happy to share.
Get to know your productivity style.
Happiness expert and habit guru Gretchen Rubin recently developed a framework describing Four Tendencies
, or ways that individuals respond to the two kinds of expectations—outer expectations (like meeting deadlines or answering requests) and inner expectations (reaching personal goals). Our response to these expectations determines our tendency as either an Upholder
, or Rebel
. In a nutshell, Upholders want to know what should be done; Questioners want justifications; Obligers need accountability; and Rebels desire freedom to do things their own way. Learning my own tendency (Upholder) has helped me determine what systems to put in place to become more productive in my work and day-to-day life. If you’d like to find out your tendency, you can take this quiz
, then read the book
to learn how to put this knowledge to use.
Set reasonable expectations.
In the past, two of my biggest productivity stumbling blocks were 1) lack of clarity on what needed to be done, and 2) getting overambitious with my goals, resulting in overwhelm and leading me to give up before I had even gotten started. I now set annual, monthly, weekly, and daily tasks for myself—all attainable, and all in line with my Big Picture goals for myself, my home, and my family.
Make good use of your apps.
There are countless productivity apps that can help you with everything from tracking your time to managing your finances. The key is to narrow down your apps to a core few that meet your personal needs, then utilize them like crazy! My must-have productivity apps include: Wunderlist
for keeping track of my daily to-do’s (with recurring tasks set to repeat at appropriate intervals); YNAB
for budgeting and tracking expenses; Grocery Pal
for managing my shopping lists; Santa’s Bag
for organizing my Christmas spending; and Evernote
for taking notes, capturing ideas, documenting my son’s milestones and quips, setting goals, and recording the occasional brain dump.
Find a routine that works for you and stick to it.
As moms, our lives are often hectic and unpredictable, but routines can help take some of the guesswork and stress out of our days so that our minds and schedules are free to handle the unexpected. Routines can be daily (such as a streamlined morning routine or a habit of preparing lunches and packing backpacks each night) or weekly (having a set day for tackling laundry, another day for grocery shopping, and a few hours each week dedicated to housekeeping). Play around with your routine, and be willing to make changes based on the ages of your kids or the time of year, but once your routine is in place, do everything within your power to maintain consistency.
Consider batching similar tasks.
While some people are great at multitasking and getting a little done on a variety of tasks each day, I’ve had remarkable success with task batching (grouping similar tasks together to complete during a dedicated time period). Some examples of task batching that work well for me are: weekly meal prep; running all of my errands on the same day; and setting aside one day per week for writing and other creative endeavors.
Set up a personal reward system.
There’s a reason “work first, then play” has become a cliché—it actually works! Don’t turn on the TV or pull up Instagram in the evening until the day’s important work is finished. You’ll be more motivated to accomplish the day’s tasks and will ultimately enjoy your leisure time even more. Another approach to the reward system is to make less desirable tasks more fun by pairing them with something you find enjoyable. For instance, only allow yourself to listen to podcasts while cleaning or folding laundry, or sip on your favorite Starbucks drink while you pay your bills.
Build in some accountability.
There’s no shame in asking for help! Find a friend who is working towards similar goals, and send each other encouraging texts and reminders throughout the day. Or form an accountability group and meet regularly to discuss your goals and your plans for achieving them. It’s easier to lean into productivity when you know others are watching, and it’s encouraging to have someone by your side who will both celebrate your successes and hold your hand when you’re struggling.
Give yourself plenty of grace.
Most of us work better from a place of rest than one of anxiety and stress. So if you find yourself running at a pace you can’t maintain, feel free to put your To-Do lists on hold and take care of YOU.
Those dishes really will still be there when you’re ready to tackle them, I promise!