No, it’s not just you. It’s all of us.
Being a mom is hard.
…the list goes on and on, doesn’t it?
Luckily I have some good news for you: If you’re struggling to check off all the boxes on your to-do list, you can go ahead and completely ditch that to-do list altogether.
Yes, I’m serious.
Go ahead and hand that to-do list over.
I’m going to share a different way of looking at your responsibilities. Starting with using the right tools
Productivity Secret #1:
Start With the Right Tools
Not only am I going to recommend ditching your to-do list, I’m going to encourage you to use actual PEN (or pencil) AND PAPER. Seriously. Here’s why…
- Research shows that writing things down might help guide your perceptions actions, thoughts, and emotions–making you a better decision maker.
- You’re likely to get distracted by other apps/tabs if you’re using your laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc. to keep track of your day. Pencil and paper can help you stay focused!
- Having a planner you find aesthetically pleasing might be the key to motivating you to actually use it.
With that in mind, here are a few fun options to look at and get your creative juices flowing:
- Minted: Remember what I said about aesthetically pleasing planners? These are what I was talking about! Minted allows you to browse gorgeous, creative covers (some of which you can add a custom photo to!) and choose whether you want a monthly or weekly planner.
- Erin Condren: These are the Cadillac Escalades of planners. If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, you can customize your own, right on her website!
- Bullet Journals: The strengths of bullet journals are functionality, flexibility, and flair because you basically turn a blank notebook into whatever you need it to be. These are ideal for those who are taking their first steps into organizing a planner because they are inexpensive and require a less hefty upfront investment. (I use one of these 3-in-1 journals because of the flexibility, and it’s the perfect size for my purse!)
Once you have the canvas for your organizational masterpiece, let’s talk tools. Here are some of my favorite little helpers:
- Colored pens – I’m pretty sure these are the best pens in the entire world. The case they come in is its own cute and convenient little stand, and they are perfect for any color-coding fanatic.
- Highlighters – I’ve recently discovered gel highlighters, and I will never go back! They don’t bleed through paper, so I can color-code large blocks of time in my planner and not worry about accidentally blocking off next month too.
- Sticky tabs – If your planner doesn’t come with tabs, you’ll want to add your own so you can easily find key pages.
- Post-It Flags – These have unlimited uses, but are especially great if you want to only temporarily highlight something or mark a page, since they’re easily removable.
- Planner Stickers – These are fun, bright, colorful ways of marking appointments, birthdays, fun events, and more!
Now that you have the right tools, let’s look at how you can use them to increase your productivity.
Productivity Secret #2:
Value Schedules Over Lists
To-do lists have a major flaw: It’s easy to keep adding and adding things to your list faster than you can cross them off.
And as the list grows, you’re left with a sense of discouragement, even guilt, when at the end of the day, you see how much you didn’t get done.
That’s why I recommend tossing out that list for good and instead focusing on the time you have and how best to fill it.
When you see your day planned out as hours and minutes, it’s much easier to see what you realistically have time to accomplish.
Increase Your Productivity by Power Scheduling
Start out with a blank schedule. Then, divide your day into whatever increments will work for your lifestyle.
Depending on your stage of life, maybe 15-minute increments are ideal for you to work on projects in short bursts of focus.
Or perhaps scheduling larger chunks of time will give you a chance to really dig into your tasks. (And allow for catastrophic diaper failures and spontaneous dance parties.)
You do whatever works for your season of life.
Then, once you have your schedule set out, start adding in what needs to be done during the day, one item at a time.
If you’re like me, you’ll soon find that it’s no wonder you never got everything on your list done each day! You quite literally do not have enough hours in your day to accomplish all you feel you should. Your expectations were unrealistic!
Increase Your Productivity by Delegating Like a Boss
So what do more realistic goals look like?
- Instead of vacuuming the entire house everyday, downgrade to once a week.
- Pick one room a day to deep clean instead of your whole house.
- Delegate to your kids by creating age-appropriate chore lists.
- Work with your husband to see if there are tasks you could rotate or share.
Sometimes, it’s trial and error. Do I do one load of laundry per day or save it all for Tuesdays and Fridays? Do I hoard a list of recipes I can throw together in 30 minutes, or do I devote a couple of days a month to preparing and stockpiling freezer meals?
Moving from a list to a schedule can be a marvelously freeing experience as you discover that it’s about finding realistic expectations, not working harder or faster.
Now that your days are a little more organized, let’s address the big picture.
Productivity Secret #3:
Categorize the Days of the Week
There are a thousand priorities on your list, but if you can assign them to specific days, it’ll give you a great starting point for your daily planning.
Look at your calendar as a whole. What recurring routines can you assign to particular days? Think about these things:
- Fun Outings
- Meal Prepping
- Financial Planning
- Lazy Days
- Work-at-Home responsibilities
- Deep Cleaning (you know, if you’re into that.)
Can you get your grocery shopping done every other Monday and focus on your work from home responsibilities on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons?
Recurring routines will likely free up some time in your schedule and give you larger chunks of time to complete needed tasks. A win-win!
Productivity Secret #4:
Plan for the Unplanned
I have an infant and a toddler, so believe me when I say that I’m used to kinks in my plans.
If you plan your day in such a way that you have no wiggle room or buffers, you’re going to be very disappointed when life happens, and you don’t accomplish all that you hoped for that day.
There’s a simple solution to this problem: Overestimate the time you need to complete a task.
For example, I often schedule a full hour to make my bed.
Does it take me an hour to make my bed?
But do you know what does take an hour?
Smoothing out the sheets, changing the toddler’s diaper, straightening the comforter, nursing the infant, fishing the red ball out from under the couch for the crying toddler, cleaning the spit-up out of the carpet, and fluffing the pillows.
Of course, if the baby is napping and the toddler is occupied emptying all her dresser drawers, then you really can make your bed in under ten minutes!
And now you now have plenty of time to start on the grocery list you were going to make that afternoon or even fit in a couple of tasks you didn’t think you’d get around to at all that day!
Productivity Secret #5:
Schedule in Sanity Moments Every Day
Scheduling “in sanity moments” is different than scheduling “insanity moments” – not that there’s anything wrong with the latter.
If you don’t plan for moments of grounding yourself throughout the day, one of two things will happen:
- Derailment: You’ll find yourself taking those 15-20 minutes of mental health that weren’t in your original schedule, and then you’ll be scrambling to get back on task.
- Burnout: Pursuing task after task after task is going to run you down, discourage you, and eventually cause you to believe you’ve been defeated.
Either way, your schedule is going to be unrealistic and self-defeating unless you plan out time to rediscover your sanity.
Add little moments in your schedule where you check on yourself.
Do you need to:
- Brush your teeth?
- Eat something?
- Play with your kids?
- Have a third cup of coffee?
- Call a friend?
- Do something else that’s just for you?
“Sanity moments” are not taking away from productivity. They are an investment in your emotional well-being and your productivity. They will make you a better mom – and a better woman – who is clear-headed and motivated to do more and be more for herself and her family.
Productivity Secret #6:
Write Out a “Done” List
And finally, here is the most effective secret to being productive: Change your definition of productive.
I used to think nothing was more satisfying than crossing an item off my to-do list. And then I discovered the satisfaction of writing out a list of accomplishments.
Creating a “Done” list is ideal for moms who have to cope with the unexpected on an hourly basis.
As moms, it’s easy to get to the end of the day and feel like we haven’t done much. We look at our homes after a day of cleaning and can feel discouraged when it looks messier than when we started out.
If you find yourself in this position, you can remind yourself just how productive you’ve been by taking a few minutes to think back over your day.
Then, write down all your achievements, great or small.
Perhaps, if you utilize some of the other secrets I’ve shared, it might look something like this:
- Changed 9 diapers.
- Emptied the dishwasher.
- Folded a load of laundry.
- Got that marinara stain out of the carpet.
- Read The Lorax to the kids.
- Remembered to eat lunch.
- Broke up 4 fights over the same toy.
- Returned phone calls to two clients.
- Administered 27 kisses.
- Prepared 18 snacks/meals.
So who cares if the floor hasn’t been mopped in two months and you forgot – again! – to mail those sponsorship thank-you letters? (You swore you had time to join that nonprofit board! Ugh!)
Look at all the amazing things you did accomplish! Go you!
But what if all you accomplished was surviving a 3.5-hour cluster-feeding session, a lunch of stale potato chips and a leftover fortune cookie you found in your purse, and only allowing yourself to cry twice?
You comforted your child. You met his needs.
What a beautiful, honorable job you’re doing, Mama!
A quick shift in thinking will help you see that each day, too.
Finding Freedom and Peace
Through Productive Planning
It’s so easy to give into the lie that you aren’t doing enough.
We live in a society that shouts at us, “Do more! Be more!”
I know your to-do list has been taunting you, telling you that you should be working harder and faster.
Don’t listen to it.
- Start writing things down.
- Use a daily schedule instead of a daily task list.
- Organize your weekly tasks according to specific days.
- Plan for the unplanned (so you don’t get thrown totally out of whack)
- Schedule in time to check in on yourself.
- End each day feeling proud of all you have accomplished.
If you get nothing else from this article, remember this:
The only wasted days are the days without hugs, without smiles, and without learning something new.
What will you do this week to either reconsider your definition of productive or create more measurable goals for yourself?
Have You Read These Yet?
- Dear Homemaker: Use These 70 Life-Hacks to Steal More Time
- You are a Mighty Mom. (Even If You Don’t Feel Like It)
- 12 Ways to Engage Your Child from the Comfort of Your Couch
- 3 Lies About Motherhood (And the Truths That Will Set You Free)
- Toolkit for Moms on the Edge: 12 Homeopathic Remedies to Boost Your Mood
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We ♥ Citations
Writing By Hand Leads to Success in Achieving Goals. Forbes.com