Being able to work from home and be a full-time mom to your kids sounds like the best idea ever. And I won’t lie, it is pretty great (most of the time)! But working at home with kids brings up all sorts of productivity issues that you just don’t face in an office setting.
There are some productivity tips that look great on the surface but just aren’t realistic with kids. Time blocking and Pomodoro are such things. Let’s look at the Pomodoro technique. If you’re not familiar with it, this is a simple technique where you set a timer for 25 minutes, completely focus on one task, and then take a break as a reward when the timer goes off. Sounds great, right?? Until your kiddo wants to play or wants a snack or needs their diaper changed or decides the toilet would be the best place to put their blocks. Suddenly, your 25 minutes is down to 3 1/2, and you haven’t finished even part of your task. Cue feelings of failure, if you are anything like me.
I tried to use some of those techniques when I first started freelancing, but none of them really worked in my life. This led me to really think about how I use my time and how I can work more effectively to maximize my productivity when I sit down to work. These are some of the things I’ve figured out:
- Every day is different. I might be able to get a huge amount done one day, but almost nothing the next. My son is usually pretty happy to play by himself, he takes fairly predictable naps, and he usually wants to watch Moana or Zootopia once a day. But some days, he wants to be in my lap while refusing to take a nap, watching movies on repeat. And that’s ok! He’s a toddler who is working hard to grow and learn. And I’m his mama who will never turn down snuggles with her little boy. But to enjoy those times without feeling guilty about not working, I need to make sure I am using the time I do have to get done as much as possible. This also means that I can’t plan out every hour of my day in advance. I need to have a rolling to-do list of sorts with some scheduled activities when needed.
- I need to write things down. I keep a small notebook right beside my keyboard to take notes in as I work. I break down tasks into small, short steps so that I can check them off as I go and know exactly where to pick back up when I am able to get back to work. It takes me so much less time to get back to where I was and makes it so that distractions don’t take up quite as much of my time. When you have limited time, you need to make every. single. second count.
- I use digital tools to stay organized. I use Trello and track everything. I add links or attachments for anything I am referencing a lot, and I link my Google Drive and attach documents to the appropriate cards. This saves me steps because I can click directly into the document instead of going into Google Drive, then into the right folder, then finding the document. I also make overarching to-do lists with each card so that I can easily pick out my top 3 or 4 most important tasks on any given day. It’s an easy and organized way to have evolving to-do lists for the projects.
- I have a morning routine. Breakfast and coffee while chatting with my husband, shower, email to zero, plan out my day, and check social media with a timer and a focus (no endless scrolling here). Then I try to stay away from my email and social media for a couple of hours. That’s my routine every single morning. Planning first thing in the morning gives me a clear path and sets my priorities for the day. Getting this done at a time when I don’t have any distractions (aka when my son is still in bed) makes planning so much easier and more effective.
- I do housework and play with my son at the same time. I try to combine play time with chores. I dance in my kitchen with my son while I am cooking or putting away dishes, we play hide and seek while I fold and put away laundry, and I give him a broom when I am sweeping (which I don’t really recommend – 15-month-olds with brooms aren’t actually safe). I also have my house completely kid-proofed so yes, he might be able to make a mess, but he’s going to be hard-pressed to find a way to hurt himself. This means less of me running away from the computer to check on him every 2 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, we spend a lot of time playing, reading, and snuggling, but combining some play time with chores make them more enjoyable for both of us!
- I minimize distractions. I already have enough distractions so I turn off social media, email, my phone, and my tv. In other words, I unplug from anything and everything that isn’t directly related to the things I have planned on getting done for the day.
- I let good enough be enough. Pay attention because this one is important. Important enough that it bears repeating, in bold, underline, and italics: let good enough be enough. Did I get all of my to-do list done? Probably not, but who cares? Is my kitchen spotless? Sure isn’t. Do I have 3 loads of laundry to put away? When is that not the case. But is my kid happy, healthy, and relatively entertained? Am I making progress toward my goals, even if it’s at a slower pace than I’d like? Yes and yes. Is my marriage strong, and is my husband on board with what I’m doing? You betcha. So I let that be enough. Things don’t have to be perfect to call a day a success. As long as the people in my life (including myself) are happy and taken care of, that’s my definition of a successful and productive day.
That’s my list, but I’m sure your list would look a little different. And that’s ok! If you feel yourself struggling to get everything done, stop for a second and really take a look at HOW you are trying to do those things and WHAT you could change with your work habits. Make a few little changes here and there, and don’t be afraid to experiment. It may take a little extra work for a little while, but maybe it will help you come up with some strategies like mine.
What are some of your biggest struggles with productivity? Have you come up with any strategies to help? I’d love to hear about it the comments!