Get s**t done: Productivity tips for stay at home wranglers of small children

February 22, 2019

Stop. Stop right now.

Before you read on I have to make it very clear that this post consists of ways that I have found help me be my most productive self on most days. 

On the days when there has been no sleep the previous night, someone/everyone is sick, or we are thrown some other lifeload curve ball, I am not my most productive self and these tips can, quite frankly (in the words of Justin Bieber) go love themselves.

I am seeing the three year mark of parenthood on the horizon (excuse me while I sob into my cold coffee) and I'm now finally starting to feel like i'm productive on more days than I'm not. I'm flattered to have been told: "I don't know how you do it all" when I've shared projects and plans for my personal and professional life- the truth is: I don't do it all.

Managing motherhood for me has been about moving resources around to where they are needed in the moment- stealing from Penny to pay Paula. I'm never consistently successful, often things fall through the cracks, I crack, and someone cries- but I think i'm getting to grips with it enough to tell you what works on the days that I feel like I've got my shit together.

This is for those that are coming out of the other side of the baby fog and feeling like they need a reminder of how they kept everything straight in the days before your boobs needed an extra supportive bra & each sneeze wasn't a gamble.

Shower/get dressed/feel human

This might sound incredibly obvious to those of you who leave the house on a regular basis, but when you've spent the better part of the last three years at home with babies, the only personal care that happens on a regular basis is wiping a small persons nether regions.

As the hectic schedule of small babies has slowly made its way into the slightly more predictable routine of toddlerhood, I've now got time to jump in the shower most days. Granted, I'm then usually crouched naked post-shower, just out of sight of my living room window to get dressed (so that I'm not out of sight long enough for any serious terrible-two-year-old mayhem to go down), but washing and dressing is now A THING and I'm not mad about it.

The difference this small thing makes to my attitude and readiness for the day is huge- even if it's a thirty second jump in and out of a stream of tepid water, it makes me feel more like a real human.

Productivity at home is a balancing act of doing a lot of things for others whilst not feeling resentful that you don't have time to do anything for yourself- showering is a small but mighty tick in the 'self' column and a great way to get started.

Take vitamins and drink water

One the subject of resentment, it can be hard to constantly feel like your personal needs are at the end of the list- don't get me wrong or start looking in the back of the closet for your tiny violin, I know I've got a good situation going on here. But no one, least of all me, is a saint- I cannot tell you how pissy I was the month I had to spend an inordinate amount of time and effort on the health of my washing machine when I knew my own health would benefit for even half that amount of attention.

Slamming a handful of vitamins and chugging down some water first thing in the morning makes me feel like I'm at least paying lip service to my day-to-day health*, and I am no longer jealous of my appliances.

*Obviously, seeing doctors about actual medical issue should go to the top of your list- vitamin C ain't going to solve everything.

Make a list of literally EVERYTHING you want to get done

Every morning (whilst drinking my water and taking my vitamins, what? my halo is showing?) I write a list... of everything.

Every single thing I want to do that day goes on there, no matter how small. The sense of accomplishment I get from ticking something off my list is such a boost, it doesn't matter if it's that I've done my taxes or emptied the dishwasher, I've achieved something.

The visual crowd cheer that comes from a list thats rapidly getting checked is enough to push me to get the less-than-fun stuff done.

Let's also be honest, you're likely mind-juggling one thousand and one things at any given moment, you are human and sometimes things get forgotten. When you've got a lot of things to remember, odds are that one or two things are going to get forgotten. If you're like me, it doesn't matter if you kicked arse everywhere else, it's going to be that one forgotten birthday card, unwashed kid's favorite t-shirt, or un-replied to invitation that'll make me feel like you failed the day. PUT EVERYTHING ON THE LIST, and keep adding to it through the day- everything you think 'i'll come back to this when I've got a sec'- put. it. on. the. list.

Anything that doesn't get done on that days list is the first thing on the top of tomorrow's list. Even if it takes a few days or weeks to check it off, having it as a visual reminder every day means it won't get forgotten- and when you get to cross those bastards off it's bloody awesome.

Use timers

When I start a healthy eating plan I calorie count, use measuring cups, and weight things out on a scale, basically my food intake looks like a science experiment. Not because I'm that concerned about tipping over my daily goal, but because I forget what a serving of something looks like. After I've spent a week reminding myself what a serving of half & half looks like in one of my cups, and that one family bag of crisps is not actual one serving- I ditch the measures and get on with life a little better informed about what it looks like to eat the healthiest way I can- the same goes for time.

I'll use a timer or a stop watch on my phone for a week or so when I'm trying to boost my productivity- it gives me a better idea of how long things actually take, and motivates me to get shit done in a certain space of time. It's a really good way to kick procrastinating habits too. 

If it's been a rough morning, all I want to do at nap time is fall down an instagram scroll hole or binge a Netflix series (seriously, Abducted in Plain Sight, WTF?!), but once I hear those first few squeaks of a waking toddler drift over the war zone that is still my kitchen- all I'm going to do for the rest of the day is feel useless and frustrated (and also keen to steer clear of anyone called 'B'). 

Turn off the 'autoplay next episode' feature on Netflix, set time reminders on apps like instagram, and turn on the screen time logger on your iPhone to visual quantify how much time you're spending doing those things. Zoning out is so important, but finding the right balance is key to those things being escape rather than impediments.

The point of productivity isn't just to get more stuff done, its to get stuff done efficiently to make better use of your time so you have more control over when that time is spent. Netflix and chilling (all kinds) is and essential part of my productivity- if i'm spending all my time getting shit down and not getting time to max and relax then I'm not being productive.

Keep a clean space

My husband will probably be laughing at this one, because I am the queen of mess. No I do not enjoy it, clutter really pisses me off- but my mind is creative and messy so often I get caught up in something else and end up in a bit of a state.

The lists help mitigate the mess. I'm more methodical about how I go about the day- one thing at a time. I'm also finding joy (hello Marie) in keeping things tidy.

Tidiness begets tidiness, it's like one big orderly snowball. Tidy up as you go, keep things small and simple, vacuum a small space each day, wipe down kitchen counters after you prep anything (breakfast, coffee, lunch, dinner, snacks), and don't leave it all until the end of the day.

Ruthlessness with crap and stuff is also your friend: take photos of notes and messages on scraps of paper instead of having them flutter around, use glass containers for leftovers and food storage (environmentally friendly, keeps food fresh longer, make fridge look sexy AF), chuck away junk mail immediately, throw out unrepairable toys (during nap time), donate clothes that don't fit (tie in a run to the thrift store/clothes bank drop off every time you go grocery shopping), and take something with you every time you go up or down stairs. Little habits make a bit difference.

I find myself better able to concentrate on work or life when my space isn't shouting at me- when I get moments to myself I don't want to spend them feeling guilty for having me feet up because I know the kitchen is a shit tip; or have my creativity by a laundry pile that might kill me if it collapses.

Meal plan

Do furture you a favour by taking away the daily mental load of figuring out dinner. Give yourself the gift of time by meal planning before you grocery shop, so you then have everything on hand and a plan in place each night.

The time I have in the evenings once the children are in bed is now spent on stuff I want to do rather than performing a slightly shitty version of the Masterchef mystery basket challenge.

Not only will you gain back that time each evening, you'll be saving money and (probably) eating better over all. By meal planning you can make a consider choice, rather than a harried grab at whatever is in the freezer, about a weekly menu of healthful meals, you won't waste money on last minute take out, and by planning ahead you can buy in bulk and batch cook which is even more bang for your buck.

Productivity isn't just about how your mind words, its also about how your body works- but fueling it with good stuff, you'll get good, consistent energy out- no matter how well you plan things out if you're too exhausted, drained or sick to make it happen you're playing yourself from the start.

Don't measure yourself against anyone, even yourself

Say this a thousand times over. Then say it again.

I'll be really honest and tell you that I've been in a bit of a funk in February. All through January I felt awesome; really productive, healthy, energetic- and those feelings made me more outgoing, adventurous and organized. Then February breezed in and something went a bit loopy- I think it's hormones but honestly I've not bloody idea (... ha!).

At first I felt like I'd undone all the good work I'd done- I'd lost some weight in January but kind of plateaued this month, I've felt tired all the time, I've gotten things done but not in the same super efficient way I was doing in last month. The thing is, I hadn't undone anything, I just was looking at a C+ average this month rather than a big fat A- having a flat few weeks doesn't take away from the good stuff you've achieved. There is no square one.

Productivity ebbs and flows, especially if your productivity includes a varied spectrum of tasks such as home, family, professional and personal lives. Oh and if you live in New England take some Vitamin D, my Dr said I'm deficient because we basically live in Winterfell so that doesn't help. 

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